Rain or shine, the First Friday Art Walk fills the streets in Portland, Maine. I know this because it was raining the day I ventured out on the self-guided tour. As I found, a little precipitation was no deterrent for the seacoast city’s art lovers.
The First Friday Art Walk is a free monthly event that celebrates the creative culture of the city’s arts community. It’s also Maine’s largest free monthly cultural event. Dozens of galleries, studios, museums and alternative venues open their doors to the public, and entrepreneurial artisans set up shop along the sidewalks.
Most of the action takes place in the Downtown Arts District along Congress Street between Franklin and State streets, but it continues to neighborhoods beyond, like the Eastside Arts Walk.
I started at the Portland Museum of Art, where a gigantic steel sculpture in the form of a number 7 stands on the plaza in front of the building. The sculpture is the work of beloved Maine artist Robert Indiana, and it represents museum’s address at 7 Congress Square. Museum admission is free during the First Friday Art Walk.
Within the museum’s vast holdings are works by renowned American, European and contemporary masters. The State of Maine Collection features Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and other pine tree state artists.
Two pieces that caught my eye were the bronze sculpture of a dancer by Edgar Degas and a wall-mounted buck’s head covered in crystals by American artist Marc Swanson. The feature photo at the beginning of this post is from the museum’s Modern Menagerie collection, a flock of rustic shorebirds by Bernard Langlais.
(Read more about my museum visit on the Food Travelist website and its recent post, Unique Things to Do in Portland, Maine.)
I could have lingered at the museum, but there was much more to see. I ambled along brick sidewalks that were constructed from the discarded ballast of European ships that arrived at Portland’s harbor long ago.
I passed galleries, boutiques, vintage shops and architectural treasures. Alongside them were artists huddled beneath canopies and awnings as they sold jewelry, block prints, paintings and crocheted animals. A couple of musicians were playing for tips. At the Maine College of Art, graduating fashion design students put on a runway show of their creations to raise money for scholarships.
Window displays are an art form not to go unnoticed. Bridge Gallery showcased fanciful red-and-white paintings of chickens and roosters. The Sock Shack “painted” a tableau of colorful socks interspersed with springtime flowers.
I ended up at Maine Craft, a retail emporium of art, home decor, jewelry, apparel and more, all handcrafted by area artists. In progress was the opening reception for a two-month exhibition, “Nuptials: Adornment for a New Age,” that featured alternative wedding attire and accessories.
At Maine Craft, shoppers and well-wishers mingled among the wares while a jazz pianist provided live music. Wine and hair-braiding were complimentary. In the storefront window was an assemblage of rustic pottery and white gauzy triangles suggestive of sails.
First Friday Art Walk is sponsored by Creative Portland, a nonprofit organization that promotes local arts and artists. The event runs year-round, generally between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., although some venues might start earlier and stay open later. Here’s the link to a free map to guide you. The listings change monthly.
As you walk around the city, you’ll note that Portland has an abundance of public art. Murals and sculptures, both abstract and realistic, recognize notable events and personalities such as the lobster industry and Oscar-winning film director John Ford. But that’s a post for another day.
Learn more about Portland and its many cultural attractions at Visit Portland Maine.