By: Kelly Scrima, Web Editor
Maine boasts many artists who stand out in the art history books for their works, with notable artists including Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. On March 15, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met Breuer) in New York City opened a new exhibit entitled “Marsden Hartley’s Maine,” which was co-curated by one of USM’s professors from the Art Department.
The professor, Donna Cassidy, teaches art history and formerly taught American and New England studies. Cassidy joined two others in curating the exhibit: Randall Griffey, curator of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Met, and Elizabeth Finch, Lunder Curator of American Art at Colby College Museum of Art.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your time thus far at USM.
“I’ve been at USM since 1987 and was hired in the art department initially. My area of expertise is early 20th-century American art. I taught American art as well as European art in the 19th and 20th century. I also became involved in the American and New England Studies program, which was an interdisciplinary graduate program, and I taught in that program until just last year.”
What is your connection or draw to American and New England studies, especially in regard to Maine?
“I got involved in the program because I think they [USM] wanted to have someone who worked in the visual arts, and thought that [visual arts] would be a real addition to the program. And so the focus was really on how art, literature and culture create place. That was a concept that so many people immediately connect with the ideas of: What is this place? What does this place we live in mean? What does it mean to us? What do our childhood places mean to us? Those questions become even more important as we become people who travel a lot, and move around a lot.”
You have written extensively about the life and career of Marsden Hartley. What is it that draws you to him? What is it about his connection to Maine that is so special?
“My draw to him was a complete accident. It began when I was invited to give a lecture for the Maine Alliance for Art Education in 1988. They knew I was versed in early 20th century American art, so they wanted someone to talk about an exhibition of Hartley’s drawings that was going to be on view at their conference. So it was at that point I realized, ‘well I know a little bit about Hartley, so I can do this’. I started to read his letters, I went to the Archives of American Art, which at that point had an office in Boston.
His letters really resonated with some of the issues and questions I was dealing with in the American and New England studies program: What is place and how [do] artists create that sense of place? So his career, for me, became a kind of testing ground for all of the theories and all of the ideas that I was exploring in my teaching. I just continued to be interested in his late career and started to give professional talks and publishings, and then all [of a] sudden I had a book. He is an artist that allows me to explore some of the questions about place and modernism as well.”
What does it mean to you to have co-curated an exhibition that relates so closely to an artist you have researched for quite some time?
“It has been a great experience because I’ve curated smaller exhibitions here at USM and have been involved as a writer of a catalogue or consultant for other exhibitions, but this has been one that I’ve played a major role in. I was invited by the curator at Colby, Beth Finch, to be a guest curator when the show was originally just going to be at Colby. Word got out about the exhibit and the Met became very interested.
I think for me it’s been really exciting to see the way that in exhibitions like this your work immediately gets attention, unlike writing a scholarly book where eventually people review it, and eventually you hear responses about it. The way ideas are translated in an exhibition is to a much broader audience, and a much bigger audience as well. There will be thousands of people who will see the exhibit at the Met and at Colby.”