In a year beset by heartache and stress, finding ways to connect has been a focal point of 2020. Initially turning to a safe, virtual display on their website earlier this year, the Monson Arts Gallery in Monson, Maine has opened its doors (by appointment) for visitors to celebrate five years of Maine-Japan exchanges through the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society or MAPS. Since 2015, artists in Maine and Aomori, Japan have exchanged 10 art prints a year (two prints per artist for a total of 20) and delegations to display and learn from each other’s artistic styles. The collection of year's group of 20 prints will be exhibited at the Gallery until January 15, 2021. Plans are in place to highlight the accumulated collection of 100 prints since MAPS began as a retrospective show next year.
The Maine-Aomori sister state relationship, signed in 1994, grew out of a 1889 shipwreck, where villagers in the Japanese village of Shariki cared for a crew out of Bath, Maine whose ship, the Cheseborough, was lost. Centuries later in 2017 it was these fishing villages in Aomori that Maine shellfish farmers turned to for help once again, this time in scallop aquaculture. Using a technique perfected in Aomori for over 85 years called ear hanging, many in Maine are hopeful that this technique, combined with machinery purchased from Japan to help with harvesting, will continue to show results following the first three years of this project.
MAPS is not the only Maine-Japan exchange to be celebrating an anniversary this year. In Matsumoto, Japan, Bar Harbor, Maine-based shop Mount Desert Island Ice Cream celebrated its one-year anniversary since opening in the Japanese tourist destination in September 2019. Founded by Ms. Linda Parker, who taught junior high school in Matsumoto from 1992-1996, the shop’s ice cream is hand-made and it is the only one of the company’s five shops that is outside the United States. Maine is also the first state to be visited since the pandemic began by Japanese Ambassador to the United States H.E. Shinsuke Sugiyama as part of a tour to learn more about the country and each state’s ties to Japan.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.