Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 29, 2019
Art, sounds and life at The Cannery at South Penobscot
Expect the unexpected
by Anne Berleant
Driving past The Cannery at South Penobscot there is no way to know that an underwater web-cam lies in Winslow Stream, feeding live into Leslie Ross’s studio at the far end of the building. Or that she can turn on “The Winslow Sirens,” a sound installation created from metal cans, a lid, some string, a contact microphone and the current to produce mournful calls that echo against the bricks where the stream runs under the building.
Self-described as “A space for contemporary, experimental art and community with a focus on sound, music, performance and word-art,” Ross opened The Cannery in 2014 with partner Zeke Finkelstein after three decades in New York City.
“Things in New York were no longer sustainable for me, financially,” said Ross, who makes her living mostly by building bassoons. “I thought, 30 years in a metropolis? Maybe it’s time for something completely different.”
A former vegetable canning cooperative, and then a blueberry canning factory that closed in 1970, The Cannery “was the very last place on a long list of places” she and Finkelstein looked at, after renting for a few summers in Tenant’s Harbor. Ross credits the property’s former owners for working with them to make the purchase possible.
Formally trained at a Montreal music conservatory, Ross said “I knew even then I wasn’t going to be an orchestra performer; that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Ross learned bassoon-making—not a big leap, as she took apart her first bassoon at age 14 to see how it worked—of her own designs and replicas from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. Finkelstein, a writer, also taught in college, and has taught at University of Maine at Orono and Husson University since moving to Penobscot.
While he is returning to New York City for the winter, Ross said that, for her, a full-time coastal Maine life wasn’t a hard adjustment, “maybe because it was so different.”
And maybe because The Cannery is similar to the kind of avant garde spaces that can thrive in a metropolis of millions of people. But while the artists and audiences that pass through The Cannery are mostly from “away,” Ross said, “You’d be surprised. I’ve certainly had conversations with [local] people doing interesting work.”
In the five years since The Cannery opened, it has moved from holding weekend experimental music festivals to theater, sound and art installations, live readings and musical performances.
One large room in the long, sprawling building shows the result of Lowell, Massachusetts artist Walter Wright, who spent 10 days at The Cannery, taking hundreds of photos as he walked in four different directions. Three white sheets and projectors flash the images at different speeds, pulling the viewer into a physical and mental landscape that defies words.
“There’s nothing to get. It’s about experiencing it,” Ross said of this and the type of art performances held at The Cannery. “Whatever reactions someone has is as valued as the next.” (Past and upcoming events are listed at cannerysouthpenobscot.org.)
Ross also holds a weekly knitting and craft session on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. “Whether I’m here or not, it happens.” And, like many Mainers, Ross has cobbled together a few small jobs to supplement her bassoon-making. She serves as the certified Very Small Water System Operator for the South Penobscot Water Association: “I go to a well every day and count the gallons pumped,” she said. She is also the Hancock County Case Coordinator for Restorative Justice, and teaches at University of Maine at Orono once a week.
“It’s a true Maine subsistence,” she said.