Sketches of Westport Island
William Oberst’s Island Diary
Perched on East Shore Road with a view to Long Cove sits an 1860’s barn moved to Westport Island from Pennsylvania. The distinctively-renovated barn houses the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation’s artists’ residency program. Since 2002, as finances have allowed, small groups of artists – fine artists, crafts persons, writers, and photographers – have been awarded “sabbaticals” allowing them expense-paid time to develop their crafts here on Westport Island.
The “art-colony” program was the realization of a dream for Maureen MacNamara Barrett: a dream unknown to many on the Island.
One of the artists who has benefited from the MacNamara program, is William Oberst, a painter now living in North Adams, Massachusetts. He spent six weeks here in 2007 and is sharing some of his thoughts.
Although always a painter at some level, Oberst didn’t pursue a formal education in the arts until his late 40’s, after which he taught college-level painting and drawing. Until coming to the artists’ program on Westport Island, he was an oil painter who focused on portraits of people. The Island, as a place, changed his focus. When he arrived here: saw the rocks, the water, his spectacular cottage, the dark of night lit only by stars — and he heard only lobster boats and birds at the break of day — he didn’t want to be tied to a canvas. He wanted to take advantage of where he found himself.
When Maureen Barrett brought him and fellow residents to an art supply store in Portland, he bought watercolors. In the ensuing weeks, he ferried a portable chair and his watercolors along our shore where he painted 12 of his first watercolors.
Oberst spent much of his painting time at Kehail Point where he was transfixed by a shoreline of rocks, gravel, high and low tide bands, and the different zones of rock. He also became fascinated with the portability, the spontaneity, and the “gesture” of watercolors.
Like the other artists who came here to discover something new about their craft, he discovered our Island. In appreciation for his experience here, he is sharing his visual Westport Island diary…