Peter Fogg has fond memories of hanging out with late Maine artist Mildred Burrage as a 12-year-old in 1969. “My grandmother worked with Mildred Burrage at the Lincoln County Historical Association in Wiscasset, and I would spend time with them at the Lincoln County (1811 Old) Jail museum on Federal Street,” Fogg said in a recent phone interview.
Some years later, as a college art student, Fogg would bring his artwork to Burrage for her sage comments, and still later, “as she got older, I would work in her studio to assist her with moving things, packing things, the physical grunt work,” he said.
Today, Fogg’s Wiscasset art-restoration business – aptly named Fogg Art Restoration – is responsible for working on 26 of the pieces featured in the current exhibition of Burrage’s artwork at the University of New England’s Portland Campus UNE Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland. Titled “The Art of Mildred G. Burrage,” the free exhibition, which runs through June 26, is a retrospective of Burrage’s colorful 65-year career. She spent 37 of those years spent living in Wiscasset, where she passed away in 1983 at the age of 92.
“I was working with someone who was really an artist,” Fogg said. “She had a lot of history to pass on.”
Burrage loved history, a love which she inherited from her father, Henry S. Burrage, who was “a very accomplished historian” – and Maine’s first state historian – according to current Maine State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. Shettleworth is co-curator, along with Mildred Burrage’s 90-year-old cousin, Sally W. Rand, of the Burrage exhibition. Burrage, he said, “became imbued with (Maine history) from an early age.”
Burrage’s passion for history is evident in the historical maps (“beautiful re-creations of early settlement maps,” as Shettleworth described them) and World War II-era patriotic posters and paintings of South Portland warship-building that she created during her long career.
Ditto for her tireless activism in the area of historical preservation: Burrage founded the Lincoln County Historical Association and was instrumental, for instance, in “making sure that the (Wiscasset) post office and the town office were designed in colonial style – this is not an urban-renewal type of town,” Fogg said.
The current exhibition of Burrage’s artwork “is the first comprehensive exhibition of her work since her death in 1983,” said Anne Zill, director of exhibitions at the UNE Art Gallery. The exhibition includes pieces from Burrage’s early career as an impressionist painter; historical maps and patriotic posters; paintings done during her time in the American southwest, Mexico, and Central America; and the Jackson Pollock-inspired abstract paintings of her later years, which include her signature mica paintings.
Fogg said Burrage’s mica paintings are “essentially collages of thin sections of mica, usually started with a base of foiled paper, followed by mica, then paint.” While a small mica painting is featured in the current exhibition, Burrage also “did some pieces that were large – 4 feet by 4 feet – of the moon. At the time, space exploration was big. She was doing all these full-moon (mica) paintings at age 75, a big sort of breakthrough for her.”
“I am most excited about the opportunity to bring some of her best work from different phases of her career together in one exhibition, so the public can appreciate the breadth and depth of her work,” Shettleworth said. “One can actually learn (through Burrage’s artwork) how the trends in American art evolved and changed over the 20th century. She embodies the change from American impressionism to realism to abstraction – one woman was experiencing all those changes, as opposed to several artists.”
Reflecting upon Burrage’s last 10 years of life, Shettleworth – a longtime friend of Burrage’s – observed that “she had great inner strength; she continued to paint.” It was during that last decade of her life that she “finally gained wide recognition for her work,” he said. He said when Burrage was in her 80s, she likened herself to Grandma Moses, who famously became a successful painter in her late 70s. “I’m Grandma Mildred!” Shettleworth said she told him.
“I know there are many people in Lincoln County who remember her,” he said.
That is certainly true.
“I was getting my hair cut yesterday,” Fogg said, “and when I asked (the hair stylist) if she knew Mildred Burrage, she said, ‘Yes, she was a powerhouse!'”
Gallery hours are 1-4 p.m., Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and 1-7 p.m. Thursday, as well as by appointment. For more information, go to bit.ly/1Zwk3nd.