The Working Waterfront

Diana Young’s Penobscot River view

Bangor’s ‘delicious relish of geography’ serves as muse

By Carl Little
Posted 2023-10-19
Last Modified 2023-10-19

In the half century Diana Young has lived in Bangor—she and husband Jim moved there in 1973—she has painted all over the Queen City, so many different scenes she should be declared painter laureate. Her views are always animated, full of a kind of motion that often compels one to smile. There is never a dull moment; even buildings seem to be on the move, leaning this way and that.

“Boom Island” was inspired by one of Young’s walks along the Penobscot River with her standard poodle, Polly. In the foreground, the stone chessboard installed on the Brewer Riverwalk Trail in 2019 tilts slightly toward the water. Anchored on the far shore is what appears to be an ocean-going vessel or service boat, its black hull jutting into the river. Beyond the boat lies the skyline of Bangor with the spires of the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Hammond Street Congregational Church poking the sky.

The painting’s title refers to the island in mid-river, one of several in the Penobscot made from timber and cobble that served as log booms during the glory days of Maine’s timber industry. These manmade islands helped corral the floating logs headed for the mills.

In Young’s hands the islet and its Lorax-like trees seem to bend with the flow of the river yet hold it in place, the foundation of the island appearing to grip the water. This mid-river waymark serves as a monument to a long-ago working waterfront, the toots and creaks of boats replaced by the music of James Taylor or Santana.

Young has always been drawn to water. Born and brought up in New Haven, Conn., she spent summers in nearby Stonington (she loved it so much she chose it as her middle name when she was seven). She made art from an early age, supported by her mother, Jane Kellogg Corbin, who found her a Saturday art class when her high school offered none and supplied her with a sketchbook on a trip to France when she was 15.

Young attended the Rhode Island School of Design, class of 1957, which she considers a blessing.

“I met people from all walks of life, many just as art crazy as I was,” she recalls. They included her future husband James Young, a Mainer from Somerset County. He became a professor of chemistry at St. Francis College in Biddeford and later an analytic chemist with his own lab in Bangor. In both places she was fortunate “to live near tide water.”

Young set aside creative pursuits while raising three children, but returned to painting with a vengeance, hitting her stride in her 60s. In addition to Bangor, she has painted Eastport where in the 1980s she bought a small banged-up house as a getaway (she paints there to this day). For many years she and several artist friends calling themselves the “Plein Air Heads” rented a cottage on Monhegan and painted to their heart’s delight.

For her 80th birthday, Young treated herself to a cruise on the Rhine and Danube rivers. From the top deck of the ship she sketched the passing scene every day.

“This was ideal since we went about 15 mph,” she reports, “about the same speed of local cyclists on the riverside paths.”

Young loves living near the Penobscot, which, she points out, moderates Bangor’s downtown weather.

“Even from the interstate in Etna,” she notes, “one can often see a long thin cloud marking the course of the river.” She wonders at the city’s “delicious relish of geography,” which has prompted so many of her wild and joyous paintings.

Young shows her work at the Eastport Gallery, the Boothbay Region Art Foundation, the Bangor Public Library, the Kimball Street Studios in Lewiston, and St. Joseph’s Hospital as part of its Healing Arts program.