WATERVILLE — Main Street wasn’t entirely mainstream Saturday during the 43rd annual Waterville Intown Arts Festival.
More than 50 artists displayed their work under an overcast sky as hundreds of people wandered Main Street and Castonguay Square to get a look. Amid paintings of traditional Maine themes — lobsters, lupines, lighthouses — there were a few artists that strayed from the norm. At the same time, actors roamed the sidewalks dressed as artists Salvador Dali and Louise Nevilson, and children’s book character Waldo.
Emilie Knight, an event participant, said she appreciated the inordinary.
“Waterville needs weird,” said Knight, project coordinator at Common Street Arts — a nonprofit community art studio. “We need to mix it up here. It keeps us inspired and keeps us thinking.”
Artist John Salemi, 60, of Waterville, sat crosslegged on Main Street and quietly rolled a cigarette while people strolled past his display. Salemi, who paints religious iconography and other images in shockingly bright colors, said he used to work as a church decorator in Pittsburgh, Pa. During the Vietnam era, Salemi left the U.S. Navy as a conscientious objector. He intended to hitchhike to Canada, but along the way, he camped out on Colby College property and decided to stay in Waterville. Eventually, he turned himself in to the military and was later pardoned.
Salemi said he has been creating art since he was a child. Now, he paints to supplement his fixed income. He hopes to raise enough money to buy a car.
Laura Shepard, 24, was impressed by Salemi’s work. Shepard, a recent graduate of Thomas College, browsed the kiosks wearing funky sunglasses and a bright orange T-shirt that read “Scoring Machine.” When she saw Salemi’s collected works, she quickly reached for her wallet and spent $12 on a neon painting depicting a Sasquatch couple strolling through a field.
“I think it’s about the coolest thing I’ve seen in my whole entire life,” Shepard said of her acquisition. “I like art that makes me giggle and smile, and this makes me giggle and smile.”
Shepard said art collecting needn’t be a costly enterprise. She has collected about a dozen original paintings, some of which she found in Dumpsters and thrift stores. She said she was impressed by the technical efforts of all the artists on Main Street, but not everything spoke to her.
“There’s a lot of ‘Maine’ art here, but I feel like I can find that almost anywhere,” she said.
Artist Ryan Kohler, 25, of Oakland, didn’t look avant garde in a Major League Baseball T-shirt and blue jeans, but his paintings told a different story.
Kohler displayed more than 30 original paintings ranging in price from $100 to $400, plus several unstretched canvasses for $20 each. Some of the works explored similar themes in a series, like still-life paintings of miniature toy animals, portraits of skeletons and, perplexingly, landscape paintings of lone utility poles standing against clear blue skies.
“I like them because they’re solitary structures, but they’re also connected to pretty much everything, everywhere,” Kohler said.
Kohler, who has been painting since he was five, studied art at University of Maine at Augusta and now works a day job at a party supply store in Waterville. He said painting in a series is how artists improve and it is seldom tedious.
“Not if you do it right,” he said. “Every brushstroke of a painting is a decision. That’s all paintings are — a series of decisions. It’s all about making good decisions, and that’s what makes it interesting for me.”
Artist Erika Doucette, 30, of Waterville wore tights and a tutu, and encouraged passersby to glob paint on her mannequin, Cookie, as a collaborative community piece. Around her, she dispayed original works of photography, acrylic paintings and mixed-media works.
“It’s a smorgasbord of everything,” she said of her output. “Sometimes I do photography. Sometimes, when I have time, I sit down and mangle stuff together.”
Doucette studied art at University of Maine, in Orono, and works as a bakery manager in Augusta. She said her philosphy on art and choosing subjects is simple.
“Do it for fun. Do what you love. It doesn’t have to be complicated,” she said. “You can make art with a simple line. If it talks to you, and you can have a conversation with it, it works. Just because a child can do it, doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation with your artwork.”
Doucette has shown her work at the annual festival for the past eight years and this was the most lively year, she said of the crowd.
Shannon Haines, director of Waterville Maine Street, organized the event. She said it’s difficult to estimate how many people attended, but foot traffic seemed strong and steady throghout the day.
She also said she appreciated some of the more offbeat efforts.
“It’s always nice to see the younger artists at the show,” she said.
Ben McCanna — 861-9239