As Louise Nevelson said, “Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.” Well, there are plenty of creative minds in her childhood home of Rockland, Maine. This gritty little tidal treasure on Penobscot Bay has all the vigor and spirit of a working waterfront with the upscale twist of a vibrant museum and gallery scene, fabulous restaurants, eclectic shops, plus enough lobster, lighthouses and schooners for folks “from away.”
The historic Granite Inn, above, is a perfect base to explore Rockland’s hip, arty vibe. Overlooking the Harbor, the inn’s mix of family antiques and mid-century modern furnishings offers contemporary style and old fashioned comfort. The living room with antique woodwork and bright paintings opens onto an airy dining room displaying local art and photography. Many rooms and suites have views of Rockland Harbor; mine had a fireplace and whirlpool tub. Innkeeper Ed’s breakfasts are fresh and local – don’t miss the asparagus crepes or wild blueberry buckle. This environmentally conscious inn is both family- and pet-friendly.
Power of a Creative Economy
Anybody who grew up in Maine in the 1960s can tell you that Rockland was a pretty rough place. Rockland has lately undergone a renaissance that jeweler Tom O’Donovan describes as “the power of art to heal and reinvigorate.” Artist and businessman O’Donovan has watched Rockland’s transformation from a great vantage point: the rooftop sculpture garden he created atop Harbor Square Gallery with stunning 360-degree views of waterfront, downtown, lighthouse, Owls Head, and Vinalhaven.
Rockland is home to over 20 galleries, including the distinguished Dowling Walsh Gallery where I enjoyed the work of newcomer Greta Van Campen and paintings by Maine icon Connie Hayes. The prolific Eric Hopkins also has a downtown gallery where he distills the islands of Penobscot Bay into extraordinary greens and blues. On the first Friday of every month, studios and galleries open their doors with evening receptions as part of First Friday Art Walk.
The city’s picturesque brick downtown also offers sophisticated wares like Fiore’s artisan olive oil and Island Institute’s consortium of high-end craftspeople. The newly expanded Rock City Café & Bookstore functions as unofficial community hub. The Wine Seller whose tagline reads, “If it tastes good…it is,” holds monthly themed wine tastings. I spent a relaxing hour at Rheal Day Spa whose popular cold-weather offerings include a hot shell massage and warm paraffin treatment — both excellent appetite stimulants.
Savor the Flavor
In Good Company restaurant offers an elegant and cozy spot on a blustery night. As the signs along Main Street sway in the wind and rain, diners are bathed in candlelight and wonderful aromas from the kitchen. A hand-painted sign says, “Try the staff favorites!” I tuck into the bartender’s favorite dish, baked peaches with brie and prosciutto – salty, crunchy on the edges, with brie melted to a mere hint. A robust bruschetta with thin ribbons of kale, shaved parmesan, and cranberry beans is messy but loaded with texture and flavor.
As I enjoy the “Nibbles” side of the menu, a fisherman in bright yellow slicker takes the stool next to me. He asks for a glass of Malbec, chats with the bartender, and scans his iPhone. In Rockland, expect the unexpected.
Share the Wonder
Families will delight in the Farnsworth Museum’s “Share the Wonder” holiday festival, Saturdays November 26 through December 10, with holiday music, children’s films, cookie and gingerbread house decorating, carriage rides, old-fashioned train display, and a special wishing tree at the Wyeth Center. The Farnsworth’s current exhibition “Beyond Rugs!” is colorful, warm, and perfect on a chilly day. “The Art of the Book,” opening in January, will feature illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, Rockwell Kent, and N.C. Wyeth.
I enjoyed a quartet of Maine short films at The Strand, a lovingly restored 1920s theater showing independent and world cinema, documentary, classics and film retrospectives. This Maine gem also hosts musical performances, concerts, comedy shows, and special events. There’s always something happening at the Strand.
Rockland’s downtown food and cultural scene are impressive — think great cuisine, art, and music served up in historic brick buildings with the friendliest of vibes. Avoid the madding crowds of summer and experience Rockland in the off-season when Rockland really rocks. •