Etching the View from the Water’s Edge

Printmaker Michele O’Keefe creates images of boat, sea, and sky

As the Vinalhaven ferry grinds east across Penobscot Bay into a breathtaking expanse of sky and sea, the silhouettes of islands take shape on the horizon. And I am reminded of what a privilege it is to live and create art on the island of Vinalhaven, 15 miles out to sea.

Being here brings the essentials of life and art into sharp focus—the working waterfront, the resilience of island families, the beauty of the environment, or perhaps a magnificent seagull, all come to the fore in my work. To treasure, document, and preserve glimpses of what makes this island unique motivates the choice of my subject matter and my art.

I recently purchased a new etching press, inspired by working with printmakers at The Haystack School of Arts and Crafts, The Vinalhaven Press, and The Engine House Press. It gives me the ability to create a more contemporary image in my own studio.

The process of incising a copper plate with a drawing, etching it, and inking the plate is often very time consuming. But to send it through the press and get a unified, cohesive image on the other side is simply exhilarating. The press unlocks endless possibilities for future work and allows a richness of color and variation of line that is seductive.

A reoccurring image in my work is a Gloucester Gull Dory that my parents bought for my brothers when we moved to the island in 1968. Designed and built by well-known author and boatbuilder Harold Payson of South Thomason, it was carried to the island on the top of my parents Volkswagen bus. Featured in etchings and monotypes such as Escape, Getaway, and Hidden Places, this exceptional rowing dory has transported us on many magical journeys around Penobscot Bay for over 50 years. It also provides a common thread in my art and our family traditions.

—Michele O’Keefe

Michele O’Keefe has maintained a studio on Vinalhaven since 1993. Her work can be seen at New Era Gallery, Vinalhaven; Hopkins Wharf Gallery, North Haven; and at Archipelago at 386 Main Street, Rockland, July 16-Sept. 25. 

Photographs of the art by William Trevaskis of North Haven.