By Catherine J.S. Lee
Eastport artist Lora Whelan provided an artist’s talk and exhibition at the February 12th Sunday Afternoons at the Eastport Arts Center program. Just about every seat was filled to hear Whelan speak about her artistic process and her journey of returning to painting in mid-life after not
painting since her childhood.

Words, she says, are her true passion, but in the fall of 2014, after years of long days and very short breaks working with her husband, Edward French, for their semi-monthly local newspaper The Quoddy Tides, she “had to get away from words.” Going back to painting
seemed like the right decision.
At first, Whelan drew and painted only to please herself, making it fun, with no rules, and “listening to the paint.” She showed the audience a number of her early works in pastel and paint, and it was possible to see even in them the beginnings of her style. Very soon, she was
starting to play with background and foreground, varying perspectives, and using the work to come to grips with the stories of her family.
In 2017, she joined the Eastport Gallery, which brought validation for her work and afforded her the fellowship of other artists, as well as lessons about the business end of art. She is currently represented by the Full Fathom Five Gallery.

A 2019 show with fellow artist Peesh Rewak at the Eastport Arts Center was another important step in Whelan’s journey. The show was entitled “Harmony/Disharmony” and in featuring polar bears, New England cottontails, grasshoppers, and California condors, it brought into focus some
of her ongoing environmental concerns including land use patterns and endangered species.

“California Condor with Egg and Distress Call Signal” (2017)

Whelan explained that painting in series allows her to explore her themes as well as her materials and emotions, and illustrated her talk with examples from each of her series thus far. The “Legacy” series features images of her ancestors paired with backgrounds that portray their
stories. In 2020, moving beyond straight representations, she created “Relic and Divide,” a series that edges in more abstraction. Whelan was looking at satellite imagery from NASA and NOAA when she was inspired to create her series called “Surface,” which highlights the earth’s “terrible destruction, but [also] the beauty in it.”

“Quarry Remnant” (2022), from the ‘Surface’ series.
“Derelict Development” (2022), from the ‘Surface’ series.

Currently, Whelan is working on a series called “Gravity Line,” in which she explores “how we’re pulled to earth but ignore that, and how we interact with distance and perspective.” These works are accomplished through using a palette knife, her preferred tool, to scrape and scratch
through up to ten layers of paint to create depth, texture, and perspective.
After the presentation, Whelan noted, “It was a blast. A great group of people with lots of good questions that provided me with some new insights into my process—and that is a lovely result of top notch interactions. [I] couldn’t ask for a better experience.”
In his introduction, EAC board president Greg Biss introduced Whelan as “an intrepid newspaper woman.” She continues to prove herself to be an intrepid artist as well.

Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC constituent group The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

Find the full 2023 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs here: