The skies were gray and rainy, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 200 people from packing into Bucksport’s newly opened Lighthouse Arts Center late this spring. Across from the Alamo Theatre on Main Street, the center houses an art gallery, classroom space and artisan gift shop.
That evening, many visitors used one word to describe the three-story Lighthouse Center, which was filled with oil paintings, black-and-white photographs, driftwood sculptures and handmade jewelry.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Tom Hussey, a landscape painter from New York who summers in Maine. “I appreciate the work and vision the owners had in doing this.”
Kathryn James, a painter and seasonal Bucksport resident, conceived of the arts center three years ago, shortly after her husband, Roger, died of cancer. For James, painting is an expression of faith
In 2014, James bought the century-old building, and shortly afterward several other art enthusiasts started helping her renovate it and began attracting other artists from all over the world.
“It’s been so beautiful to see how everybody has just pulled together,” James said. “It’s been a group effort and it’s really fun.”
That sense of fun echoed through the space on opening night. Harmonica and guitar music drifted from the instruments of the Brooks and Kennedy band, while visitors sampled hors d’oeuvres provided by Verona Wine and Design. In between the artwork were windows looking out onto the Penobscot River on one side of the arts center and Main Street on the other.
“I think it’s the biggest gift to come down the pike to Bucksport in a long, long time,” said Bucksport resident Paula Kee. “It shows the incredible love in this place. Just incredible.”
The Lighthouse Arts Center opened its first floor last fall, and in recent months it has hosted classes in watercolors, acrylic painting and drawing. Offerings are being expanded in a variety of disciplines, including book-making, silk painting and jewelry-making.
Since the Verso Paper Mill, which was the town’s economic mainstay, closed in 2014, the town has begun to redefine itself as an arts hub. In August it hosts the Bucksport Arts Festival, and throughout the summer it hosts the Wednesdays on Main live event series. The Lighthouse Arts Center represents a permanent hub for the arts in Bucksport.
“Because of the closing of the paper mill, people had big fears; what will happen to Bucksport?” said Nancy Wentworth, who taught art for 30 years at the Bucksport Middle School. “This is what I’ve thought Bucksport always needed. And I think it’ll be easier for more events.”