For Ogunquit Artist, Lobster is Art

Amy Kelly, right, with a customer and one of her signature pieces. A. Kelly photos.

They say America is the land of second chances — that certainly has proved true for Ogunquit artist Amy Kelly. Owner of TaleSpinStudio, Kelly produces brilliantly colored large-scale artworks of lobster tails that are selling like hotcakes to customers all over the country. She also creates exquisite photographs of the Maine coast. In August, Kelly donated one of her large lobster pieces to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s Save Maine Lobstermen fundraiser in Boothbay Harbor, where it was auctioned to raise much-needed money for the MLA’s legal campaign.

Kelly’s path to gallery owner and artist was anything but certain. At age 56, she took a job as sternwoman for a local lobsterman to maintain sobriety. “I met him at a meeting and asked if I could work for him. After years of drinking, I needed to get my body and brain straightened out,” Kelly said matter-of-factly. Kelly had owned a health club as well as a home medical equipment company in the past. But she became homeless as alcohol had taken over her life. So, for four years, from 2015 to 2019, she woke before dawn during the fishing season and headed down to the boat, baiting, banding, lifting crates, and slowly rebuilding herself.

With sobriety came a renewed interest in photography. While she was in New Jersey caring for her ailing mother, she began playing with some of her photographs, many of which were related to lobstering. “I abstracted a tail, changed the colors, and posted it on social media. People liked it. So, I started playing with colors. My therapist suggested I print some, so I did,” she said.

Kelly shows her work at the Maine Art Collective in Portland.

The yoga studio she went to offered to host a show, for which Kelly printed out an array of 4-by-6-inch lobster photos. “The night before the show I thought there just was something missing and so I printed a 2-by-6-foot tail. That was it. It was a hit,” Kelly recalled.

At the time, Kelly had rented a small space in Ogunquit in which she lived and held yoga classes while making ends meet by driving people to the Boston and Portland airports. A friend asked her to look at a studio space in the Cove, which she thought she would never be able to afford. But after Kelly walked the twelve steps to the studio, a number significant to those in AA, she knew it was a place she needed to be in.

“This is my fourth season here but it’s the first doing art full-time,” she said proudly. Kelly also is part of the Maine Art Collective, a member-run gallery of 21 artists on Middle Street in Portland. To create her dramatic large works, she first paints her canvas, then glues the manipulated photograph to the canvas. Some pieces she embellishes with bird netting to mimic the look of fish net, giving the canvas a striking texture that viewers are encouraged to touch. She then coats the piece with a UV varnish to protect it from sun damage. Her dramatic photographs have found homes across the country, from California to Kansas and Virginia.

Bright colors and dramatic shapes dominate the exterior of TaleSpinStudio in Ogunquit.

She first came in contact with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in 2021 when Kevin Kelley, the MLA’s director of advancement, won a piece of art that she had donated to the Ogunquit Rescue and Fire Department’s 9/11 fundraiser. The two found many mutual interests, among them similar last names and lobstering.

“Amy’s passions are art and the Maine lobster industry. Her first question about MLA’s Save Maine Lobstermen campaign was ‘What can I do to help?’,” said Kelley. “Amy understands that Maine’s lobstering heritage ties us all together as a community and appreciates that we can all contribute to its preservation.”

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