AUGUSTA — For Shana Rowe Jackson of Pittston, looking up at the sky has always helped put her life into perspective.

And when the coronavirus pandemic caused art students at the University of Maine at Augusta to halt their art productions, Jackson’s work also provided a much-needed perspective.

“In the moment, all of us were stuck in the ground. And at this very moment, we were all rooted in place — the painting makes us look upward,” said Amy Rahn, director of UMA’s Charles Danforth Gallery and an assistant professor of art history. “A shared sky, on a specific place, it’s a great metaphor for the COVID year.”

The five artists who showcased their senior theses in the art exhibition “Phantasmagoria” had to adapt to the “historic circumstances,” as Rahn described it, to finish their pieces that were set to be displayed in the art exhibition in late May.

Shana Rowe Jackson of Pittston appears Sunday to hold clouds aloft while discussing the acrylic and airbrush pieces she has on display at the Charles Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta. The paintings by her and other UMA artists may be viewed at the gallery, in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, “Phantasmagoria” had to be moved online until recently, when the Charles Danforth Gallery at UMA received approval to install the art pieces and open the gallery — five days a week — from Sept. 2 until Oct. 2.

The art program at UMA offers a four-year Bachelor in Arts degree, with a newly added minor in art history, according to Rahn. As one of the art history professors, Rahn is joined by three other full-time faculty members.

The young art students scrambled to finish their works — ranging from paintings to papier-mâché and drawings to murals, some taller than 8 feet — at their new “studios,” which were their kitchens or bedrooms at home.

“I was struck by the endurance and courage from the artists to keep making their work,” Rahn said, “and making something as momentous, and something that would have been expected by an art school.”

Amy Rahn, director of the Charles Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta and an assistant professor of art history, stands Sunday between student-created murals being displayed on the exterior of the Danforth Gallery. Five UMA art students are displaying their senior theses in an exhibition titled “Phantasmagoria.” The art may be viewed in person, in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

As the curator at the Charles Danforth Art Gallery, Rahn helped the young artists install their art, doing so in masks and gloves while standing 6 feet apart — circumstances that were not originally expected.

“I think that through the coronavirus, we were able to think of and provide different opportunities to different spaces,” she said. “Exhibitions sort of come through but don’t sort of remain, but we can be adaptable with creating virtual exhibitions and brining programming online.”

The art was photographed and posted online, Rahn said, but the students missed a couple of months of critical, in-person class time to receive critiques from professors and classmates.

To Jackson, that was one of the hardest parts.

Jackson also said she has displayed her art online for years through her website and other social media outlets.

“Having an in-person exhibition is to have that in-person experience,” Jackson said of her art, which consisted of sky paintings. “I was excited when I heard that we were able to install it. That was my closure. It felt more like a graduation.”

Several pieces of art, including a wheat paste mural by Marcea Crawford, are displayed inside and on the exterior of the Charles Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta. The show of student art, curated by Assistant Professor Amy Rahn, is open to the public, in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The switch from the virtual exhibitions to the in-person galley provided extra time for the artists to finish their work and, in Jen Messier’s case, become more creative.

“Jen created a new way to install her work in front of a papier-mâché fridge, in a parody of the way that we hang art on home fridges,” Rahn said. “I felt pushed to her work to a totally different level, and it was satisfying to me as a curator that physical space had an effect on what went into the space.”

Messier said her art was inspired by fairy tales and lessons told by parents to children. A mother to two young daughters, being at home to finish her art worked in Messier’s favor.

She compared showing work online versus in-person to Facebook and having friends online. She said the experience of having an online friend is different than having an in-person friend. Likewise, she said, art is a different experience in person than when viewed online.

Artist Shana Rowe Jackson of Pittston at the Charles Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Messier said seeing the Danforth Gallery in person pushes art in the “right direction,” especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when many galleries and museums remain closed.

“No matter what it is, artists will find a way to be creative and exhibit,” Messier said. “Whether society likes it or not, art will always be a part of it.”

Next up at the UMA art gallery: An exhibition of works by the school’s architecture students, according to Rahn.

Through the virtual showcase this spring, the Danforth Gallery will continue to learn and improve in a “COVID era that has no expiration date,” Rahn said.

“There is a magical theme of brining work into a physical space in the proximity of other art,” she said. “The idea of walking around together is really important.

The community aspect of art spaces is really important, so I feel that the relationship of virtual and physical is not one that replaces the other, but maybe gives the public art for different measure.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.