Fine Maine art highlighted at the Littlefield Gallery
The sculptures hanging above the washing machine at Kelly and Jane Littlefield’s house look like they belong in an art gallery. In fact, they’re already in one — the lower stories of the couple’s Winter Harbor home double as the Littlefield Gallery. Now in its 10th season, Littlefield has become a destination for Maine art enthusiasts and has been named the best gallery in the state by Down East magazine two years in a row.
Situated on the Schoodic Peninsula about 25 miles southeast of Ellsworth, Littlefield Gallery highlights dozens of Maine-based artists. The stone sculptures gracing the front lawn make the wood-frame house difficult for passers-by to miss on Route 186. Inside, paintings and other works brighten the walls and the kitchen cabinets.
A decade ago, things looked a bit different. Jane and Kelly were public school teachers in Gorham. They worked second jobs during the summers in order to support their shared passion of collecting artwork; she cleaned homes while he coached basketball.
“We couldn’t well afford on two teacher salaries to be buying art,” Jane said.
Winter Harbor was their favorite vacation destination, and in 2008, they stumbled on the opportunity to purchase a mostly refurbished house near the center of town. Armed with a plan to start their own gallery, the Littlefields bought the place — although few others understood their ambitions at the time.
“It’s 2008, the economy is tanked, and we wanted to move to a place that no one has heard of,” Jane laughed.
The gallery opened the following year, although the couple didn’t initially live in Winter Harbor full time. They kept their teaching jobs; that steady income took off the immediate pressure of making a living solely from selling art.
“We never wanted art to be about commerce,” Jane explained.
Although the studio did begin to turn a profit, allowing the pair to retire from teaching a year earlier than they had anticipated, the Littlefields try to focus less on the financial side of the business and more on the relationships they have developed, with both artists and buyers.
Right now, the pair shows about 30 Maine artists. Limiting that number is the hard part, Kelly says, but mathematically there’s only a certain amount of art he can fit in the house.
A native of Guilford, he appreciates working with artists who are humble and self-deprecating.
“They’re talented, but they have more Maine values,” Kelly said.
Having collected art while on teachers’ salaries, the Littlefields want their own gallery to be accessible to all community members, regardless of income level or background. While Maine is rarely described as a diverse state, Kelly was quick to point out the economic diversity within Winter Harbor, where summer vacation rentals abound just up the road from the homes of longtime residents.
Jane recalled a few times where she was made to feel out of place at elite galleries. That’s why she strives to make sure everyone feels welcome at 145 Main St.
“There are people who are intimidated, and they don’t need to be,” she said.
Though the works on display at Littlefield Gallery often sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars, Jane and Kelly say that visitors are always welcome, including those who don’t plan on buying anything. They are also willing to set up payment plans for shoppers who fall in love with the right piece, but can’t cover the entire cost up front.
They hope that the gallery’s homey atmosphere helps guests feel welcome. Anyone who walks in the back door steps right into the couple’s kitchen and can have a seat at the dining room table.
Kelly noted that some neighbors find it odd that he and Jane have their house so open to strangers from all places. But to him, it is no weirder than the home-sharing phenomenon through outlets such as Airbnb, which have grown prominent in Winter Harbor in the last few years.
In the decade since the gallery opened, the Littlefields have seen the area change. The 2015 opening of the nearby Schoodic Woods Campground, part of Acadia National Park, has drawn more visitors to the peninsula.
Still, Jane and Kelly say the gallery gets the majority of its traffic not from wandering campers or disoriented passengers who just got off the Schoodic-Bar Harbor ferries, but from art lovers who have heard about the studio via word of mouth.
“The same people keep coming back, year after year,” Jane said. “And then they bring people.”