ghosts of the quarrymen: an interview with iver lofving


When you get off of the ferry that takes you from Bass Harbor to Swan’s Island one of the first things you’ll notice are signs in the road pointing the direction to Iver’s Studio, a beautiful wood-shingled studio tucked up in the pines and moss and built by Iver himself.  Iver Lofving is an artist who divides his time between Skowhegan, where he teaches art, and Swan’s Island, where he has family roots that go back over 100 years.  The walls over Iver’s studio are covered with woodblock prints depicting island life and history, silk-screened t-shirts, and paintings and drawings that find their inspiration in the time he spent living in South America.  The studio is an amazing spot, and if you ever find yourself spending time on Swan’s Island it’s a destination that’s not to be missed.  I feel myself lucky to have gotten a chance know Iver during my time on Swan’s Island, and to have gotten a chance to interview him about his work.

Trane: Can you tell me something about your history as an artist?  You have an amazing series of paintings and lithographs that you did based on your time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, and then it seems you’ve moved primarily to making woodblock prints and silkscreen designs for printing shirts.  What determines your attraction to a particular medium, and do you find that there’s a relationship between the subject matter that you work with and the materials that you choose to use for any individual piece?

Iver: I have been doing the prints for the last 20 years.  I suppose you find a thing that works and you work it.  I have been doing my art studio for about the same amount of time I have been teaching.  I have the summers off and have been doing a print or two about Swan’s Island and my life there and selling them.   I think I am attracted to media that work for me.   I think there is a connection between the medium and the message.  For example I use basswood for my woodblocks.  They are cut out of the local forest, and some even came out of my woodlot.   The material is local and the themes are local.

Trane: Swan’s Island and the surrounding area is clearly a major source of inspiration for your woodblock prints and for your silkscreen designs.  Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Swan’s Island?  What drew you to the island in the first place, and what is it about this area that attracts you as an artist?  There are several of your works that explicitly reference the history of Swan’s Island and the surrounding area — I’m thinking of The Quarrymen, for example — could you talk about a couple of these and the process that you go through when you make a woodblock print?

Iver: I have been going to Swan’s Island since the 60’s.  My family has been going there since the 1880’s, so it’s the place where everyone in my family goes.  I love the place now, but when I started going there again in the 80’s I had a small motorboat with a chart and a flashlight so I could leave at any time.    I am there because I have roots there, of a sort.  I really feel disconnected to the rest of the world, so it gives me a place where I feel a little more at home.   It’s a beautiful place also, so that helps.   I do artwork that’s about whatever I am interested in.  Last summer I got really into the granite quarrying industry, so I did a print entitled The Quarrymen.  We visited Black Island and I read a Ruth Moore book about the island, so I was thinking about all the people who used to live there and the fact that the only clues to their existence are the stones they quarried.

Trane: Are there any specific pieces that you’ve made that feel exceptionally interesting or important to you?  If so, what’s the story?  I personally, of course, love the print you made depicting taking the Sneppa (Iver’s boat) out to John’s Island Dry Ledge to see the seals, since that’s a trip that we took together as well.

Iver: I think a painting I did when I turned 40 of the Sneppa is one of the ones that means a lot to me.  They all are very important to me.   I have a lot of paintings that I did of Central America.  I had to paint it out of my brain, so when I came back I did a lot of prints and paintings of that region, and my time there.

Trane: Are there any new pieces that you’re working on now, or have lined up to work on in the future?  Are there any longstanding ideas you’ve had for pieces that you have yet to execute?

Iver: I am thinking about my 20 years spent teaching.  I may do something about that.  I have done a lot of prints and paintings about things like 9/11 and peak oil.  They aren’t big sellers, but they help me to work things out in my mind.   I really don’t know exactly what I am going to work on, but I can feel something percolating in the back of my mind.

Trane: Anything else you’d like to add?

Iver: I think us artists are living in a different world than most of the society.  I have found my way through the world thus far on a path that is both conventional and very different from most of the people I have met.  I think that being an artist is both a curse and a blessing.

6 Responses to “ghosts of the quarrymen: an interview with iver lofving”

  1. I remember a humanities course in one of my many visits to college and in the course we were asked to reflect on the artist as a window into the time in which they lived. I chose Jackson Pollack. I won’t directly disagree with Iver’s statement that “artists are living in a different world than most of the society,” but I do believe there is much more to art and artists than they themselves can know, in fact what they should know. The need for the visceral, vibrant, violence of existence to force the creation not of art but the perspective that creates art is proof that they are more engaged in this world than most of us walk a day wannabe wisemen.

  2. 2 Iver Lofving

    I think that’s true. Us artists are more attuned to what’s happening. I guess we’re more sensitive which is a problem and a benefit. We may be out there, but you can see things as they are from out here. It’s like sitting on a hill looking at a town. You can see what it really looks like if you’re not in the middle of it.

  3. 3 Nancy Scott Hanway

    I like the idea that being an artist is both a blessing and a curse. So true.

  4. Hi Iver, I really liked your interview, and I love Swans island so now I want to come visit. However, I just wanted to add my two cents to this discussion. I don’t think that artists live in a different world from the rest of folk. It’s all the same world, but artists have chosen a path of expression which not only allows them to show what they think or see, but sets up an expectation that will do that for themselves and perhaps for other people as well. Many people see the world from a “unique” perspective (maybe all people), and most people aren’t so worn down that their senses are completely deadened (although maybe some shoppers have lost it), they are just not in the habit of expressing their observations. I am always amazed by how undead the human race is even in the face of cyber existence and Walmart.

    • 5 Dalton

      Amanda – Well put! We are each unique individuals. :)

    • 6 Iver Lofving

      I agree. Underneath the consumer culture there still is a spark of human creativity that comes out occasionally. You should come visit with Camilla some time next summer!

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