When the little worlds created by artist Anne-Emmanuelle Marpeau went on view last year at Searsport’s Penobscot Marine Museum, they were a big hit. Marpeau, who lives in a boatyard in Brittany, a peninsula in northwestern France between the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, came to the Midcoast with her shadowbox dioramas, which were borrowed from a variety of owners for the show. She returns this month with a new batch of shadowboxes for “Art Afloat: Tales of Maritime Maine,” an exhibit that will travel to island and coastal communities of Knox, Waldo and Hancock counties aboard the Maine Sea Coast Mission’s Sunbeam V.

Marpeau constructs her shadowboxes out of wood, fabric and plaster. She calls them ex-votos, which, Ben Fuller, the museum’s Richard Saltonstall Jr. curator, said is literally translated as “from the vow made” and were traditionally placed in churches to seek grace or give thanks. He said Marpeau’s pieces are offerings, story boxes that tell tales of events gone past and of events imagined.

The idea of an onboard exhibition was hatched during Marpeau’s stay last year with Polly Saltonstall of Rockport and her family. Saltonstall, then president of the museum’s board of trustees and currently a board member, said the artist wanted to visit one of Maine’s islands so they went to Southern Island and Islesboro during her visit.

“Since she was staying with John [Saltonstall’s husband] and me, we spent a lot of time together. I got to learn a lot about what she does, how she does it and why she does it,” Saltonstall said.

Somewhere in their conversations, Marpeau, who grew up around boats, said she had always wanted to have an art show on one. So they visited some of the Midcoast’s windjammers and “kicked the idea around” a bit. It was clear a different kind of vessel was needed. After the artist returned to Brittany last fall, Saltonstall contacted Maine Sea Coast Mission, a historically non-denominational mission that provides spiritual, health and youth development programs on eight coastal islands and Down East coastal communities, and spoke with its new outer islands pastor, Rob Benson.

“He said he loved the idea of bringing art around to the islands,” said Saltonstall.

Having cemented that partnership, Saltonstall started working the phones. Other nonprofit partnerships were formed with Northeast Harbor’s Great Harbor Maritime Museum; North Haven’s Waterman’s Community Center; the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington; Swans Island Education Association; and the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation of Great Cranberry Island. Creative connections were made with professional photographer Peter Ralston, who will preface his illustrated talk at the Stonington Opera House with Penobscot Marine Museum’s historical slide show; and recent Camden Hills Regional High School graduate Andy Schlebecker, who will videotape the tour before he heads down to Emerson College.

Another partnership really made the whole project possible, said Saltonstall. Rockland’s Dowling Walsh Gallery will display the shadowboxes after the tour and therefore arranged for the work to be shipped and will create a catalog for it. A week before “Art Afloat” was set to be installed on the Sunbeam V, the big wooden shipping crate could be spotted in the alley behind the downtown gallery.

The shadowboxes depict some of the more intriguing tales told in Charles McLane’s “Islands of the Mid-Maine Coast” including the strange story of a vessel that ran aground at Two Bush Light.

“The crew went ashore to wait for it to get afloat with the tide and it floated away before they got back to it,” said Saltonstall.

The true stories depicted took place in small coastal communities and the goal of the show is to have people in those and similar communities see the work, said Saltonstall. But folk from the mainland have an opportunity to take in “Art Afloat” when it visits Islesboro as the Sunbeam V will be tied up at the ferry landing during a timeframe that works with taking the ferry to and from Lincolnville.

When last year’s Penobscot Marine Museum show was running the museum’s education department offered a series of diorama workshops, which were very popular. “Art Afloat” will include a few of the same and once the shadowboxes land in Rockland, there will be one at the Farnsworth Art Museum.

Organizing the tour was a new challenge for Saltonstall, and she said she was inspired by not only the chord that Marpeau’s work strikes with people but by her own love for both the Sunbeam and Penobscot Marine Museum. For the artist, who Saltonstall said is quite shy but who will be onboard throughout, “Art Afloat” is a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

“She loves boats and showing her work this way is one of her dreams,” said Saltonstall.

“Art Afloat” will run Tuesday through Friday, Aug. 16 through 19; Marpeau’s shadowboxes will subsequently be on view at Dowling Walsh from Aug. 23 through Sept. 18 with the Farnsworth diorama workshop set for Saturday, Sept. 17 (call 548-2529, ext. 202 to register.) Following is the “Art Afloat: Tales of Maritime Maine” schedule; check PenobscotMarineMuseum.org or call 548-2529 for updates.

On Aug. 16, the exhibit will be open from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Sunbeam berth in Northeast Harbor, followed by a 5:30 p.m. reception and slide show at the Great Harbor Maritime Museum on Main Street.

On Aug. 17, the show moves to Isle au Haut for an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. dockside reception at the town landing. Then the vessel heads to North Haven, where the exhibit will be open from 3 to 5 p.m. and there will be tours of Sunbeam at anchor in the Thoroughfare (boats depart from town dock). At Waterman’s Community Center, there will be a diorama workshop from 3 to 5 p.m. (call 867-2100 to register); and a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. slide show.

On Aug. 18, there will be a dockside reception from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Islesboro public landing, by the ferry dock. From 3 to 6 p.m., the Sunbeam will be at Stonington for a dockside reception at Penobscot East Resource Center. There will be a diorama workshop at Penobscot East Resource Center from 3 to 5:30 p.m. (call 367-2708 to register), followed by a 5:30 p.m. reception at the center. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a slide show of historic photography from Penobscot Marine Museum and contemporary photography by Peter Ralston and Jeff Dworsky at the Stonington Opera House.

On Aug. 19, the day will begin on Swans Island with a 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. reception at quarry wharf in Minturn. The art show/tour will conclude at Great Cranberry Island, where there will be a dockside exhibit and reception at the public float from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to dernest@villagesoup.com.