Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine.  Today. I have with me artist, Sage Tucker Ketcham, who is represented by the Portland Art Gallery. Thanks for coming in today. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Thanks for having me.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So you and I have an interesting connection…Vermont. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes.  

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I was born there. I went to medical school there. Obviously, this is a big part of your life. What's your connection to Maine? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

I came to Maine on a vacation with an ex-boyfriend of mine and we were driving through Portland. I wanted to go to art school and I saw on the back of a car a Maine College of Art (MECA) bumper sticker and I was sold. I loved Portland. So I moved here in 2000 for my undergrad and then was living here for three years after that. Now I come here all the time. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's interesting. Did you look at it as kind of a sign like, oh, there's a bumper sticker I should follow that car?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. It was a misty morning and the sun was hitting the bricks in the Old Port. We were in the car, driving and then this bumper sticker. I was looking for a sign because I didn't really want to go to a big city. Portland is very much like Burlington but a little bit bigger and a little different. So I was like, this is perfect. So I applied to MECA and I got in.  I had never actually been to the college so the first day of class, I was like, this is great. <laugh> I was really happy. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. It's a good thing it worked out. That is a leap of faith that you just invested in there.


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. But it was beautiful and I knew it was close enough to home. So if it didn't work out, I could always go back.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I really enjoy your work. 

 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Thank you. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Tell me about this piece behind us in the studio. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

This painting is brand new. I've been doing houses for about five years and so they can be really simple or they can be a lot. This one is the idea of the changing season  but it’s not clear if it's the beginning of a season or the end of a season. In Vermont, you'll see tulips but there's snow on them. So it includes the different times of the year.  I like the idea of the leaves being not there but there's still life forming. So is it the spring? Is it winter?  And then the house is tucked into the environment and the landscape as objects, sort of communicating with each other within this luscious flowery environment. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It's interesting. You're talking about this transitional time. I think a lot of us do think, okay, there's winter, then there’s spring, then there’s summer, then there's fall. But it's really never like that. It's always so gradual. But I think that a lot of times when you look at art, there is one specific time of the year people are trying to have come across. What is it about the transition that is so intriguing to you?

  

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

So, it's funny. I so hate fall because, as an artist, the color stresses me out. I just had this conversation with somebody the other day. Fall is so vibrant in Vermont with the oranges and the reds.

In this painting, it’s not certain what time of the year, right?  It could be fall, maybe November, because the leaves have now turned gray or are dead or gone. It could also be May. So I love the idea of not knowing exactly when it is, but knowing there's something coming that you know what it is. So spring, or  summer's coming, but you also know in November that winter's coming, but you can remember spring because spring's gonna come after winter. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

In traditional Chinese medicine, there's this idea of yin within yang and yang within yin. So that if it's high season in summer, it's very young, it's very outward. It's the heat and the sun. In the winter, it's very yin. But then there's all the things in between. So there's always something that's rising and something that's falling. So that's what comes up for me is this idea that we're never, most of us,  are never really fully in one place or another. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. Also, I like to travel a lot, especially around New England. So right now, here in Maine, it's a little bit behind Vermont. You got your first snow today, right? 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think it was maybe the other day, but yes, not that long ago. Yes. Right, you guys have probably had snow for a little while in Vermont. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. But you can get in a car and go three hours and still have a change. I just really like traveling around and we all have the same awesome experiences. So whether you're in Maine or Vermont, you're still having the same changes, just slightly different. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

There's also something about the light in the windows in these structures that you've put here. Regardless of the season, there's a light in the windows. There might be somebody sitting in there just waiting for the next thing to happen. That's just what I get out of it. Is there an intentionality to making some of the windows look as if there could be a lit wood stove behind them or a candle?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. Absolutely.  Also there is uncertainty about the time of day, right? Dusk or dawn, it’s the same sort of experience. It can be morning, people have their lights on, it can be morning and there's the moon still up. So I've been kind of fascinated with that idea. So the lights could be night or day or morning, so the beginning or the end. And so I like the lights giving the hint that it's not midday. So you're either beginning or you're ending. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How would you describe your style? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

I think it's evolving, but definitely graphic.  I struggle with defining my style because I definitely don't know. It is definitely graphic regional American. I enjoy looking at a lot of art.  For me, pop art was huge and then self-expression was huge for me for a long time.  I think that's coming in a little bit with more of the flowery work.  Some of my work is kind of “Poppy” or very like simplified more design. If I look at artists from the 1950s they're designed to,  it's that kind of playing around with how much can you show of your process while keeping your surfaces like art. I want a good surface and I don't want my brushstrokes to take away from the object. But then I look at this and I'm like, I can see all these brushstrokes, but it's okay because the texture of a flower is gonna have more of a texture to it. But a house is flat, so I'm like, that's a different brushstroke on that. It's okay. I am very aware of my brushstroke. So I think that that's what I can, as an artist, kind of always get better. Right. It's my process. Like how do I make my process more and more concrete so that I'm a better painter. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It actually makes me  happy that you're saying, “well, I'm not sure if I can completely describe my style. It's evolving.” The reason I ask is because I learn a lot from people that I talk to and when somebody says, “oh, I'm representational” then I look back at the art as somebody who's not trained in art and I go, oh, okay. That makes sense. Yes. And so I use it as a way to educate myself, but it's also interesting to know that it isn't something that one day you wake up and you say, oh, I'm a realist. I'm an expressionist. So the idea that you're continually moving in a direction as your own process, your own style, evolves. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

I spend a lot of time alone in my studio and I have an inside joke. If you do it long enough, you're going to do everything. So if you paint your whole lifespan, at some point, you're gonna paint a house. At some point you're probably gonna paint a cat, at some point you're gonna paint yourself in the mirror crying. So as an artist you’re  going to probably hit every genre because  you're searching.  I've been doing houses for five years, which is the longest I've stayed regimented and they've become more simplified and simplified because they're objects. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

What is it about houses that has kept you interested in painting them for five years? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Well, it's funny.  My husband is in real estate, so I'm around houses a lot. Also,  I moved around a lot as a child. We just celebrated our 10 anniversary in our current house, which is crazy that I've lived somewhere for that long. So home is like super..well, it's very prevalent in my life right now. I have a kid, I'm home, my studio's at home. So the house has sort of allowed me to play around in the idea that there might be people in the houses. I can be a little more loose with how I do them. They don't have to depict an actual thing. They can be more abstracted. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Tell me about this moving around a lot. What, what was that phase in your life like?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

My mom was a single mom. We moved every six months until I was about eight. Then I started school and her career took off. We ended up moving after that for jobs. By the time I was in high school, I'd moved 20 something times. And so I was like, I want to stay still. My mom promised me we wouldn't move. So in high school, I got to stay in one place for four years. My husband's never not lived in Vermont. So I’m  like, you’ve got to get out of Vermont. I'm trying to get him to move out of Vermont but he has lived in the same 10 mile radius. So it cracks me up because I'm on the opposite spectrum.  So moving around was actually very, very good for me because  it gave me so many experiences and it opened my eyes to stuff that if you grow up in an area like Vermont, you don't get. I got to live in England. I lived in Toronto. I lived in the Washington DC area. I've lived all over. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

10 years. I know that's a long time to be in one place for you. What are some of the things that you learned from each of these individual places?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

In England, I went to an international girl school. So I met people from all over the world and it opened me up. My school had eight Americans in it, so it just shrunk America down for me. So the world became what I was learning about family culture and how people relate to each other.  I got to see a ton of art growing up.  I got to go to Italy twice by the time I was 13. So I got to see stuff that a lot of kids, my friends back in Vermont, weren't experiencing at that point. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It has been interesting for me to see we've had increased access to people and cultures around the world. We've become a more global community. And at the same time, that's created some anxiety and uncertainty for people who aren't used to a global approach. Do you think there's a way that one can kind of maintain their identity focusing on a place like Vermont? Like your husband? But simultaneously also be aware of other things outside of them and kind of create a comfort with both. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Yes. I travel. I mean, I think the best, it's so funny. It's like, so you haven't had a gelato, unless you go to Italy. You can get really good gelato here, but that's, I know it's like a basic thing, but food is a great way to enter cultures.  If you travel, that really is gonna be your bang for your buck. And then you can actually, I think say from my experience rather than being like, well, I read this thing in a book or or I saw something. So my husband's really interesting because he has had the opportunity to travel a ton and I think that's what can keep him staying in Vermont for so long.  But I think that's really your best way to understand from my experience.  So with my son we're like, okay, we gotta make sure we travel to make sure he sees the world because Vermont and Maine are wonderful. They're utopias, but a utopia is not really the world we live in. So you gotta kind of experience the world in my opinion. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

No, I'm in agreement with you. I mean I, with my children, it's been kind of the same way. I mean, we've been very Maine focused and it's wonderful for them. We, everybody, grew up in this town, they graduated from this high school, but my son went to Guatemala for a year and worked with an organization that educated children outside the Guatemala city dump. And I think he learned so much from that. It's so much about the contrast and the comparisons and the similarities and I think to have both is really, well, it's almost invaluable really. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Yes. And it's been really hard to – we're trying to plan trips right now because he's at the age now where I'm not as worried about him running into the road like when he was younger. My husband's family's from England. We kind of wanna go at least to that part of Europe first. But we're like, we're kind of like trying to plan our trip. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yes. COVID, been really tough for that. Yes. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

<laugh>, it's hard to make travel plans. Yes. So, but that's what for me, being able to, at least to me, if you're in your six hours in a car is so manageable. So I go to New York city a lot cuz it's six hours away from Vermont that it's like the world. I say, I brought my son there in September and I was like, this is like a crash course in the world. And he's in Times Square, he's like, oh, but I'm like, okay, just, this is the world in a very quick amount of time, but it gives you something to relate to. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How has your son done with all of these interesting transitions that we've all been working through over the last two years? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

He's been great. So I mean he's had his, he's an only child that was the hardest thing.  But he, we were really lucky. He got to go to school most of the time. So it’s been for him, he doesn't know different. Right. So I think for younger kids they're like, oh, when you're seven, the world shuts down. Like, I don't know. Maybe he was great. He actually did really well with it and we took the time to be home. And I moved my studio at home. My husband worked from home so we got to be together there. So that was really important. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

When did you first know that you were interested in pursuing art? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

I always cry at this one for some reason. When I was five year olds or so,  I was lucky enough to be brought up with a lot of art and to have people in my life that were really into art. My mom was a musician and an artist.  To me, that was just life…you eat, you sleep, and you do art. That was just part of what you do. As I got older, I realized not everyone does that. But I wanted to always have art, be my thing  and I really got really involved with art  in high school. That was when I decided that art was my number one. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So five is a very young age to know that that's the way that you want the rest of your life to look. Do you have the sense that that is a normal experience for artists? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Actually, I've heard a lot of people say that it's really that age because you're trying to find yourself. Then you start school, which is like you're really good at math or you're not. And you can get better.  It gave me a real sense of purpose and it gave me a clear direction in school. Okay. I might not do great here, but I have art. So I'll go to art class and then I'll make something and my teacher will say that's really nice. And I'll say, thank you. So I heard a lot of people do have the same kind of experience at a younger age.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It puts a lot of pressure on us as parents. Doesn't it?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

I don't want – my husband right now he was so stressed out this morning. He's like, I signed him up for cuz we wanna make sure we're giving him the tools. Right.  And anytime he shows an interest in something football, which is I'm like, where did he get this from?  we wanna listen, but we also wanna – not like when I was growing up and when you were in art school, they said you have to pick one because multi, multidisciplinary art wasn't even a thing like that. It was actually kind of shunned upon now. It's like, oh,  you wanna sculpt and paint, that's wonderful. So finding the balance interest versus spastic thickness I'm trying to like find like some direction. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. My kids are all older now, but I know that one of my children was very good in math. So for a while I was like “is that child gonna be a mathematician or a scientist?”  Another one was a very proficient swimmer and then swam through college, but then was done. I think for me sports are hard that way. There's definitely a shelf life too. Being that not that many people go on to the Olympics for example. So yes, I think it is interesting for me because I, similar to you, want to give them the tools, the experience, the exposure. I also never want to pigeonhole them into something that they feel constrained by right as they move forward in their lives. I feel like that's an interesting kind of co-evolution of the parent-child relationship. Did you have that with your mother? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

She was always super supportive of me doing art. So, we laugh about this all the time, she was like how many things? When I was in high school, I wanted to be a snowboarder. So she bought me all the equipment and I lasted two weeks.  I'm gonna be a photographer. So she bought me the whole camera set up. I wanna play the guitar. I have a really nice guitar. She was always really supportive but the art was always that kind of thing. When I was in high school, I had this amazing basement bedroom. I don't know if I'd ever give my son a basement bedroom, but it was a great basement bedroom. And I was like, I wanna create a giant mural. My mom was like, go for it. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

So I painted this massive mural of me and my friends on these like rainbows and moons and stars and they're all falling. It was very highschool-y and my mom, I moved out of the house and I got to college and she calls me up really mad. I'm like, what? She's like, what did you, what paint did you use to do that mural? Because  she's trying to sell her house. And I said, I don't know, tempera? And if you're an artist you don't use tempera, on a wall because they couldn't paint over it. So they had to wash the walls. It ended up being this whole thing. But I remember being like: but she was so supportive of me painting this mural. I was like thank you. So I think sometimes it costs her to believe in my stuff, literally yes, like literally financially a lot. But definitely, I got in to Maine College of Art. She was super psyched and  yes, she's been very supportive. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I mean all I, all I can picture is when my twin sisters were younger, they got into my mother's lipsticks and they like scribbled all over the wall and whatever it was in the lipsticks never ever came off. Right. So you just did like an enormous high school version of that for your mother to kind of happen to cross with when she wanted to move into the next phase of her life. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

So, don't use tempera on the walls. Okay. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

<laugh> or, or lipstick really? You just have to be. I mean, I love the fact that she is so open, but there is kind of on the other side sometimes yes, a potential negative impact. Yes, absolutely. Yes. What has it been like to work with a Maine based gallery? I know you have this very strong connection prior to your Vermont connection or kind of intertwined but you're in Vermont. What, what's that like?


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

It's awesome because I have an excuse to go to Maine all the time. I'm like, I gotta go to Maine. The gallery's been amazing and super supportive and busy. Portland is funny. It's definitely a bigger city than Burlington and it has a, it seems like, because I like, I'm kind of obsessed with it, but it's like, it seems like the tourists coming through this area are different,  even though the same, it there's something in Maine happening that isn't necessarily Vermont is always, we are always 10 years behind is a big joke in Vermont like fashion and everything. So I don't know if it's that or not, but this seems to be a much more city hum here–  growth is I noticed too. So to be in Portland, for me as an artist is a great step because eventually I wanna be super famous. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Right? So this is a great step for me as far as a scale of a size of a place.  And then my own personal connection here allows me then, to come back and when I'm here on family  vacation, it's great. I'll be like, oh I should shoot up to Portland. Because  we go to Ogunquit a bunch. So it's great.  It's a reason to see my friends from college or to walk around or to bring my family here.  Which is really fun. So it's a second home for sure. And it just keeps that relationship to a part of myself 20 years ago now still alive. Kind of makes it all still exist, which is great. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. It's interesting because having also lived in Burlington and going back now because we have family who lives there and there's more of a kind of, you go there and you stay there and then you go back to where you came from. Whereas Portland, there's almost a little bit of a way station. There's a little bit of a transient by means it’s the largest city, but it's kind of it's here and then you have Ogunquit down below, you have Bath up above. So there's, there's always a sense of coming and going and with the port. And just it, there does seem to be more, less, little bit less stasis. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Yes. There's just it. There's more restaurants, there's more things. And I always thought when I was here at MECA, I think a lot of it has to do with that. There's an art school here because you have people who graduate who are interested, not just in art, but really good food or design or like you, like the interiors of a lot of these places. You feel the connection with the arts. There's more– just even the Christmas light display, you’re driving through the Christmas light display and it just feels more alive and more artistically connected. But I think that is a lot to do with there being an art school here. So you have, have the trickle effect, right? The alumni come stay, live in the community, open businesses over time. Even though it's a small college it's still, I think, it’s linking a lot to the community after the fact. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. I think that's true. And I'm old enough to remember when it was the Portland School of Art. Yes. So it was very local, it was a school. They called themselves school, even though it was clearly a college.  And then the fact that they laid a greater claim. So now we're gonna be the Maine College of Art. And then they, their campus even really changed.  They took over the old Porteous building and they created a really large modern space. And I mean, it really feels like they've invested in the community and not just the Maine community, but a larger community. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

And what I also find awesome about this area is it's so close to Boston. So you have that city link. Burlington is just so much north that even that makes it just too far. I think that that connection makes it, you probably get a lot more people up from Boston and,


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yes. And the Museum of Art in Portland is also really kind of, considering the size of our city and the size of our state, really has a lot of very big names in the art field. But Maine is kind of, I mean, and I don't know that much about Vermont art, so I can't, I, is there the same kind of art legacy and creative legacy in Vermont that has as a whole? 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

No. And it's like, so it's so funny. I talked to artists in two galleries in Vermont and we just had this conversation. It's like, what is going on? I think because it doesn't have an art college or real focus on art, even the University of Vermont has a great art program, but I've, but I don't know how much they're actually, at this point, you also don't have the legacy, I know I could be like shooting myself with this, but like the legacy artists, there are some, but like if you go to places like Provincetown, which I spend a lot of time in. If you've been there and you've done art at some point, you're gonna get the museum show out of respect for your legacy of being an artist. Vermont doesn't really have that. So I can count on my hand a couple of artists that you would, you would know, right.  Woody Jackson, Saber Fields, and they're wonderful, but I've never seen a huge museum retrospective of them. There's just not that growth, that linear growth for a Vermont artist. And I think people, I always say it's a great place to live as an artist, but I'm, that's not where you're gonna make it as an artist.  You have got to spread your way for longevity. There's only so many places, there's very few galleries in the whole – I mean, there's some, but there's not a ton in the state. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, I think also in Maine you're dealing with a legacy that began hundreds of years ago that we know of. I mean, there probably is something more for the people who lived here originally that we just don't, we don't have any way to access the history of that. But I mean, we have Winslow Homer. I mean, we have, we have people that came to the state far longer ago than I think you're talking about with Woody Jackson. I mean that's relatively contemporary art. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

And, and could be, I'm like, can I call a friend real quick?  I'm sure there are, I'm sure there are artists that like, but it’s embarrassing. I can't for me, it's like, okay, I'm gonna have to go home and Google.  but the long you don't see these legacy, I don't know. It's interesting, you see other places all the time. I just don't see it in Vermont. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Maybe you're just at the beginning of the legacy. So you're just not benefiting from what was going on 200 years ago at this point. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Yes. Now I'm gonna have to research.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, there's no pressure. I mean maybe read up on it. You'll have to send me an email, you'll be like, oh, actually all of these people, they are all from Vermont. So yes. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Well, my great aunt was the illustrator for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. She worked with Robert May.  So I'm like, but she never, no one really even knew who she was. It's funny, in Vermont you had illustrators because she would, she would always say we never get any credit.  So before she passed away, they gave her credit. They gave her a plaque for a couple other things she did, but yes, I'm stumped on. I like don't 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, as I said, now there's no pressure, but you'll have to, you'll have to kind of continue to bring the artists of the next 200 years. Along with you. Do you feel up to that task? <laugh> 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

No. Maybe 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

We'll see. Well, I mean, you're also, you've been a teacher you've worked with nonprofits. I mean, I mean, you are actually, in addition to doing your own work, you actually are working on moving art forward. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Yes. And I retired. It's so funny. I'm like I retired, I did it and I feel like I did it for a long time and it felt at a point where I really wanted my art. I wanted to give all that energy to my art. You give a lot of yourself out as anyone who runs any size business, you give yourself out to a lot of people. So to kind of, I was painting the whole entire time, but I just didn't have as much time. I wanna focus on my art and that takes up my time. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yes. That's very relatable. Yes. I mean, I think there's, I think of the energy that we put into our children, especially when they're younger and our jobs and our communities, especially when maybe we are younger, but then you're right. You do come to a time. You're like, okay, now I've contributed, my kids are good. The job's good. I've done all that I've gotta do. And now I'm gonna come back to myself a little, and, or a lot actually. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham: 

Yes. Yes. And I feel like I owe myself that I, we, well, like I keep a joke with my mother. I'm like, we invested a lot of money for art school. You know? As an artist, I'm an investment for that. And I feel like, okay, then it's time to really, I'm in a different spot in my life. I'm not – I go to bed early. I wake up, I'm very disciplined.  And I love it. I have my studio, I drink my coffee. I go for a walk and then I paint all day, pick my son up. It's awesome. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you. It's really a lot of fun.  I'll see pieces and I'll be like, I wonder what that person is like, who created that. So to put a name and a face to a piece, for me, it always really brings me a lot of joy. So thank you for bringing me that joy today. 


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

Awesome! Thank you. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I've been speaking with artist Sage Tucker Ketcham. You can see her work at the Portland Art Gallery and also on the Portland Art Gallery website.  As we've been talking about, there is a legacy to art. So you may wanna invest in some of her pieces because you really don't know. Maybe maybe in 10 years, 20 years, a hundred years down the line you could – It could have been a good investment for you plus it's just fun. So I'd really encourage you to actually look into the pieces that we have available at the Portland Art Gallery. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle, you've been listening to or watching Radio Maine. Thank you very much for coming in today.


 

Sage Tucker Ketcham:

 Thank you for having me.