House of Solace
A Rockport gallery unlike any other in Maine provides dream fodder even during difficult financial times.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph by Todd Caverly
Like most schoolchildren, Jana Halwick adored field trips. But the teenage artist found inspiration not by studying the masters during museum visits, but rather at the home of one of her high-school teachers in Connecticut. “When I was in girls boarding school, we had a field trip where we all went to my art teacher’s house for the weekend,” says the now-forty-seven-year-old Halwick, who went on to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “She actually lived in a renovated barn, and I think somehow that visit kind of piqued my interest in renovating.”
Today, Halwick finds herself providing inspiration in strikingly similar surroundings at her Carver Hill Gallery, a ten-room Cape-turned-exhibit hall for artists who produce everything from oil portraits to reclaimed chestnut floorboards. Here, on a sidestreet in Rockport, Halwick and her business partner, Kathryn Matlack, have created a one-of-a-kind dream house for anyone interested in building, decorating, or furnishing a Maine home. The proportions of the rooms are largely the same as they were when the home was built back in the mid-nineteenth century, but the details have changed dramatically: a bathroom vanity now features a black soapstone countertop by the Maine Soapstone Company in Fort Fairfield, the kitchen includes wormy chestnut cabinets built by Phi Home Designs, which shares the property with Carver Hill and did the renovation work. Upstairs, an attic room has been transformed into a child’s paradise, with a night sky mural by Lyn Donovan, of Camden, covering the sloped ceiling. Exposed, rough-cut beams throughout the house add a dose of history, while digital thermostats, halogen lights, and integrated speakers reveal that the home has stayed up with the times even as it recognizes its past. Complementing the furnishings is artwork of every size and shape: mesmerizing turned wooden bowls by Appleton artist Stephen Gleasner, gold leaf tempera by Belfast’s James Strickland, and mahogany and walnut sculptures by Philippe Guillerm, of Hope. For Halwick, who had owned a housewares store in Camden and restored several midcoast homes before opening Carver Hill in 2006, the gallery proves that living spaces can be considered artwork as much as the decorations on the walls.
“Through the process of renovating the houses and stores that I’ve owned over the years, I realized that I love creating environments for people,” she explains. “The art becomes essential in creating the space here, so helping people create spaces and making their home art — as opposed to just putting art in their home — is what I wanted to do.” In addition to profiting from the sale of artwork at the gallery, Carver Hill receives a percentage of most commissions artists receive as a result of work on display. The gallery also offsets its expenses, and increases its visibility, by renting its renovated 1,200-square-foot Cider Barn for weddings and other functions.
And there’s no doubt that customers are discovering Carver Hill’s artists. Phi Home Designs currently has six custom orders that have come through the gallery. Artist Adriance DeGroff is working on four animal portraits, and Gleasner is at work on several new commissions that are credited to Carver Hill. In nearby Lincolnville, the seating area at Cellardoor Vineyard features twenty tall chairs that use ax handles for their legs and pitchforks for their backs. “The first time we toured Carver Hill, I saw those chairs set up in the kitchen and they kind of spoke to us,” remarks Cellardoor co-owner John Tynan, adding that his personal collection also includes a bed, table, and several paintings by Carver Hill artists. Even Cellardoor’s own gift shop was influenced by the gallery. Touring the Cider Barn that Phi restored at Carver Hill gave Tynan and co-owner Bettina Doulton confidence to use the Rockport builder for their own circa-1790s barn restoration project.
For artists, Halwick’s gallery provides a unique outlet for work that more often is tucked away within private homes. “I’m not a studio painter, so for me Carver Hill is critically important,”
remarks muralist Lyn Donovan. “To have the opportunity to do something on the wall that is going to stay there — where in a showhouse they usually come down in thirty days — that is just spectacular.”
Halwick says that even during difficult financial times, a house like Carver Hill Gallery provides comfort for Maine homeowners, regardless of their economic situation. “What I’m finding is that in these times, people seek solace in art,” she says. “I went to a meeting last night, and there was talk of how there’s been less and less innovation in this country over the years. Well, I walk in here and all I see is innovation. With the darkness of war, of the economy, people reach for art as both an investment and as a comfort.”
- By: Joshua F. Moore