Brooks-based artist Lesia Sochor talks about one of her pieces in her exhibit called "Body Language" at the Zillman Museum in Bangor. The exhibit will be there through September 2. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The threads that run through painter Lesia Sochor’s artistic career create a tapestry that spans generations — from her Ukrainian parents, who immigrated to the U.S. during World War II, to her settling in Waldo County in the 1980s, to her life spent building a family and an artistic community on the coast of Maine.

The latest chapter in Sochor’s tale is on display at the Zillman Art Museum in Bangor this summer. “Body Language,” a major exhibition of Sochor’s paintings, is one of four exhibits by three artists on display this summer at the Zillman. It weaves a narrative that uses clothing and fashion to explore concepts of identity, ancestry and womanhood.

“Every day, we wake up and we choose what we want to wear, and how we want to present ourselves to the world,” said Sochor. “Clothing says so much about who we are and how we want people to see us.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“Body Language,” Sochor’s first-ever solo museum show in Maine, encompasses multiple paintings created over the past 15 years that all meditate on clothing — from the most basic elements of needle and thread, to paintings of fabulous costumes and wedding dresses worn by family and friends. It all started in 2008, with a series of three paintings of spools of thread inspired by Sochor’s Ukrainian mother.

“My mother sewed everything, and so did my grandmother, and I do and my daughter does as well,” she said. “It made me think about all these generations of women, and how this is a tradition that has been passed down. And it all kind of unfolded from there.”

Sochor grew up in Philadelphia. After graduating from Philadelphia College of Art in 1974 she eventually made her way to Waldo County, to make art, live off the land and raise a family. There, she fell in with a group of like-minded creative people that coalesced in Belfast, then a sleepy coastal factory town. She and her fellow artists founded Artfellows Gallery, a hub for creativity on the midcoast through the 1980s and ’90s, and one of the catalysts for transforming Belfast into the artistic and tourist destination it is today.

Brooks-based artist Lesia Sochor has a solo show called “Body Language” at the Zillman Museum in Bangor through September 2. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Sochor said living in rural Maine made her into the artist she is today.

“My work is really an ongoing personal narrative. I paint what is in my life,” she said. “When we first moved to Maine, I painted winter landscapes, and the wood piles that we burned to heat the house. When I was pregnant, I painted children. It’s always an evolution.”

One of the things Sochor is most known for in Maine is the workshops she has held for more than 30 years on pysanka, the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg decorating style that she learned how to make as a child. She has held countless pysanka workshops over the years in towns across Maine, and today finds even more meaning in teaching people about the tradition, as the war in her ancestral land rages on.

“There is a Ukrainian legend that says that there’s a monster chained to a cliff, and as long as the people keep making pysanka, the chains will remain strong. If the people get lazy and don’t make as many eggs, the chain starts to loosen and the monster can get loose and destroy the world,” she said. “Now more than ever, we need to keep these traditions alive, because we know who that monster is.”

Sadie Landry, right, dips a tool in melted way to decorate an egg at a Ukrainian egg decorating workshops taught by Maine artist, Lesia Sochor, at Bates College Friday, March 2, 2018 in Lewiston, Maine. Behind her, Cindy Devitt and Maggie Desrosiers also try their hand at the unique craft. The eggs are decorated with wax and then dipped in a series of dyes, with more wax being added between each dipping. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal via AP)

Sochor plays with many different facets of her identity in “Body Language,” as the daughter of immigrants, as an artist, as a mother, as a woman and as a social observer. As curated by Zillman curator Rochelle Lawrence, one series of paintings details the fabulous dresses worn by women for special occasions. In another, a Halloween costume made by Sochor for her daughter is juxtaposed with a mohair suit sewn by her mother — with the actual clothing items displayed on dress forms alongside the paintings.

And a triptych of paintings depicts the distinctive clothing worn by three totemic artists that have inspired Sochor over the years: Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and fellow Ukrainian and part-time Mainer Louise Nevelson.

“It all tells a story through clothing,” Sochor said. “It is all very intentional. It’s all part of the larger narrative.”

“Body Language” runs through early September at the Zillman, alongside three other exhibits: “Nightlife NYC” and “70s Suburban Sensibilities” by photographer Meryl Meisler, and “Gold Dust” by painter Nathan Brad Hall. The Zillman, located at 40 Harlow St. in downtown Bangor, is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free.

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.