BELFAST — Alan Fishman and Marcie Bronstein came to Maine for the peace and drama that happens when water and horizon meet. They are sailors, and have spent their best days together on boats in the waters off the coast of Maine and on the high seas the world around.

For the past four years, Fishman and Bronstein have worked for a cruise line, sharing their love of art, the sea and travel with people who are seeking hands-on experiences that enrich their vacations and inform their appreciation of the places they visit. Fishman, a retired art professor, lectures about the art of the countries on passengers’ itineraries, and Bronstein teaches them how to paint what they see. When not working on ships, they pursue their own art projects.

Using watercolors, Fishman paints the water, clouds and landmarks along the way. Bronstein paints the birds and flowers of the countries they visit, and creates abstract watercolors that are visual reminders of the maps and nautical charts that guide their travels. Together, the couple has made hundreds of images that document their high-seas adventures with bursts of color, mood and a depth of introspection that’s hard to achieve in vacation photographs. Their images evoke the unfolding mysteries of traveling to unfamiliar places, where the deep blues, soft greens and shades of red, white, yellow and gray hang on endless horizons, always beckoning.

Marcie Bronstein teaches a watercolor class on board. Photo courtesy of the artists

The paintings are displayed unframed in rows on the walls of their studios at their Belfast home, filling their living space with the warmth and wonder of oceans near and far.

“We’ve always moved around on the water,” said Bronstein, who spent several years as an arts educator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. “This feels very natural for us. We look at this as a crazy opportunity to be artists-in-residence on a ship.”

The couple goes on three or four cruises each year, typically one per season for several weeks at a time. They lecture and teach during days at sea, and spend their days on shore exploring galleries and museums and places to paint. They’ve been doing it since 2014.

The Belfast couple moved to Maine from New York in 1996, settling in a home outside of town that includes a large barn. Bronstein, a photographer, set up her darkroom on one floor. Fishman, an oil painter, made his studio in the loft. Between them, they’ve shown in dozens of galleries around Maine.

Their work on ocean cruises started after they took a pleasure cruise on the Celebrity line and were impressed by the quality of the art on their ship, Eclipse. There were paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, sculpture by Jeff Koons and photographs by Guri Dahl. And these were not haphazardly displayed, but hung thoughtfully and complemented with informative wall text. Bronstein and Fishman were further impressed when they found a well-written catalog in their cabin that explained the art displayed throughout the ship. “We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Bronstein said. “It was like being in a museum. We asked ourselves, ‘What is art doing here?’ ”

Bronstein blogged about their experience and sent a link to Celebrity. They began talking to people there who arrange “enrichment speakers” about how they could enhance passengers’ art experiences, and soon after, went to work for the cruise line, offering what Fishman calls “creative edutainment.”

Alan Fishman paints onshore. Photo courtesy of the artists

Each year, Celebrity sends the couple a list of cruises, and they pick where they want to go. If it sounds idyllic, that’s because it is. They leave for a six-week Caribbean cruise next week. In April, they sail from Sydney to Vancouver, and in the fall, they take a transatlantic journey from England. Their 2017 itineraries began with a cruise to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, and ended in Israel and the Mediterranean. In four years, they’ve traveled across four oceans to 74 countries and made paintings all along the way.

Bronstein calls it “meditation in motion” and “an unusual opportunity for an artist to create something beautiful and evocative.” It’s not unlike having a house on Monhegan, except they’re on a ship. Just as on Monhegan, the scenery and elements are ever changing. Fishman has sustained hundreds of paintings of the clouds and sea in many dramatic poses from most corners of the world. “Those two elements are never fixed,” he said. “It’s like looking at a fire when you sit in front of a fireplace. It’s never the same.”

They can’t discuss details of their contract with Celebrity, other than to say that the cruise line “treats us very well,” Fishman said, adding that they often feel “like rock stars.” Their arrangement with Celebrity also includes transportation to and from the origination and final destination of the cruises. A Celebrity spokesperson didn’t reply to an interview request.

Their cabin is in the crew area, but they have passenger privileges. They can’t gamble, and they can’t take the last seats at the bar, but they eat and socialize with the passengers.

For both, their work on the cruise ship is a natural extension of their professional lives. Fishman taught art and art history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for nearly 30 years and worked as director of Polimoda, a fashion school in Florence, Italy, for six years. He’s also taught at Waterfall Arts in Belfast and at the University of Maine, and has shown his paintings in galleries across Maine. Currently, Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland represents his work.

Bronstein spent most of her professional life taking photographs, beginning as a photojournalist in western Massachusetts in the 1980s, then becoming a fine-art photographer and mounting exhibitions, creating public art and making books. She began teaching at Waterfall Arts in 2006 and coordinated the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s ArtLab education program at the gallery’s former home in Rockport for four years beginning in 2011.

CMCA’s move to Rockland coincided with the emergence of her teaching opportunities with Celebrity, so she stepped away from one and began the other almost seamlessly.

“It started out without us really knowing this was a thing that people did on ships,” Bronstein said. “It just sort of happened and evolved very quickly.”

Alan Fishman delivers a lecture to a cruise-ship audience. Photos courtesy of the artists

Her watercolor workshops are intense. On some cruises, she convenes classes two times a day, nine days in a row. She teaches in a large conference room, usually on the ship’s 14th deck. From behind a wall of glass, the room looks out onto the sea. Celebrity provides most of Bronstein’s teaching materials, based on lists that she sends in advance, though she always brings a suitcase of materials, tools and tricks of the trade. The students work at long tables, and Bronstein walks among them offering instruction, tips and encouragement.

Because of the long duration of most of her classes, there’s a real opportunity for students to dig in and accomplish something they can be proud of, said Louise Poppema of New Gloucester, who met Bronstein on a transatlantic cruise in the fall. Poppema had taken a watercolor class from a different instructor on a previous cruise, and enjoyed it enough that she continued to paint after she got home to Maine.

She planned in advance to take Bronstein’s watercolor class on the fall cruise, though at the time she didn’t know that she and Bronstein were both from Maine. “With Marcie’s class, you arrived early to save space,” Poppema said. “It was that popular. Some of the ladies I sat with had been on multiple cruises and knew Marcie by name and wanted to be sure they took her class.”

Poppema called Bronstein “a real coach. She created an atmosphere that was encouraging, and she pushed me beyond what I had done before.”

“Traveling Home” by Marcia Bronstein.

Bronstein nudged Poppema toward a more impressionist approach, to take chances and to experiment. Poppema has become more serious about painting since the cruise, and has stayed in touch with Bronstein since returning to Maine. Never before comfortable with the art scene, Poppema now believes in herself as an artist and has used her newfound confidence to spur personal growth.

That’s Bronstein’s goal. “My job is to help them find something in themselves they didn’t know they had,” she said.

Fishman treats his lectures with the same seriousness that Bronstein approaches her instruction. He dials back the art-speak, understanding he’s not lecturing to degree-seeking undergrads and that people on the cruise want fun and happiness.

People who attend his lectures are interested in art and curious about history so they can better appreciate their experiences, he said. When sailing the Pacific, he talks about Gauguin. When doing Atlantic crossings, he talks about Rockwell Kent. When sailing to Europe, he talks about the French Impressionists.

The people who attend the lectures are enthusiastic and curious, he said, and he challenges himself to create an atmosphere that is informal and informative. “There is something about that time in their lives,” he said. “A lot are retiring or retired or thinking about it, and they are looking for the next phase. They are looking for meaning.”

Deborah Shouse also cruised with Bronstein and Fishman this past fall. She attended Fishman’s lectures about Italy. It was obvious that he was comfortable in front of a class, she said, and that he knew European art history. “He made it fun and relevant, and kept us engaged with a slide show, videos and his own anecdotes,” said Shouse, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. “He is so well-traveled and was so good adding his own personal experiences with the art and artifacts from the areas where we were going. It just made it all come to life and much more meaningful.”

As artists with active studio practices, Fishman and Bronstein also promote the work of contemporary artists in the countries they visit. During their stops, they sometimes make videos of artists in their homes, studios and galleries for use in lectures and to remind people on the cruise that artists working today may someday be the subject of art-history lectures in the future. Fishman uses his platform to encourage people to consider buying local art instead of trinkets “that nobody needs and that are probably made in China. I like to talk about the artists who are living and breathing and trying to make a living.”

After he completes his talks, he paints. Fishman spent nearly his entire artistic life working with oil paints and moved to watercolors when he began cruising. Watercolors are more versatile and convenient, and more honest. “Watercolors allow me to be the kind of person I want to be,” he said. “There is a nakedness to it that attracts me.”

He sits on Deck 5, at the water level, and paints the horizon for hours at a time, day after day after day. In four years, he’s made more than 300 paintings. The paintings capture moments of joy and beauty, and each is painted on site, from the deck of the ship or the streets of their ports of call. They hang in his studio as a wall-size travelogue, each notated with date and location, each from a different part of the world.

Bronstein’s paintings offer introspection. As a photographer, she spent 30 years looking out at the world, capturing what she saw. As a painter, she is using the opportunity of the medium to look inward, creating a series of paintings that excavate images from her subconscious and dreamlike seascapes. They are layered with sexual iconography, draped in kelp and balanced with rock formations. She reflects her travels in her paintings of birds and flowers from each country she visits – the pelicans of Barbados, the little owls or “Athene noctua” of Greece, and the gyrfalcon of Norway. She also creates soft, abstract aerial views of water and land masses, marking routes among islands and shores distant and near. Her paintings are full of historical references, personal reflections and natural beauty.

Bronstein’s experience has sharpened her understanding of world history and her curiosity about the evolution of culture. “I’ve gotten an education about the history of the world,” she said. “Civilizations have moved around on the water for a very long time.”

Fishman nods, and glances at his wall of paintings. “The sea always dominates,” he said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.