I like to joke that I found freedom in Maine. And in a way, it’s true. Recently, I traveled up the coast to the small town of Freedom for a much-needed weekend away. While there, I was delighted to find not just the peaceful, bucolic scenery I had been craving but also a region bursting with local flavor — from lobster shacks, farm-to-table restaurants and an Amish charcuterie to open studios, galleries and off the beaten path museums. Though summer is nearly over, the foliage will soon be blazing, and there is plenty of time to visit Midcoast Maine before winter.
Local Color Gallery and Local Foods // Belfast, ME
Belfast, at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River, has a bustling arts scene for such a small city. Many artists live and work in the region, displaying their work in Belfast’s many galleries, and the city hosts a monthly Fourth Friday Art Walk. Finch Gallery, Belfast Harbor Artisans, Small Space, Parent Gallery and Betts Gallery offer up work by local painters and photographers, while Belfast Clay Studio and West Third Ceramics show off some of the region’s ceramic artists. Be sure to stop by Local Color Gallery in the historic Masonic building, 135 High St., where you can see work by 15 local artists working in a variety of media from oil, acrylic, watercolor and encaustic painting to printmaking and mixed media sculpture. Work changes monthly. The show opening September 27 will include oil paintings of the Maine coast by Judy Graebert, copper plate etchings and Chine-collé by MF Morison and found object assemblage by Conny Hatch. The gallery also hosts artist-led workshops and is always staffed by one of the artists during open hours.
“Anyone who has visited the extraordinary landscape of Midcoast Maine, and experienced the stunning light that highlights this region’s natural beauty, will know why artists have always been drawn here,” said Local Color artist Sally Brophy. “Many are inspired by the rich landscape that surrounds us, not only the endless beauty of the coast but also the bounty of nearby farms, the drama of passing ships, and the intrigue of inland woods and waterways.”
For breakfast and lunch, visit Chase’s Daily, 96 Main St., equal parts café, bakery and green grocer selling local produce from the Chase family farm. With its stamped tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, this is a beautiful example of one the many restored storefronts that make up downtown Belfast and a great place to enjoy a pastry, sandwich or savory soup. If you’re feeling thirsty, Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen, 84 Main St., offers inventive and seasonally changing pintxos, boards and bar foods that will have you salivating from the moment you start reading the menu — think a cured pork shoulder coppa with fir-infused honey and chamomile mayo — and a wide selection of ciders made using traditional techniques and heirloom apples. A few doors down, have fun sampling the wares at Eat More Cheese, 94 Main St., as you put together a wine and cheese board to enjoy back at your Airbnb. For a quintessential Maine experience, jump in your car (or boat) and head across the river to Young’s Lobster Pound, 2 Fairview St., where you can BYOB and PYOL (pick your own lobster).
Unity Pond Pottery and the Amish Charcuterie // Unity, ME
Inland from Belfast and a few miles from Freedom is Unity Pond Pottery, 222 Bangor Rd., Unity, Maine, the studio and retail space of Robert “Espo” and Wendy Esposito. Both self-taught potters, Robert earned a degree in electrical engineering before falling in love with clay. He had studios in the Virgin Islands, where he experimented in digging his own clay and firing it in straw kilns, and also in New Mexico, where he was influenced by the raw brown stoneware and red iron oxide of the region, before the couple moved to Wendy’s hometown of Unity in 1985. Unity Pond Pottery makes wheel thrown and hand built vessels embellished with carving, colorants and molten glaze, and welcomes visitors for studio tours and demonstrations by appointment.
Before leaving Unity, stop by the Amish Charcuterie, 41 Leelyn Dr., for some of the most flavorful sausages, salami and smoked cheese you will find anywhere. No wonder, considering it is run by Matthew Secich, a prize-winning chef formerly of Chicago, who joined the local Amish community with his wife and children several years ago. If they haven’t run out by the time you get there, try to snag some of their fresh ginger sausage. Expect a line — and plenty of samples — while you wait.
Liberty Tool Company and the Davistown Museum // Liberty, ME
Though a little off the beaten path, the small town of Liberty is worth a detour. The primary attractions are the Liberty Tool Company and the Davistown Museum, both housed in old, multistoried wooden buildings facing off across Main Street. Liberty Tool, 57 Main St., is more of an Ali Baba’s cave of antique hand tools than a hardware store, while the Davistown Museum, 58 Main St., is an eclectic mix of antiquarian art, contemporary work by Maine Artists Guild members and historical artifacts.
University of Maine Museum of Art // Downtown Bangor, ME
Located in downtown Bangor, the University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., focuses on modern and contemporary art. Their four fall exhibitions will be on view from September 13 through December 21. “Entangled” features paintings by the Bangor-based artist Nina Jerome. Though known as a landscape painter, Jerome has delved into the abstract. “Using softened and expressive brush strokes and intertwining, curvilinear forms,” said director and curator George Kinghorn, “she channels the feeling of the invasive vines that inspired this body of work.” Kinghorn conceived of this exhibition as a window into the artistic process and will incorporate Jerome’s smaller gestural drawings alongside the larger paintings.
“Way Stations” features a series of paintings by the Chilean-born, New York-based artist Joan Belmar, many of which he created specifically for the exhibition. Belmar’s paintings are large, including two tondo pieces that each measure 92 inches in diameter. Many of the works incorporate imagery that reference maps or planetary terrain, with multiple vantage points in each composition. The viewer has almost a bird’s-eye view of these unnamed topographical features formed from bands of color, segmented lines and dots.
Also on view will be “Studio Visit: New Works by Six Painters,” a look at the collaboration between curators, artists and museums through the work of six abstract painters. A selection of photography from the museum’s permanent collection will feature the landmark 1932 image, “New York at Night” by Berenice Abbott, as well as works by Paul Caponigro. Both artists spent time living and working in Maine.
If you are feeling hungry while in Bangor, 11 Central downtown eatery, 11 Central St., offers a little of everything, from a corn chowder made with locally sourced elk meat to a pizza topped with Maine lobster and artichoke hearts. As an added bonus, the restaurant displays artwork by local artists. The Fiddlehead Restaurant, 84 Hammond St., offers up comfort-style dishes made with locally sourced produce from the restaurant’s own farm, eggs, honey, cheese and seafood. If you are feeling brave, try the Babe Bunyan cocktail, a blend of Cardamaro and Moxie, so named for the giant lumberjack of folklore, whose 31-foot statue stands right off Main Street.