Born in Orange, New Jersey, the son of Japanese-Swedish parents, Hamabe studied at the Newark School of Fine Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design. Following infantry duty in World War II, he became a commercial artist, working in illustration and advertisement. Over the years, Hamabe’s graphic work appeared in The New Yorker and The Philadelphia Inquirer and on the covers of Down East and Maine Life (for a time, he was art director of the latter publication).
Hamabe began to establish roots in the state when he moved to Rockport in 1948. There, he helped found Maine Coast Artists (MCA included him in a founders exhibition in 1991). He taught at the Farnsworth Art Museum and, after moving to Blue Hill in 1950, at the Blue Hill consolidated school, the Art Society of Bangor and the University of Maine at Machias. He also offered private art classes. His former students, from Blue Hill to Bar Harbor and points beyond, number among his most devoted fans.
Before there was a percent for art program, Hamabe was painting murals for public agencies in Maine. His wall works can be seen at the Blue Hill Hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Southwest Harbor Medical Center.
Hamabe had close ties to the University of Maine. He was supervisor of art and staging for the Educational Television Network, Maine’s first TV station, located on the Orono campus. The University’s Museum of Art owns 73 of his pieces and the Hudson Museum acquired his collection of puppets a number of years ago. The University of Maine at Machias awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1996.
The Maine coast was a constant source of inspiration for Hamabe, who developed a vocabulary of symbols that he drew upon in making his art. Of the Maine scene he said in 1952, on the occasion of a show at UMO, that “There was never a spot I loved more to paint.” He went on: “I like the many varying landscapes, the coast, the villages, the winters, the play of brilliant light on the sparkling water.”
In a text that accompanied a show of his watercolors in the Hauck Auditorium at UMO in 1967, Hamabe admitted that lobsters and fish were among his favorite subjects. This show included a series devoted to Stockton Springs where Hamabe and his first wife, Sidney, spent their winters. Hamabe was also taken by harbors and working waterfronts, rendering these busy locales with expressive spirit. Nets, sails, shacks, buoys and other elements of the scene were arranged in striking configurations.
A printmaker of the first rank, Hamabe produced numerous serigraphs and silkscreens over the years (he demonstrated the former printmaking technique, pioneering its use in Maine). He was expert at capturing the bend of a spruce bough, the claws of a lobster and the geometry of sails and rooflines. His poster tributes to Maine coast villages (Deer Isle, Machias, Bar Harbor, Castine, etc.) ended up in private collections and remain sought-after to this day.
Collectors have long treasured this man’s inventive work. For the past 20 years, Rowantrees Pottery in Blue Hill has carried his collages and ceramics, the latter marked by simple calligraphic designs. His work has been shown at many venues across the state, including the Leighton Gallery in Blue Hill, Bates College and UMaine-Machias, which mounted a retrospective of his work in 1994.
In 1994 Hamabe and his second wife, Phyllis, established a winter residence in Bristol, Rhode Island. Despite some health setbacks, he remained upbeat and pushed on with his art. The collages he was producing were jazzy, bearing titles like “Arabesque,” “Rhythm Section” and “Counterpoint.” He enjoyed experimenting right up till the end.
Among Hamabe’s greatest pleasures in recent years was a remarkable sculptural piece he created on the grounds of Rowantrees Pottery in Blue Hill. With its colorful decorations, this Miro-esque piece expressed all the youthfulness of a man who never seemed to age in spirit or humor.
- Carl Little