Brunswick artist, author paints 208 women for Curtis Memorial Library show

A selection of portraits by local artist and author Charlotte Agell, whose exhibit “200 Portraits” is on display at Curtis Memorial Library. Luna Soley / The Times Record

In September, Charlotte Agell was flipping through some old pictures in search of a spare scrap of paper when she came across a black-and-white portrait of a woman’s face she had drawn in the 1980s.

That got her thinking. Agell, who recently retired from a career in public schools, is the author and illustrator of numerous children’s books.

“When I was a child, I used to think that we were all the same person. I was the ‘me’ version, and you the ‘you,’ ” Agell said. “This project brings me back to that feeling.”

Forty years ago, Agell drew a series of portraits in black ink for the Maine Women’s Conference. “200 Portraits,” which will hang in the library’s Morrell Meeting Room through the end of the month, pairs mostly new with a few old, adding to the impression that the women make up multiple generations of the same family.

Charlotte Agell considers a row of her portraits in the library’s Morrell Meeting Room. Luna Soley / The Times Record

Agell said the portraits took her about a minute or two apiece. Each sheet of thick watercolor paper she populates with four faces, divided by lines like a mullioned windowpane. Sometimes, she starts from a photo, but many she paints from memory or imagination. Agell painted a sheet every day of this past fall. The result, in Curtis Memorial Library’s sparse and sunny meeting room, is a crowd.

“I even have some more I couldn’t fit,” Agell said. “This is my mother from the late ’80s. She’ll be at the opening.”


She gestures at a woman with downturned eyes. “I want to know what she’s thinking because she looks like she’s in some kind of revery.”

“I want to know what all of them are thinking,” she added.

One woman looks like she’s rolling her eyes — in Swedish, that’s “himla med,” Agell said. The phrase, in translation, means “to heaven with your eyes.”

“I wanted somebody to be doing that,” she said. “A lot of them are commenting in some way, the way they look is a comment on life, whether it’s hilarious or deeply tormenting.”

As for her inspiration to create the show, Agell said it was a desire to bring people in. That, and more time on her hands now that she’s not teaching.

“This fall was so full of grievous incidents in the world that I’m just seeking commonality and conversation because I’m sad,” she said.

“What do we do with what we know?”

“200 Portraits” is on display through Jan. 30 at Curtis Memorial Library on Pleasant Street in Brunswick. On Jan. 12, the library will host a meet-the-artist event with Agell from 4-8 p.m.

Volunteers hanging “200 Portraits” in Curtis Memorial Library. Courtesy of Charlotte Agell

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