"I've met so many people in Portland, who've lived here all their lives, who still haven't seen Katahdin in person," says Little.
Little has written a book, "Art of Katahdin," that has become the basis of an exhibit at the University of New England's Art Gallery in Portland. The art works range from classical depictions of the mountain, to modernistic impressions of its features.
In one of those, Katahdin's peaks are shown as triangular forms blazing with a pinkish-red light. But there's also Katahdin captured in dull shades of blue and gray, by Little's uncle, William Kienbusch.
"My uncle was an abstract expressionist and he was, in a way, trying to abtract the essence of what he was looking at," Little says. "And the day that I think this is based on, a part of the mountain was socked in. And there were patches of snow that he said were triangles of white. And I link those are the light gray areas in it."
Little notes Katahdin is chocolate-colored in the eyes of James Fitzgerald (his paintingis left), who, Little says, "is mostly known as a Monhegan artist, but who had a passion for Katahdin, once he discovered it. And was there painting in the 40's, 50's, 60's, and his last trip was 1972. He painted many paintings, many portraits from Katahdin Lake, of which this one is one, it's a beautiful moonlight scene."
In another painting, Katahdin stands over a field of trees in fall color, and in Evelyn Dunphy's watercolor, as a sentinel in winter. Little says he liked the painting when he first saw it, "because it reminded me of Hiroshimi and Hokosai, the Japanese print makers. It has that wonderful feeling of quiet. And beauty. With the way the snow is coming down. It's one of the best snow paintings I've ever seen."
There are 80 pieces in the art museum collection and Little has more than 200 images in his book. Asked what draws artists to Katahdin, Little says: "I can give you a facetious answer. It's, in a way, it's to get rid of the horizon line that you see when you're looking out from the ocean and all you see is Spain on the horizon. So, what happens in a way is your horizon becomes your subject. And that's an extraordinary, challenging thing. And, I think the other thing about Katahdin is that, as you travel up there, it changes. The silhouette, the profile shifts so frequently that you end up kinda scratching your head going, 'What is Katahdin?' It really is truly, a magnificent, diverse group of mountains, but with this masif in the middle. And it's a great challenge to artists."
Little says he believes the University of New England gallery exhibit is the first of its kind ever devoted exclusively to the art of Mount Katahdin. Museum Director Ann Zill says it's been a hit.
"I think it's because the mountain is truly iconic for people," Zill says. "It has been called sacred by the Penobscot tribe. And, it has been a magnet, historically, for artists. And we've had hunters here and fishermen and environmentalists and people who love to hike, and who are proud of what this mountain, Katahdin, says about living in Maine."
David Little's book, "Art of Katahdin," is published by Down East books. The exhibit: "A Mountain Rises: The Art of Katahdin," will be on view at the University of New England Art Gallery through Oct. 27.
Images: Courtesy The University of New England Art Gallery
From top to bottom:
Susan Siegel, Bell Pond
James Fitzgerald, Katahdin Under Moonlight
Sanford R. Gifford, Mount Katahdin
Maurice "Jake" Day, The Knife-Edge