MAINE AND AMERICAN ART: THE FARNSWORTH ART MUSEUM by Michael K. Komanecky, Jane Bianco, and Angela Waldron; Rizzoli Electra, 2020; 384 pages; $65.

The old saying that “Art is in the eye of the beholder” may certainly be valid, but it is equally true that the artists themselves are just as interesting. And the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland may be the best place in Maine to learn about both.

“Maine and American Art” is publisher Rizzoli Electra’s second art-history book to commemorate Maine’s 200th anniversary, a most worthy companion to “At First Light: Two Centuries of Maine Artists, Their Homes and Studios.” Written by three curators at the Farnsworth, this book is also a detailed history of the art museum itself, from its founding in 1948 to its accumulating collection of 15,000 art objects and 10,000 volumes in its extensive reference library.

Beautifully illustrated with numerous color and black-and-white images, carefully written chapters highlight the museum’s founder, Lucy Copeland Farnsworth (1840-1935), her dream, generosity and legacy, as well as selected Maine artists and themes like work, people, the natural beauty of Maine’s woods and waters, medium such as watercolors and photography, and artist collectives like the Henri Circle and the Slab City Scene.

Featured artists include 19th-century Blue Hill’s Jonathan Fisher and Owl’s Head’s Fitz Henry Lane, as well as more modern figures like the three Wyeths, Robert Indiana and Ernest Hemingway’s pal Waldo Pierce of Bangor.  Painters, sculptors and photographers appear, men and women, like “Rockland’s most famous artist” painter and sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), and the Porter family, a multi-talented, multi-generational Maine family of painters, sculptors, photographers and poets.

The museum’s reference library is a treasure trove of books and papers on American art, maritime history and Maine history, with works by Kenneth Roberts, Sara Orne Jewett and Rockwell Kent. The illustrations are magnificent, but the stories here are even better.

 

GLASS EELS, SHATTERED SEA: A MARA TUSCONI MYSTERY by Charlene D’Avanzo; Maine Authors Publishing, 2020; 265 pages; $16.95.

When scientist Dr. Mara Tusconi begins research into Maine’s multi-million-dollar elver fishing industry, she never realized she would become involved in murder, international elver trafficking, smuggling, illegal drugs and deadly mistaken identity.

“Glass Eels, Shattered Sea” is Yarmouth author Charlene D’Avanzo’s fourth environmental mystery featuring oceanographer and amateur sleuth Mara Tusconi. D’Avanzo is an award-winning educator and ecologist, and her mystery themes are based on environmental issues like global warming, climate change, rising and warming oceans and their effects on sea life and ocean habitat.

This mystery focuses on the elver, or glass eel, fishery, and how Asian criminal organizations have turned it into a billion dollar a year international blackmarket bonanza. The ambush murder of a local Maine elver fisherman reveals the ruthless nature of such a lucrative business, and Mara finds herself thrust into a lethal contest between criminals and law enforcement, both using undercover agents and innocent people as bait. Everyone thinks Mara knows something important.

Much of the story is devoted to detailed scientific explanations of elver research, biology, habitat, migration, and the fascinating research methods and equipment Mara and other scientists use to study these sea creatures ashore and afloat.

There’s actually little mystery here, as the reader knows who the bad guys are, and the suspense relates to how they might be caught. Mara is a brilliant scientist, but not too bright regarding her own safety, constantly putting herself unwittingly and unwisely at risk, even knowing she’s a target. And the cops’ most helpful advice: “Lock your doors.”

Loose, unfinished plot lines and unlikely miraculous escapes dilute the overall effect of the mystery, but the science angle makes this a worthwhile read. And at $2,000 per pound, it’s no wonder elvers are such a hot commodity, vulnerable to poaching, robbery and smuggling.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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