Five Maine artists will receive $13,000 each from the Maine Arts Commission to pursue their work with less financial pressure.

The five 2013 Artists’ Fellowship Awards were among 33 grants totaling $116,555 announced Monday by Julie Richard, the new executive director of the Maine Arts Commission.

The $13,000 fellowships are believed to be the biggest awards for individual artists made by any state arts agency in the country.

“Artists are constantly struggling,” Richard said. “This kind of money gives them the freedom to create.”

In the past, the commission has awarded four fellowships — for literary, media and performing arts, visual arts and the traditional arts. This year, because of funding from the Maine Community Foundation, a fifth fellowship was added, for functional craft.

The inaugural recipient of the craft fellowship is Ellen Wieske, a metalsmith and educator who also works as assistant director of the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle.

The other winners are: Jessica Anthony of Portland, who won the literary fellowship; Cecily Pingree of North Haven, media and performing arts; Anna Hepler of Eastport, visual arts; and Bill Mackowski of Milford, traditional arts.

Pingree is a daughter of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, whose husband, S. Donald Sussman, is majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Wieske described the award as “an incredible gift and honor.” She appreciates the award because it will give her creative freedom. She will use the money to work on a new body of work and perhaps a specialized research project.

She began working with her hands at a young age in her father’s workshop in Michigan.

“My father was a carpenter. He spent a lot of time doing stuff with all the neighborhood kids, from making skateboards and stilts to showing us how to use the tools. His shop was the center of our community,” Wieske said. “I never learned that girls weren’t supposed to do certain things.”

For Anthony, the fellowship is a “gift of time. It frees a path for you to focus on new work away from the rigors of daily life.”

She teaches creative writing and literature at Bates College in Lewiston, and supplements her income with various freelance projects.

With the fellowship, she can set aside some of the freelance work to concentrate on her own writing.

“I am actually in the process of writing my next book,” she said. “Finding time to focus and get the work done has been difficult over the past year. This will make the process of creation faster for me.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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