What’s in a bog? Quite a lot, actually.
While the freshwater wetlands, which are found tucked in the Maine woods, often can be overlooked, they brim with flora and fauna, natural ecosystems and — for artists — inspiration.
For Paul Breeden, the Schoodic Bog, spreading out over 500 acres from Schoodic Mountain’s southern slope, is a continuing focus and source of inspiration for his photography on view at Spring Woods Gallery in Sullivan. He and his artist wife, Ann, co-own Spring Woods Gallery off Route 200.
Within Frenchman Bay Conservancy, the Schoodic Bog Preserve offers diverse wildlife viewing opportunities from a 3.5-mile loop that connects to a trail leading to Schoodic Mountain. That peak offers 360-degree views of Frenchman Bay. The Downeast Sunrise Trail also skirts the preserve.
A painter and photographer, Paul Breeden chooses to photograph the bog. In the wetland, there is no one feature that stands out. Instead, hundreds of delicate details come together to form an intricate composition.
“It’s got so much going on. It’s incredible,” he related. “It’s not something I would feel like painting, because I tend to have compositions with a big, point of interest.”
“It’d be a very difficult subject [to paint] because it’s so complex,” he continued. “A photograph is a document that proves that it actually looks that way, whereas an artist can make up anything they wanted [in a painting].”
The “documents” that Paul captures provide lively, colorful pictures of the plants and wildlife that call the bog home.
“I’ve ridden every mile of the [Sunrise] trail. I love it, all 84 miles. But [the bog is] one of the highlights.” — artist Paul Breeden
Interviewed as spring awoke from winter’s slumber, the photographer noted, “The frogs have started,” after spotting the amphibians at the pond nestled on his property.
In warmer months, the photographer is out there with his Leica V-Lux to shoot the orchids, bog rosemary, yellow pondlilies and white waterlilies blooming in the bog. “It’s full of wildflowers,” he says.
And then there’s the fall.
In a series of three photographs, Paul catches the season’s striking color changes against a robin’s egg sky and golden afternoon. In the foreground, deep red huckleberry bushes clump, among granite outcroppings, near an open patch of water. Aspen trees’ leaves weave threads of yellow and gold in the distance.
From the opposite direction, another photograph focuses on Schoodic Mountain. Mother Nature’s brushstrokes — orange, purple and gray — paint the looming mountain in shadow and sunlight.
The third image is a glimpse of steeplebush dancing in the breeze.
“It’s a very, very beautiful pink flower with a spike on top of it,” Paul said referring to the flower in the foreground. “I like the patterns of that. It’s a really neat texture.”
Over the years, Paul’s means of getting to the bog has provided a different perspective and further augmented his appreciation for the wetland. He reaches it via the multiuse Downeast Sunrise Trail. After riding miles through the woods, he describes suddenly coming upon the bog.
“When I go to the bog, I’m riding my bike,” he said. “I’ve ridden every mile of the [Sunrise] trail. I love it, all 84 miles,” Paul added, “But [the bog is] one of the highlights.”
When they first moved to Sullivan in 1983, the Breedens ran a bed and breakfast in an old sea captain’s house on Route 1. The couple had raised five children in Maryland, frequently spending their summer vacations in Maine. “I could live anywhere, so there was no sense living in Maryland when we loved Maine,” Paul recalls of the move, chuckling. “Of course, we had only come up in the summer before. Winter was a big surprise.”
Being hosts in a rambling old house wasn’t quite the life change the couple were seeking. Both artists, and previously having run a gallery for 23 years in Maryland, they opened Spring Woods Gallery on Willow Brook Lane in 1991. He and his son built their current home and converted the garage into a gallery. Paul hand-carved the spruce beams that form the doorway. “That was totally freeform,” he said. “I was just playing around.”
Inside the gallery, Ann’s oil painting of a group of horses serves as a centerpiece. Her talent for capturing wildlife is apparent. In her painting “Snowshoe Hare in Winter,” her soft brushstrokes capture the whites and grays of the animal sitting beneath a fragile evergreen. Her light touch evokes a stillness and tender childhood stories.
In another painting, a bright fox vividly stands out against the snowy landscape.
Paul’s acrylic works include a series created from pencil sketches on Little Moose Island on the Schoodic Peninsula. Working with a palette knife, he captures the granite coastline’s textural complexities.
Self-taught, Paul’s artistic journey art school included a three-month stint at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. “I didn’t like it,” he explained. “It just didn’t seem to fit.”
Instead, he followed a personal trajectory creating illustrations for the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. He did freelance work for National Geographic from 1969 to the 1980s.
“When I was a little kid, I decided I wanted to work for National Geographic,” Paul recalled. “And I did as a freelancer.”
Not only did Paul live out a childhood dream, but he did so by being a “self-taught” artist. He created a path that worked for him.
Opening for the season in May, both the Breedens’ artwork is on view at Spring Woods Gallery. His photos of Schoodic Bog and other subjects are matted and framed. The gallery is located at 19 Willow Brook Lane. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more info, call 422-3007 and visit the Spring Woods Gallery’s Facebook page. For more info about Schoodic Bog, visit frenchmanbay.org.