Parallel Play

A Boothbay couple creates a love story in fiber and stone

Dick and Priscilla (Cilla) Alden relax in Cilla’s half of Starfish Studio in Boothbay. In one half of the building, Cilla weaves tapestries and paints; in the other, Dick carves stone.

In a nondescript, red steel building resembling a miniature warehouse tucked into the woods along Back Narrows Road in Boothbay, artists Priscilla (Cilla) and Dick Alden are creating art side by side, as they have for decades. The plain exterior of this square, industrial structure belies the color, energy, and spirit of the work created within. This is no ordinary studio, and this is no ordinary pair.

On a rainy day, thundering August afternoon when I’m on my way down to the Aldens’s Starfish Studio, I stop at Down East Gallery along Route 27 in Edgecomb, at Cilla’s suggestion, to see the exhibit of 13 tapestry artists, which she curated over the course of the last year to “spread the word of artistic tapestry.” Here I have my first glimpse of the creative purpose that moves Cilla and Dick: to bring unfamiliar art forms forward into public view and to share their passion for shape, color, texture, and movement in the mediums they know best—fiber and stone.

The studio bathroom, aka the “Back Narrows Road Library,” is the connector between the two studios.

Stepping inside their studio on this gray afternoon is something like stepping into a sidewalk chalk drawing. On the walls, brightly colored tapestries showing a strong Southwestern influence mix with woven renderings of Maine’s granite coast. At one end of the studio, shelves full of various skeins of yarn reach from floor to ceiling; at the other end a brightly colored fish net with sea shells woven between its threads hangs from one of the steel ceiling beams. In the middle of the room stands Cilla’s magnificent floor loom, built in Taos, New Mexico. “This is my half,” declares Cilla. Dick steps toward an interior door that leads to the other half of the building. “And that is my half,” he says. The passage between the two studio spaces, he explains with a twinkling eye, “is what we call the Back Narrows Road Library.” It is a lavatory reading room worth noting with ample volumes of art and travel books filling the shelves. Through the “Library” door to the other half of the building the monochrome hues of chiseled stone contrast sharply with the vibrancy of Cilla’s soft yarns. The stoneworker’s tools are lying about. Sculptural images, drawings, mockups, and photographs hang from the walls. An ever-so-slight remnant of stone dust lies on the floor. Here there is palpable strength and power.

Dick’s studio with some of the heavy equipment he uses for carving stone, including a gantry crane, at right, which can lift large pieces.

These two spaces, like these two people, balance each other. “If I were here by myself, it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s wonderful to have a soulmate right on the other side of the Library,” says Cilla. Dick is quick to point out that Cilla is his true inspiration, and that watching each other grow at different times has been an important part of their creative life together. “The goal is really to keep learning and to keep sharing our passion.” he says. That passion spans more than 30 years of traveling between Texas and Taos, France and Turkey, and having careers in banking (Dick) and architectural design (Cilla), before finally settling in Boothbay. “It was a leap of faith to come to Maine,” they both acknowledge. But building their studio and making art together in their dual space was the dream they were after. They have never looked back. “Parallel play,” Dick calls their collaboration, referencing a form of interaction in which children play individually but adjacent to each other.

Once integral members of Boothbay’s Studio 53, the Aldens decided to step away and focus on their shared commitment to educate the public about their respective art forms. Each has remained active in different circles promoting their work—Cilla in various shows featuring her monoprints and tapestries alongside master weavers, as well as participating in many tapestry workshops, and Dick in his active involvement with the Maine Stone Workers Guild, most recently in organizing the Maine Stone Symposium. Proud of their accomplishments in doing what they set out to do, both enjoy the physical and mental challenges they encounter with their respective materials and tools. Inspired by the power and colors of the ocean as well as imagery drawn from ancient cultures, Cilla loves the physical challenge of working with the loom—the preparation, the planning, choosing her colors, spending long painstaking hours of “painting”thread by thread as the loom “sings” to her. Dick loves the work of hefting stone and shaping it in an effort to find balance, rhythm, and centeredness in the forms that evolve and take shape.

Fiber and stone: anywhere but Starfish Studio these might be incongruous elements. Here, though, the Aldens’ devotion to their respective mediums—and to each other—is noteworthy. Before building the studio, they worked from their Ocean Point home. Cilla recalls the neighbors joking that when Dick was working on his sculpture it sounded like a dentist’s drill in the back yard. When they moved to Back Narrows Road, they employed the help of a friend who is an acoustic engineer to design the building. The wall between the studio spaces is thick with insulation. Still, Cilla can hear her husband in the other room when he is working, but she doesn’t mind. “The noise isn’t bad and it’s nice to know he is there,” she says a little dreamily. “She really is my inspiration,” repeats Dick. “We are soulmates.” Both agree that working side by side allows them the opportunity to inform each other’s work and share creative momentum. But what is resoundingly clear is that this artistic collaboration is a partnership of devotion, purpose and love—a perfect union of creative spirits in balance.

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