The Blue Snows of East Boothbay
Andrea Peters paints all the colors of a Maine winter.
Painting Courtesy Gleason Fine Art, Inc.
A miserable late winter mix of snow, sleet, and rain is falling along the coast. The morning sky is the solid gray of cement, the bare trees an inky black, and the icy bay has the look of dirty dishwater. It is an oppressive grisaille landscape when what the human soul wants at this time of year is color and light. That’s where Andrea Peters comes in.
Andrea Peters paints evocations of the Maine coast in all seasons, but she is one of our finest interpreters of the winter landscape. Just naturalistic enough to describe specific places, Peters’ winter paintings are nonetheless sufficiently liberated from a slavish description of reality to allow color to conquer the colorless. White snows blush blue with shadow, drab trees reveal violet streaks, and distant hills and treelines glow pink in the oleaginous sun.
There is no such sun on Linekin Neck this bleak morning, however. The neck runs south from the village of East Boothbay to the summer colony on Ocean Point, Linekin Bay to its west, the Damariscotta River to its east. Andrea Peters lives and works half way down the peninsula in a modest, homemade cottage backed up against Glen Cove and facing the working harbor of Little River. Back a foot or more too far out of her driveway and you’d plunge backward into the drink.
A family of mallards has made its way up the steep bank from the water and left the cryptic hieroglyphs of their tracks in the new, wet snow in Peters’ yard. Just as in her paintings, stalks and hummocks protrude and bulge beneath the snow, testifying to spectacular flower gardens awaiting resurrection.
Andrea Peters is clearly in tune with the elements. A warm, gracious, cheerful woman, described by a close friend as “a sprite of an artist,” she is dressed for the day in gray and black with snowflake prints upon her vest. The most colorful feature of the interior of her home at the moment is the extensive collection of blue glass bottles waiting above the windows for grudging sunlight to illuminate them.
An easel is set up in the window of the sunroom and her studio is visible across the room, but there are no works in progress. “I’m not working on anything right now,” Peters explains. “I take this time to kind of renew. I’m in the process of determining what I’m going to do next.”
Andrea Peters is an intuitive artist. She follows her instincts. Born Andrea DeFrancesco in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1947, she was educated entirely in parochial schools with little or no art education. Nor were there any artists in her family. Still, she says, “Art has always been there. It was innate. I just had to do it. I started oil painting at twelve years old for no other reason than I loved it.”
She started her formal training as an artist in 1965 by taking night classes at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. From 1966 to 1968, she studied at the Massachusetts College of Art but found the experience unsatisfying. The school at the time was in the thrall of Jackson Pollock’s abstract action paintings, very drippy and chaotic.
“There was very little structure,” Peters recalls. “I remember being very disappointed. I thought I was going to learn something.”
In 1970, Andrea married Mark Peters and the couple raised two daughters in Wilmington, Massachusetts. As a young mother, she continued to paint and took classes in nearby Reading with Cape Ann seascape artist Roger Curtis, practitioner of a latter-day style of impressionism. During the 1980s, Peters began to show her work at a cooperative gallery in Lexington, but her career did not really take off until she moved to Maine.
“I keep myself open and receptive to what comes in from the world,” she says of her laissez-faire approach to her art. “If it’s meant to be, it happens.”
And apparently, it was meant for Andrea Peters to become a Maine artist. After attending workshops on Drakes Island in Wells and in Ogunquit, Peters took a fateful anniversary trip to Boothbay Harbor in 1978.
“The minute I got out of the car and started to walk around the streets, I knew I wanted to live here,” she says. “I love Maine. I belong here. I was misplaced before. My other existence is foreign to me now.”
That same year, Andrea and Mark Peters purchased a piece of land on Linekin Neck. Mark, a carpenter and project manager with Wright-Pierce engineers, built their home as a summer cottage. Summer stretched from May to October before they finally moved to Maine year-round in 1995.
In Maine, Peters began to feel her art changing, loosening up from the fussiness of impressionism. “I was working so hard and enjoying it so little,” she says.
So Peters began experimenting, allowing her work to become more abstracted, playing with positive and negative space, working directly from nature, applying paint without any under-drawing. The shorter days and fleeting light of Maine winters dictated that she work smaller and faster. Often, she painted what she calls “moments,” tiny paintings that fit in the palm of a hand, immediate responses to qualities of light, color, and place.
“I’m usually affected by what I’m looking at, but, I don’t stay with it. It’s a jumping off point,” she says of her mature approach to the landscape. “I feel it and just allow it to happen. Colors are very strong, bold, powerful. I like the energy, the strength, the physical aspects of painting. Honest to God, I’d jump on the canvas if it would do anything.”
All of her paintings are oils, but several years ago she traded canvas for gessoed birch panel because she didn’t like the way the brush dragged across the woven cloth surface. “I love the paint. I love the smell of turpentine,” she enthuses.
“I love the way paint moves, the slip and slide. It’s so sensuous.”
Subverting the convention of the rectangle that defines traditional landscape art, Peters tends to prefer square paintings, a modernist conceit that signals a painting is first and foremost an object, a thing in itself, not just an illusion of something external.
If you’ve seen many of Andrea Peters’ paintings, it doesn’t take long when visiting her to realize that most are painted within sight of her home. The scraggly line of spruce and Little River Harbor that she sees from her front door appear frequently in her work, whether silhouetted at sunset or burdened with snow.
An important breakthrough in Peters’ art came a couple of years ago after she had been looking at artist Janet Fish’s signature still-life paintings of water glasses.
“Just by looking at a glass on a windowsill you could tell what kind of day it was,” she marvels. “That got me to do some in-depth searching for what I was trying to do. It opened up a whole new world. What more can you see? What more can you find? There’s a lot more out there than the obvious.”
This insight inspired Peters’ Winter Garden series, a body of work focused on the moribund beauty of plants dreaming beneath the snow and ice.
“Now it’s more than just the gardens,” Peters says. “It’s the snow itself, the way it falls, the way it clings, the way it covers everything. I like finding the color in the grayness and the deadness.”
For me,” says Peters’ daughter Christine, “she has always been a painter. Her determination, her drive, her dedication to doing it has always inspired me.” Christine Peters Hamilton, herself a fine jewelry maker, manages Gleason Fine Art (Down East, August 2005), the Boothbay Harbor art gallery that has represented her mother for fifteen years. Peters’ oils sell for anywhere between $350 for a miniature to $10,000 for a 48” x 48” painting.
“Andrea’s work has always sold steadily,” says gallerist Dennis Gleason. “It’s collected both by very sophisticated art world people and by casual art lovers who come into the gallery and respond to it.”
Painter Jamie Wyeth responded so strongly to Peters’ Maine paintings that he purchased more than a dozen. Wyeth also recommended Peters to then-MBNA CEO Charles Cawley, who bought several for the corporate collection.
Gwen Asplundh, a Boothbay Harbor summer resident, has purchased Peters’ paintings for her homes in Maine, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
“We were drawn to Andrea’s work by her uninhibited use of color in painting gardens, and scenes overlooking the sea,” says Asplundh. “She loves to put nature in all its glory onto canvas.”
While the Asplundhs own several of Peters’ paintings bursting with vibrant hydrangeas, lupines, lilies, and yarrow beneath summery clouds in too blue skies, they also own “a serene snow scene.” So does the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland.
“The hardest ones to sell are the winter paintings,” says Peters. “You need someone who is more sophisticated. Winters are so long here, people don’t want to look at it. But there’s a peace and tranquility in winter that they are missing. I think some of my best paintings are of winter.”
Andrea Peters believes in art as a refuge, an escape, an oasis of peace in a troubled world. Just so, winter in Maine is a time of withdrawal, reflection, and, ultimately, renewal.
“I feel very strongly that my work is going to continue to change,” she says as she gazes out the window at the drenched and dreary day. “There’s something brewing even now.”
When the snow is gone, perhaps she’ll paint the mud. Then the greening up, the full flower of high summer, the explosion of fall color, the dying off, the bare bones of earth.
But for the moment, the blue snows of East Boothbay seem eternal.