Fresco: The Golden Time

Fresco: The Golden Time

An interview with Skowhegan Fresco Instructor Sean Glover, A'03

Fresco has been part of Skowhegan since its founding in 1946. Campus remains one of the few places in the United States where this technique is still taught and practiced by contemporary artists. In this interview, fresco instructor Sean Glover, A ‘03 gives a history of the medium at Skowhegan and a provides a glimpse into the practice on campus today.

What is the history of fresco at Skowhegan?

Skowhegan was founded by four artists  (Bill Cummings, Henry Varnum Poor, Sidney Simon and Charles Cutler) who came together after  World War II, at the end of an era in which social realism and mural painting were very popular. They wanted to create a space not only for artists to go and practice and reflect and learn from one and other, but also pick up practical skills. Because fresco was still a part of the broader artistic conversation of that moment, people could learn fresco at the school and use that skill to get commissions for major jobs. Henry Varnum Poor had worked on frescoes with Diego Rivera, and we still use some of his techniques at Skowhegan today.

Since then, the culture has shifted. There are different materials, different approaches to making art— post-studio practice, conceptualism, time-based media like video—all of these things have come into the fold and fresco has moved to the periphery. So when I talk about fresco at Skowhegan, I try to emphasize that by participating in it, you're contributing to the history of the school and coming into contact with its foundation.

Fresco is a unique process that has emerged in many different cultures, often ones that  have had little or no contact with each other. When you work with fresco, you’re interacting with something really ancient, but also something very immediate. You're touching base with different sites and architectures, different cultures, and of course a broad range of subject matters. I describe it as a kind of "meta-process," or "meta-material." It's loaded just by participating in it. Fresco is unique in that way.

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From the Archive: Fresco Lectures Title TBD

From the Archive

An Oral History of Fresco

1947_students_original_Fresco Barn.jpg

Over the course of Skowhegan’s history, fresco has been taught by a small group distinguished fresco artists, including founder Henry Varnum Poor, Anne Poor, Stoney Conley, Walter O’Neil, and Daniel Bozhkov. These knowledgeable and dedicated artists have added to Skowhegan’s rich catalog of recorded lectures with their presentations on the history and technique of fresco.

Presented below are excerpts from the lectures of Stoney Conley, Walter O’Neil, and Daniel Bozhkov. These lectures are held in Skowhegan’s Lecture Archive.

To access them in their entirety to TDB.

Stoney Conley

Sounds of scraping and water.] 10:22

Okay. Now in the next process we're applying thin layers of the prepared mortar, with the trowel. The idea is to cut slices and press it into this layer, at about an eighth of an inch, between an eighth and a quarter, consistently in depth, because you want it to dry at the same period.

Now this is the hardest part for Americans to learn, because we didn't grow up in a culture that had a lot of lime stucco houses, and none of us have done a lot of troweling. If you go to the Mediterranean, everybody does it. Every time they have a crack in the wall they slap some up, and the Italians are the best plasterers in the world. They're usually the people who do this.

I'm hoping you'll be able to see over my shoulder. It's a process of cutting thin slices, forcing it onto the wall, pressing in, and pulling down a little bit. You can see how a team of plasterers would be considerably faster, which is why this is usually done, especially in the old days -- Every painter had a workshop where you went to apprentice, and learn the trade from them.

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The other part about this is that you get a surface -- if you press this in, and every time you trowel across it you pull off a certain amount of lime, out of the sand, it sticks on the trowel and you want to get rid of it, you want to wipe it on anything available -- if you glop that into the surface, that's where your cracks appear, because you get high concentrations of lime without any sand. So as it dries, that part dries quicker or slower, depending on the temperature [sounds of rubbing and troweling].

So in the old days -- assuming that we're talking about a Renaissance workshop -- the painter -- say, Ghirlandaio, would be up here with a trowel, with a couple people throwing water on the wall (including the young Michelangelo), and he'd have somebody else behind him doing the second part, where you're doing a finishing trowel, getting it all smooth and making sure the seams disappear. If you can imagine -- Michelangelo frescoed the Sistine Chapel without any help. He had some help from Florence but he didn't go on with them, and he fired them. He didn't spend a lot of time in Ghirlandaio’s studio, and he considered himself a sculptor. But when the Pope summoned him, you don't turn down the Pope, so he agreed to do it, and he spent two, three, four years doing this. [Laughter] It's easier when you do it on a table, but you'll be doing that -- the kind of preliminary studies we'll be doing on small panels. 17:00


Walter O’Neil

And if people have touched a few frescoes around here, you’ll see that a few people painted after the chemical reaction had occurred; and that’s why the pigment comes off in your hand. But a good fresco won’t; and there are certainly good ones, technically, within this building. And hopefully when you do one it will be technically correct. So that’s sort of the preliminary; and I gave you a little glossary of the terms of fresco; and I—both Michael and I use those terms, and everyone who works in fresco uses them because the Italians sort of created those terms that they... were doing frescoes and made those terms and they’ve stuck. I learned fresco here in 1974 as a student, and continued doing it... and then later on was invited back, in 1987, to do this job. So... part of learning about fresco is... a hands-on method from someone who knows it... to the next person, as well as checking the sources, which are basically medieval Renaissance sources such as “Tamino Tanini”, and the “Saurian 15th century” to get information from them; and then sort of try to digest it and find out what it actually means by trying it out.

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And we can see; I mean, those are really rich, wonderful, brilliant color; they don’t really need cadmium yellows and reds and things.... If Piero could do it, anyone can do it. (laughs) I guess not; sorry. (laughs) (laughter)

And... just in closing, sort of, why is fresco done in... Skowhegan? It seems like a really weird place; you have... contemporary artists coming to Skowhegan every summer; contemporary— you people from all over the country or all over the world coming here... and there’s fresco going on. Fresco is part of Skowhegan because, in a sense, the originator, Willard Cummings, loved fresco and did fresco as well as Henry Varnum Poor, and—who—and Cummings starting the school in the Forties, sort of out of that tradition of WPA people doing frescos; and... it’s continued ever since. This is an example of a fresco by Joel King—that far back wall—that was done in 1954, well—along with six other artists, in the South Solon Meetinghouse, which is six miles down the East Madison Road; that the Skowhegan School arranged for them, took plaster—and it’s really—to paint it in true fresco; and it’s really wonderful to see... I mean, it’s sort of... the Sistine Chapel of Maine, in a sense. (laughter) And there’s a wide range of techniques that are used there as well, so it would be interesting for you to go see sometime. We might have a class trip sometime in July to go visit it as well.


Daniel Bozhkov

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Cerrie Woodner Bamford Joins Skowhegan as Director of Development & Events

Cerrie Woodner Bamford Joins Skowhegan as Director of Development & Events

  Photo: Travis Emery Hackett

Photo: Travis Emery Hackett

Skowhegan is pleased to announce the appointment of Cerrie Woodner Bamford as its new Director of Development & Events. Ms. Bamford joins Skowhegan from The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where she spent 14 years in the Special Programming and Events, Development, and the Affiliate Programs Departments. She currently manages The Friends of Education at MoMA, a membership group focused on diversity initiatives with a mission to foster a greater appreciation of art created by African American artists and to encourage African American participation in the activities and membership of the Museum.

At Skowhegan Ms. Bamford will work closely with the Board and Staff to lead fundraising efforts that leverage Skowhegan’s distinguished history, current programs, and ambitious future. In a statement, co-directors Katie Sonnenborn and Sarah Workneh said: Cerrie is a passionate advocate for artists who shares our deep commitment to advancing opportunities for artists from many backgrounds. In this pivotal moment for Skowhegan, as we embark on a campus Master Plan and look ahead to the school’s 75th Anniversary in 2021, we are thrilled to have her on board.

Ms. Bamford holds a Bachelor of Arts in Photography & Communications and a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology from St. Edward’s University, and an AAS in Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu. She is the Board President of Hivewild, a contemporary movement initiative dedicated to community engagement, and a member of POWarts.

2018 Barabara Lee Lecture Series

2018 Barabara Lee Lecture Series

Julieta Aranda  •  Kevin Everson  •  Fritz Haeg  •  Josephine Halvorson  •  Dave Hardy  • 

Lyle Ashton Harris  • Simon Leung  •  Fred Moten  • Jeanine Oleson  •  Henry Taylor  •  Anicka Yi


Old Dominion Fresco Barn
Skowhegan Campus, Madison, Maine


Lectures begin at 8:30 PM and are free and open to the public. Please call 207.474.9345 to confirm date and time. For directions to campus, please contact Assistive listening devices are available if you call to reserve a headset at least 24 hours prior to the lecture.


Lectures presented by resident and visiting faculty have been an essential element of Skowhegan's campus program since its inception in 1946. Beginning in 1952, the lectures have been recorded and collected for the Skowhegan Lecture Archive, which now contains over 650 lectures delivered by faculty artists in the uniquely intimate setting of our campus in rural Maine. The lectures have amassed into an invaluable collection of candid talks by artists as diverse as Vito Acconci, Janine Antoni, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Kiki Smith, Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, and Fred Wilson. The archive continues to grow each summer.


Helen Frankenthaler at Skowhegan

Helen Frankenthaler came to Skowhegan during the summer of 1986 as a visiting faculty artist. In addition to conducting studio visits with participants, she gave a lecture on campus in the Old Dominion Fresco Barn. This talk, excerpts of which can be explored below, is preserved in Skowhegan’s Lecture Archive, a trove of lectures by faculty and other artists who spoke at Skowhegan dating back to 1952.

On October 5th, 2017 Skowhegan announced that it has received a $250,000 gift from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. The funds will provide for a new studio building which will be named in Frankenthaler’s honor, acknowledging her deep commitment to studio practice, and will accommodate discrete workspaces for three visual artists. When complete, the Frankenthaler Studio will be the 15th studio building on Skowhegan’s 350-acre campus, joining those named for other artists who taught at Skowhegan, including founder Willard “Bill” Cummings and Jacob Lawrence.

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Skowhegan receives $250,000 gift from Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Skowhegan receives $250,000 gift from Helen Frankenthaler Foundation


Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, one of the nation’s leading residencies for emerging visual artists, announced today that it has received a $250,000 gift from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. The funds will provide for a new studio building to be constructed on its rural campus in central Maine.

The new building will be named in Frankenthaler’s honor, acknowledging her deep commitment to studio practice, and will accommodate discrete workspaces for three visual artists. When complete, the Frankenthaler Studio will be the 15th studio building on Skowhegan’s 350-acre campus, joining those named for other artists who taught at Skowhegan, including founder Willard “Bill” Cummings and Jacob Lawrence.

“This remarkable gift is deeply meaningful for Skowhegan, which was founded by and for artists. It carries forward that legacy and underscores the critical role that alumni and faculty play in its long-term success,” said Skowhegan Co-Director Sarah Workneh. The sentiment was echoed by Co-Director Katie Sonnenborn, who stated, “Skowhegan is a place that cherishes legacy, and the presence of previous generations is palpable through its archives, historic campus, and honorific spaces like the Frankenthaler Studio that are so inspiring for artists to work within.”

Frankenthaler came to Skowhegan during the summer of 1986 as a visiting faculty artist. In addition to conducting studio visits with participants, she gave a lecture on campus in the Old Dominion Fresco Barn. This talk, excerpts of which can be heard on Skowhegan’s website is preserved in Skowhegan’s Lecture Archive, a trove of lectures by faculty and other artists who spoke at Skowhegan dating back to 1952.

Clifford Ross, Chairman of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, stated, “The Foundation is extremely pleased to support Skowhegan in offering new studio workspaces that will carry Helen’s name. She valued exchanges with students and young artists throughout her life, finding her time at Skowhegan not only meaningful, but also productive for her own work.”

Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director of the Foundation, added, “We are delighted to contribute to Skowhegan’s broader efforts in a way that also signals Helen Frankenthaler’s commitment to the serious work of studio practice.”

The Frankenthaler studio will be one of several new or renovated spaces being conceived by Skowhegan as part of a holistic campus Master Plan. Approximately 750 square feet in size, it will be sited atop a ridge with expansive views to the north, east, and west, and buttressed by dense woods to the south. It will house three Skowhegan participants, who will be among the 65 emerging visual artists selected annually, from a pool of about 2,000, to participate in the summer program. Construction will begin within 24 months, with the first artists in residence in the new spaces by summer 2020.

The gift will be marked on October 23, 2017, when Douglas Dreishpoon, Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Catalogue Raisonné, will moderate a conversation at the Foundation among artists Tom Burckhardt, Byron Kim and Lisa Sigal who were participants at Skowhegan in the summer of 1986 when Frankenthaler visited. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. For information or to reserve a seat, email Cori Spencer at  


Skowhegan is an intensive nine-week summer residency program for emerging visual artists located on a historic 350-acre farm in rural Maine. Each year Skowhegan brings together a gifted and diverse group of individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to artmaking and inquiry. Founded by artists in 1946, and still governed by artists, the program provides an atmosphere in which participants are encouraged to work free of market or academic expectations. For additional information, visit our About page.

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), whose career spanned six decades, has long been recognized as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. She was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. In addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. Her work, which continues to have a profound impact on contemporary art, is represented in museum collections worldwide and has been the subject of numerous national and international exhibitions and substantial publications. 

The New York City-based Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, established and endowed by the artist during her lifetime, is dedicated to promoting greater public interest in and understanding of the visual arts. For more information, visit:




Small Objects 4 Large Table


Presenting gestures sized for the space of senses and placed in the realm of conversation, Personals is a show of small sculptural works installed together on four large tables. The 99 exhibiting artists span 65 Skowhegan alumni years, 3 continents, 6 countries, and 19 states. They are joined here in an installation that is inherently about making room for others and connecting with one’s peers.

Personals was curated by the Skowhegan Alliance Small Objects Committee: Barb Smith (A '12), Gabriela Salazar (A '11), and Sarah Mattes (A '15).


Skowhegan New York Program Space 
136 W. 22nd Street, Ground Floor, New York, NY 10011

Open Hours:
Monday - Friday, 10AM - 5PM and by  appointment.
(Monday, May 29, 2–5PM)

The exhibition has been extended to June 15, 2017, closing reception from 6–8PM


  Exhibition map.

Exhibition map.

  Personals installation.

Personals installation.


Alejandro Acierto (A '14)
Matt Ager (A '11)
Rick Albee (A '02)
Ramón Alcoléa (A '84)
Betsy Alwin (A '01)
Trevor Amery (A '13)
JD Beltran (A '98)
Doug Bosch (A '91)
Matt Brett (A '14)
Sara Bright (A '10)
Teresa Booth Brown (A '88)
Mike Calway-Fagen (A '11)
Carlos Castro (A '10)
Lili Chin (A '10)
Eun Woo Cho (A '08)
Peter Dudek (A '78)
Chris Duncan (A '75, '78)
Jonathan Ehrenberg (A '11)
Catherine Fairbanks (A '11)
Gordon Fearey (A '73)
Robert Flynt (A '74, '76)
Judy Fox (A '76)
Winslow Funaki (A '16)
Mary Louise Geering (A '92)
Cadence Giersbach (A '95)
Alex Goss (A '14)
Sophie Grant (A '15)
Mark Haddon (A '91)
Julia Haft-Candell (A '16)
Bang Geul Han (A '07)
Dave Hardy (A '04)
Jane Fox Hipple (A '09)
Audrey Hope (A '14)
Sarah Hotchkiss (A '10)
Joanne Howard (A '84)
Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford (A '11)
Ginny Huo (A '15)
Christina Hutchings (A '77) 
Kristian Blomstroem Johansson (A '13)
Lois Johnson (A '96)
Andrew Ellis Johnson (A '99)
Matt Kennedy (A '10)
Baseera Khan (A '14) 
Marcia Kure (A '12)
Gary, LaPointe (A '13)
Tim Lewis (A '98)
Peter Lipsitt (A '61) 
Laura Lobdell (A '99) 
Gregg Louis (A '09)
Jennifer Macdonald (A '05) 

MaryKate Maher (A '08)
Jason Manley (A '04)
Christopher Manzione (A '12) 
Sarah Mattes (A '15)
James Maurelle (A '15) 
Colin McMullan d/b/a Emcee C.M., Master of None (A '07) 
Nancy Modlin Katz (A '78)
Bridget Mullen (A '16)
Julie Nagle (A '10)
Monika Napier (A '93) 
Jann Nunn (A '91)
Erik Patton (A '15) 
Jonathan Peck (A '10) 
Benjamin Pederson (A '13)
Anna Queen (A '15)
Birgit Rathsmann (A '04)
Macon Reed (A '16) 
Matt Rich (A '10)
Kari Kaplan Rives (A '82)
Andrew Ross (A '11) 
Christy Rupp (A '74, '92 F)
Naomi Safran-Hon (A '12)
Gabriela Salazar (A '11)
Annesofie Sandal (A '15)
Vabianna Santos (A '13)
Cathy Sarkowsky (A '93)
Renata Manasse Schwebel (A '51)
Matt Shalzi (A '16)
Zoe Sheehan Saldana (A '00)
Kate Shepherd (A '90)
Rudy Shepherd (A '00)
Gina Siepel (A '08)
Barb Smith (A '12)
Jessica Snow (A '92)
Edra Soto (A '00)
James Southard (A '12) 
Susanna Starr (A '85)
Draga Susanj (A '02)
Millette Tapiador (A '98)
Steed Taylor (A '97)
The Estate of Larry Warshaw (A '57, '58) 
Elizabeth Tubergen & Erica Wessmann (A '15)
Robert Wechsler (A '06)
Steven Weiss (A '76)
Erica Wessmann (A '15)
Andrew Wilhelm (A '98)
Lynne Yamamoto (A '96)
John Zappas (A '12)
Monika Zarzeczna (A '06)




The Voyage of The Sable Venus / Rescuing Water-Damaged Textiles during the Los Angeles Riots

Selected by Paige Laino

  • The Voyage of The Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, Prologue (attached)
    Full text here:
  • Rescuing Water-Damaged Textiles during the Los Angeles Riots by Dubravka Turkovic-Kiseljev from the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 1995) (attached)
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