Down East 2013 ©
Photograph © Nobilior/Dreamstime.com
The wine was flowing and the hors d’oeuvres were plentiful at the opening reception for the “Nine by Nine” art exhibition in Rockland. Stell Shevis, one of the featured artists, sat smiling as gallery-goers milled about the room. Hanging on the wall behind her were nine, nine-by-nine-inch paintings, each tagged at ninety-nine dollars. Eight similar groupings graced adjacent walls, as did a gray metal slot rack filled with work orders and adorned with dangling keys. To Shevis’ left, Car and Driver magazines covered an end table. Kitty-corner from her perch, a fat automobile tire crowned a display stand. No industrial-chic venue, this art gallery; it really is an auto garage.
Or, more accurately, it is the waiting room for one. Housed in a corrugated metal box of a building just a couple blocks west of Rockland’s artsy downtown, Eastern Tire has been hosting exhibits by the Nine Lively Ladies for eight years. It began when Lively Lady and Eastern Tire customer Nancy Fitzgerald took note of owners Alvin Chase, Sr., and Alvin Chase, Jr.’s art collections in the reception area. Fitzgerald asked if there was room for the Lively Ladies’ works. The Garage Gallery was born.
The Nine Lively Ladies trace their roots to a mixed group of midcoast artists who painted together once a week. “In summer, we painted en plein air. In winter, we hired nude models and painted indoors,” Stell Shevis recalls. “After we stopped the nude models, the men dropped out.”
These days the Lively Ladies forgo outdoor painting for Shevis’ Camden studio. “We’ve gotten older,” explains Stell, who at ninety-seven (“and a half!”) is the matriarch, not just of the Lively Ladies, but also of the local art scene. She and her late husband, William “Shev” Shevis, co-founded Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Maine Coast Artists Association (now the Center for Maine Contemporary Art), and they illustrated dozens of Down East covers, including the August 1954 inaugural issue.
“Nine by Nine,” a recurring theme, is the most popular of the Lively Ladies’ Garage Gallery three yearly shows. Works stay on display for several months, transforming routine oil changes into cultural outings. “We took some healthy ribbing for it at first,” Alvin Chase, Jr., says, “but the way we look at it, if you’re forced to sit and wait, you don’t want to look at a tire on the wall.” — Virginia M. Wright