Remembering Joyce Weber:
An arts legacy that changed Eastport

The arts have been a presence on Moose Island for over a century with artists attracted to the spectacular scenery and light, but the Eastport arts scene as we know it today exists because of one woman’s vision that came to be embraced by many.

 

Joyce Weber arrived in Eastport in 1983 with her husband, Paul, and family. They moved from Maryland to purchase and run a bed & breakfast at what is now The Milliken House on Washington Street, but really it came down to love at first sight. Joyce loved Eastport, Paul loved Joyce, and so a new chapter began. They opened the "Artist Retreat" B&B and Joyce set up her art studio on the top floor.

Elizabeth Ostrander had moved to the area from New York City as part of the 1970’s “back-to-the-land” movement. “I first met Joyce in 1984 when I responded to her ad in The Quoddy Tides for figure drawing sessions at her studio. Her third-floor studio was filled with wonderful light and her gorgeous paintings. These life drawing sessions in Joyce’s studio were magical. They were the first gathering of artists in Eastport that I attended, and this was most likely true for everyone else who came there to draw.” One day Joyce turned to Elizabeth, remarked on the number of painters, sculptors, photographers and more who lived and worked in the area. “It’s amazing,” she said. “I think we should start a gallery in Eastport.” 

 

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The first location of the Eastport Gallery opened in 1985 at the site that is now The Commons. Elizabeth remembers, “It didn’t look elegant in 1985. When we first took it on, you walked in and the ceiling peeled down to your nose, and you could look through the wall in the back and see the bay. But not through a window. The building demanded a lot of work. But the price was right, we were young and we could pay rent through in-kind labor. So we took it.”

 

Six weeks later and after much elbow grease the gallery was ready. Artworks sold. Elizabeth says, “It was astonishing, actually, considering that at the time Eastport was down on its luck and going through hard times.” Things went so well that the gallery took over the second half of the building the following year. With the added space the gallery began to invite musicians to hold concerts during the evenings and showed movies on a 16 millimeter projector borrowed from The Boat School. Very quickly Joyce recognized that the performing arts needed an art space of its own and began to form the Eastport Arts Center. 

 

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Over the years the Eastport Arts Center became known as an arts organization that fostered creativity. In 1990, after the ground-breaking residency of the Cornerstone Theatre, Stage East was formed and joined the Eastport Arts Center. Groups of people with particular interests such as The Strings youth orchestra, the Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra, Northern Lights Film Society, Arts Bloom, dance groups and more, took their vision and plan to the arts center and asked if they could operate under the arts center’s embracing arms. Joyce believed in nurturing the creative spirit, and under her vision the constituent groups came to nest and flourish.

 

The Eastport Gallery and the Eastport Arts Center had a number of homes in the downtown over the years, but in 2004 the arts center purchased the 1837 Washington Street Baptist Church. Jean Wilhelm, a transplant to Eastport who quickly became a good friend to Joyce, found Eastport and stayed because of Stage East and the arts center. She says, “It became possible to purchase the church and, with the aid of numerous grants, and huge help from the community, to transform it into the home we know today.”

 

Elizabeth says, “These days, I look down Water Street and up Washington Street, with their hustle and bustle, and it’s mind-bending to remember over 30 years ago, when Joyce sat in her kitchen with me and other artists and pondered the possibility of a gallery in economically-challenged Eastport.” She adds, “How times have changed in Eastport. Much of its creative art, both visual and performing, as well as its fabulous eateries, public gardens, and beautiful views, are outcomes from Joyce’s artistic visions for Eastport.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Ostrander, edited by Lora Whelan

Photos courtesy of Robin Farrin, Susan Moore, Leslie Bowman

Joyce Weber: Figures, A Retrospective

Available at the Eastport Gallery at 109 Water St. or through our books and cards store.


The book, edited by Jon Bragdon, contains several dozen full-color reproductions from Joyce’s lifetime of work, together with appreciations by Jean Wilhelm, Arthur Cadieux, Elizabeth Ostrander, Heidi Reidell, Mark DeVoto, and Jon Bragdon.