Part of what makes Portland’s First Friday Art Walks so much fun is that they have no epicenter. As the crowd surges along Congress Street, with smaller group investigating eddies in the Old Port, the Place To Be shifts from one locale to the next. One sure thing: if you stroll enough, and walk through enough doors, wonderful things will happen.
Last night, the December Art Walk that leads up to the holidays, there was an extra energy in the air. You could sense it at Congress Square: on one side, the line snaked into the State Theater for The Fogcutters present Big Band Syndrome (Lauren Wayne posted a video of the finale of the show); the other side of the square featured the Portland Museum of Art (free on Friday nights) and their hypnotic show on classic Shaker artifacts. Meanwhile, in-between, Art Walkers trundled up the stairs of the Flat Iron Gallery, in the pie-slice-shaped Hay Building, to sip and chew and ruminate on Art, Life, and Living in Portland.
Another wonderful thing, as always, took place at Otto Pizza, a few steps down Congress Street. Your correspondent was among the many who stood happily on the sidewalk, waiting in line to purchase a slice of what many consider to be the finest pizza north of Boston (and now Otto is in Harvard Square, too!). When it comes in as ideal and manifold a presentation as Otto offers, pizza can crystallize the creative economy.
Outside Otto, the sidewalk mambo was wending its way down Congress Street to Space Gallery, with many a stop along the way. Inside Space, one of First Friday’s mainstays, there was music, there was art, there was laughter, there was drinking, there were jostling crowds and a buoyant sense of pleasure in the air. There was also an Alternative Gift Market where you could buy donations to a wide range of curated non-profits and deliver them in a selection of limited edition, hand printed cards designed by artists Beth Taylor, Erin Flett and Jacqueline Dubois.
If you prefer your art au plein air, you could step outside of Space onto the sidewalk, where an open-air truck had pulled up to the curb. Just climb the ramp into the truck’s back to observe the paintings hanging within.
The crowd kept surging, now on to the Maine College of Art. Every year, MECA combines their First Friday participation with a huge holiday sale of items by college students and alums. This year, three floors were given over to a cavalcade of holidazzles, and so the crowds were especially strong here. Among the (hundreds of?) tables and booths, there seemed to be a particular emphasis on recycled treasures: playing cards converted into wallets, umbrellas converted into aprons, stamps converted into earrings.
For those who needed to retreat from the gleeful cacophony of MECA, there was quieter contemplation at galleries where one could, for instance, admire scale models, photos, and blueprints celebrating the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Or, upstairs at Cross Jewelers, you could sample “tastings” of various hot cocoas. Then back out into the street and more galleries, more stores, more music.
Until, in the words of Samuel Pepys, one has turned First Friday into First Saturday, “and so to bed.”