Greeting us at the back door of the collaborative studio space, Running With Scissors, in Portland’s Back Cove neighborhood, Molly Holmberg Brown is bright-eyed and energetic. Surrounded by cubbies that are home to other painters, printers, and potters, she is relatively new to the space, starting at the studio about six months ago. Her 10’x18' space is completely filled with work - the walls are covered with paintings and the desks and file cabinets are full of map prints that make it clear that Molly is inspirationally in full stride. She generously takes the time to share with us the full scope of the history, theory, and artistic vision that is behind every piece she creates.
“I think it’s important to represent place with enough familiarity for people to attach a personal connection to it, but it’s also important to understand that coastlines and landmarks are constantly changing."
Molly’s childhood home was in the woods of Orono, Maine, with the Stillwater River running in her backyard. Taking trips to Monhegan island with her family, she became inspired by the work of Rockwell Kent, N.C. Wyeth, and Tom Thomson, artists for whom the subject of place is a recurring theme. We asked Molly if she always wanted to be an artist, and she paused to think. “Yeah, I think there was always something in the back of my mind that called me to create art...but for a long time I thought there was something more important I should be doing. I took a pretty messy path to get here.”
“The history of map making is filled with lies and agendas. I wanted to be a part of creating maps that convey joy, connection, and personal truth.”
Molly’s education studying cartography and human geography brought her to Vermont, British Columbia, and Colorado. She continued her travels around the world on fellowship, exploring the value of map-making for both individuals and cultures and later guiding international enrichment trips with students, traveling to Mongolia, Russia, China, Japan, and South Africa. During her travels, Molly began making small pen and ink map drawings on scraps of paper, enthralled by the idea of how we present the world and understand our sense of place. She also began to process that there is an underbelly of economic, social, and political dynamics that affect the way maps are made. “The history of map making is filled with lies and agendas. I wanted to be a part of creating maps that convey joy, connection, and personal truth.”
It wasn’t until three years ago, when she returned to Maine with her husband and two young children, that Molly began to pursue her passion as an artist more seriously. She enjoys the freedom of allowing her process and aesthetic to be rough and imperfect. When interpreting a sense of place in her artwork, she states: “I think it’s important to represent place with enough familiarity for people to attach a personal connection to it, but it’s also important to understand that coastlines and landmarks are constantly changing. Augmenting the lines releases us from the idea that absolute boundaries exist.” On a piece of composite wood board, Molly uses a Japanese carving tool to carve along the traced line of land and water. Using a small roller, she applies ink to the raised surfaces, then lines up a piece of sturdy archival paper on top of the board. As it is slowly rolled through the press, the ink imprints the jagged lines of the land to the paper. Molly works around the ink with hand-painted watercolor, distinguishing each with a look that is entirely unique.
“I want my art to help people feel more in love with the land. To feel more connected to their place in the universe.”
Molly’s artwork has pushed beyond maps to depict, in her words, a “geographical imagination.” She paints fishbowled landscapes and trees that dance and twist with a human quality. Her paintings are bold and abstract, less literal than her maps, but just as centered around the importance of place and our relationship to nature. “I want my art to help people feel more in love with the land. To feel more connected to their place in the universe.”
View our entire collection of Molly's work below or by clicking here.
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