Sept 9, 2007 Portland Press Herald


Art center a tribute to Bowdoinham artist
The Merrymeeting Arts Center celebrates the works of Bryce Muir, who drowned in 2005.
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By BOB KEYES Staff WriterSeptember 8, 2007


Associated Press File
Artist Bryce Muir poses in his Bowdoinham gallery with some of his carvings in September of 2004.
Today's opening of the Merrymeeting Arts Center in Bowdoinham celebrates the legacy of a beloved local artist and helps ensure the town's cultural and economic vitality in the future.
Nine months in planning, the arts center will open in downtown Bowdoinham as part of Celebrate Bowdoinham, a town-wide event that commemorates Bowdoinham's 235th anniversary.
The arts center marks Bryce Muir's place in town history.
Muir, best known for his lively wooden sculptures, drowned accidentally in 2005.
The center, with about 1,400 square feet, will house a permanent collection of Muir's work, gallery space for local artists, a gift shop and classroom space.
The center opens at 10 a.m. today.
"The center just seems to be growing out of the community in a way that I think will provide for success," said Peggy Muir, the artist's widow. "It's not my center. It's not my vision. It's a community effort, and it's truly extraordinary."
Merrymeeting Arts Center is housed in the Cathance Landing Building, a low-slung industrial building near the town landing and the Cathance River.
The century-old building, owned by Fred and Jill Haer of Brunswick, once housed a shoe factory and more recently the Haer's company, FHC Inc., which makes high-end medical implements.
The company moved from Bowdoinham to Bowdoin more than a year ago, taking with it about 70 jobs.
Tony Cox, Bowdoinham's director of community and economic development, said the nonprofit arts center will join three cabinet-makers, a fiber artist, a florist, a marine-canvas business and other enterprises that have moved in since FHC departed.
"Right here in Bowdoinham is a good example of the creative economy at work," said Cox. "It makes a very nice addition to our downtown, which is good for us because we are really working at promoting the village and the community feeling."
With a population of about 300, Bowdoinham is flanked by Richmond to the north, and Topsham to the south.
Muir's memory may be the perfect vehicle for promoting community spirit.
He was a robust man with a big white beard and an ever-present smile.
He was 59 when he fell through the ice of the Cathance River and drowned on Dec. 14, 2005.
Muir worked in many media, and was best known for his whimsical carvings, signboards and lawn ornaments.
The artist left about 40 pieces in their home when he died, his widow said.
A few years before his death, he stopped taking commissions and concentrated on producing work that satisfied his artistic vision, she said.
As a result, the collection that he left behind was as large a body of work that Muir had assembled under one roof in many years.
Peggy Muir said friends suggested that she leave it for a museum.
"But I knew that if I gave it to a museum, it would be set aside in a back room somewhere. Bryce genuinely loved this town, and it seemed appropriate that his work should stay in town," she said.
She met with Cox and other town officials. Among them, they hatched the idea for an arts center to honor Muir's memory and to encourage other local artists.
In addition to offering a generous lease on the space, the Haers also renovated the space for the arts center, Cox said. Numerous volunteers contributed hundreds of hours of labor.
Harriet A. Mosher, executive director of the regional Five River Arts Alliance, said the Merrymeeting Arts Center will enable Bowdoinham and its artists to develop their presence in town and throughout the region.
"I have to say hat's off to Bowdoinham. They've pulled it together very quickly," said Mosher. "It's great for downtown Bowdoinham, and it's a great way to honor the memory of Bryce Muir, who was real integral in the town."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or at:
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