2014-09-12 / People

Mast Cove owner announces retirement

Started on a whim, the gallery has been a Kennebunkport institution for 35 years
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Jean Briggs, proprietor of Mast Cove Galleries in Kennebunkport, will retire after 35 years. The gallery, located in her house next to the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library, shows artists’ work from all over the world. Mast Cove was recently named Best Gallery in Maine by the American Art Awards. Briggs hopes to sell her house to someone who is also interested in keeping the gallery. (Courtesy photo) Jean Briggs, proprietor of Mast Cove Galleries in Kennebunkport, will retire after 35 years. The gallery, located in her house next to the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library, shows artists’ work from all over the world. Mast Cove was recently named Best Gallery in Maine by the American Art Awards. Briggs hopes to sell her house to someone who is also interested in keeping the gallery. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — After maintaining one of the most successful art galleries in Maine for the past 35 years, Jean Briggs, proprietor of Mast Cove Galleries, is retiring.

Briggs announced the transition in a newsletter last week.

“It’s been a wonderful life, but I’m not getting any younger, I’m getting older,” said Briggs, who will turn 76 this year.

Briggs, a native of Ohio, moved to Kennebunkport in 1976 with her husband, who traveled throughout the state selling products to paper mills.

They found the white house, built in 1851, on Maine Street next to Louis T. Graves Memorial Library, and rented it.

Quickly realizing how much they loved the house, they made an offer to buy it. Briggs, who has five children, loved the location next to the library.

Three years after purchasing the house, a series of events spurred her to form Mast Cove Galleries.

“This is an old story,” Briggs said.

In the winter preceding the gallery’s opening, Briggs broke her leg ice skating. An artist friend she’d met prior to the accident, Janet Conlon Manyan, happened to break her leg at the same time after being hit by a car.

Both soon found themselves in physical therapy together, and before long, carpooling.

While both were hobbling around on crutches in Brigg’s house one morning, Briggs said, on a whim, “I ought to clean this room out and put some of your paintings in here.”

The two met another friend at lunch to whom Manyan reported that Briggs was opening a gallery.

“And that’s how my gallery got started: with two broken legs,” Briggs said.

“I knew nothing about it; it was all new to me,” Briggs said of managing a gallery. “She (Manyan) helped me find artists I should have and others I shouldn’t have. I started with 12 artists.”

Since her small beginning, Mast Cove Galleries, which was voted Best Art Gallery in Maine in 2014 by American Art Awards, has hosted more than 100 artists at a time during its tenure.

Currently, the works of 88 artists can be seen at the gallery.

In addition to the gallery, about 15 years ago Briggs began hosting jazz and blues musicians – acclaimed names such as the late Richie Havens, James Montgomery and Bruce Marshall.

With the exception of three of her five children who happen to still live in the area and help out during openings (Frank Briggs, Lesa Kraft and Laura Joslin), Briggs does most of the work.

Throughout the 35 years Mast Cove Galleries has been operating, Briggs said her favorite part has been all the people she has met.

“I so enjoy the people that I have met through this gallery – people from all over the world. And the concerts are wonderful (because) they bring in a whole group of people that may have never come to an art gallery,” Briggs said.

As much as she has enjoyed living in the house, Briggs said she doesn’t need the space anymore. She would rather retire to spend more time with her children and her grandchildren, many of whom live out of state.

“It’s a wonderful, big house, and I’m here all alone – it’s just too much for me to take care of.”

If Briggs had her way, she would choose to sell the house to someone who also intends to keep the gallery.

“I would love to have that happen because I have a lot of wonderful artists, and I would hate to displace them.”

The house is listed at $1.2 million. Due to changes in residential zoning and tighter regulations since Briggs and her husband initially bought the house, it has been grandfathered as a residence and a gallery – a perk that Briggs hopes the future tenants will utilize.

“That is unique in this area,” Briggs said.

She anticipates remaining at the helm through the end of the year, at which time she hopes to have a buyer.

“If it was the right person (for the house and the gallery), I think they would really enjoy it.”

Briggs then took a deep breath and paused before saying, “It has been a wonderful life.”

For more information on operating hours and live music events, visit www.mastcove.com.

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