Down East 2013 ©
Maine is the kind of small place where a single person can make a big impact. Sometimes the extent of his or her influence isn’t fully apparent until after they have passed away. Take Francis “Frank” Hamabe, for example.
Born in New Jersey of a Japanese father and a Swedish mother, Hamabe ( 1917 to 2002 ) was a painter, printmaker, ceramicist, puppeteer, graphic designer, and teacher. If you’d asked me his name last year, I probably would have hemmed and hawed for a while, and then I would have answered, “Oh, yes, he was the first art director of Down East.”
Creating this magazine’s signature look and designing some of its most striking covers (including the one pictured here) is reason enough to remember Hamabe. But it wasn’t until a new book landed on my desk — The Art of Francis Hamabe [page 88 ] by Carl Little — that I realized what a singular career he’d had. The man was the Zelig of the Maine art scene in the mid-twentieth century.
Hamabe moved to Maine in 1947 after serving in the infantry during World War II and studying art at the Rhode Island School of Design. Like many artists before and since, he worked at a series of jobs to make ends meet. But what an amazing series of jobs it was! Hamabe was the first “official artist” of the Camden-Rockport Lobster Festival (which later moved to Rockland and now draws eighty thousand visitors to the midcoast). The following year he became the first art instructor at the Farnsworth Art Museum. In 1952 he helped found the artist cooperative, Maine Coast Artists (now called the Center for Maine Contemporary Art). Two years later he joined publisher-editor Duane Doolittle as the art director for a new magazine intended “to satisfy a long-felt need of people throughout the country for a magazine about the wonderful world of Maine.” (That magazine is the one you are holding in your hands.) In 1960 he became the art and staging director for a new television network operated by the University of Maine at Orono. You know it today as Maine Public Television. He painted murals at hospitals; he performed puppet shows on TV. Mostly, though, he was a dedicated teacher who introduced hundreds of young Mainers to the possibilities of creating art. As I paged through Hamabe’s biography, I found myself missing a man I’d never met. I wanted to reach back into the past to express my gratitude.
To steal a riff from T.S. Eliot, December is the most nostalgic month, the time of year when we notice empty chairs at our tables and remember loved ones no longer with us. Shouldn’t we also think about the people still present and take a moment to reflect on the quiet influence they are having on our lives and communities? It’s never a bad time to say, “Thank you.”