KITTERY POINT, Maine — It is located on land once owned by 19th-century poet Celia Laighton Thaxter and her husband Levi on Cutts Island, in a house that once was part of a summer enclave for a group of early 20th-century industrialists and educators, and is a stone’s throw from Seapoint Beach.
And starting the first of the year, a cottage on Thaxter Lane in Kittery Point will be reinvented once again as the Seapoint International Artist Residency — a place for artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, even scientists to come for a month or two, regenerate their creative juices and interact with the Seacoast community.
The residency program was created by photographer and gallery owner Ali Goodwin, a native of York. Goodwin was well on her way toward a promising career as an art dealer when, two years ago, she was diagnosed with a virulent strain of breast cancer.
Most of the past two years have been a blur of chemotherapy, debilitating medicine and sapping energy. But in recent months, as she’s come out of the worst of it, Goodwin said she began to think ahead instead of in the moment.
“I remember I had dinner one night with John Forti (Strawbery Banke landscape curator). He said, ‘What are the things you love?’ And I said I love working with artists,” said Goodwin. “He said, ‘Is there any way you can do that here?’ And a lightbulb went off.”
The residency program is held in a cottage a stone’s throw from Seapoint Beach, owned by Morris Hale, now 90, who with Noam Chomsky started the linguistics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But it was Halle’s late wife who was drawn to the property. Rosamond Thaxter Strong Halle was the goddaughter of Rosamund Thaxter, Celia and Levi Thaxter’s niece. Her mother and Rosamund Thaxter were best friends.
Halle was herself an artist, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, whose artwork is found throughout the house.
The cottage is located on land that Celia and Levi bought in 1879, 186 acres that essentially comprised most of Cutts Island. The cottage itself was once part of a group of cottages owned by the Newcomen Society of the United States. The society, according to a history of the organization, “championed American capitalism and entrepreneurship.”
The Halles bought the house in the 1960s, Goodwin said.
“So here’s this place, steeped in history and in the arts, an inspiration to so many. Look at what’s happened here in the past 150 years,” said Goodwin. “That’s what excited me about the residency. Here I am bringing all of these creative forces into this place, and inviting them into my salon. Who knows what will happen in the next 100 years?”
Goodwin dove head first into the new enterprise. By September, she had created a Web site and joined several residency aggregate Web sites. The applications started coming in immediately — from all over Europe, Taiwan, Bangladesh, South America and the United States.
Applicants have to submit examples of their work, as well as a proposal of the work they plan to do while at Seapoint. The jury selecting the residents includes Cathy Sununu, director of the Portsmouth Museum of Art; (York, Maine) Marshall Store Gallery curator Mary Harding, Portsmouth photographers Corey Daniels and Bear Kirkpatrick, and Tyson Jacques, a printmaking instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Key to the residency, said Goodwin, is involvement with the greater Seacoast community. At the conclusion of their stay, they have to share their work through a gallery show, concert, reading, lecture or the like.
“It’s important that they connect with the community at some level while they’re here,” she said. “Some artists don’t want that experience. That’s fine, but that’s not what this is about.”
To generate interest in the residency, a short “three days, one artist” competition was recently held. The winner was Arran Mackintosh, an illustrator and cartographer from Portsmouth, England, which seemed kismet to Goodwin.
Mackintosh spent three days at the residency, arriving Nov. 15 and ending Nov. 19. He created a 16-foot-long scroll depicting Portsmouth, N.H., from Four Tree Island to Whaleback Light. At the public reception, the scroll was bought immediately, Goodwin said.
“The trip was amazing,” said Mackintosh. “The locations and Seacoast provided so much inspiration for my scroll.”
The highlight, he said, was the “exceptionally warm reception at my gallery show — coming over as a foreigner to display my work is a strange feeling, as I didn’t know the community at all until I arrived. So to see such a great attendance and the appreciative enthusiasm for my artwork was very special and rewarding, and it really made me feel welcome.”
The jury is currently reviewing applications for the first round of residencies starting in January.
“This is something I would like to see grow. It may be that we grow out of this house at some point,” she said. “I’m lucky to have the opportunity to share this place that I love, and that’s been a healing retreat for me during my own process.”