Maine as muse in the 1930s

By John K. Hanson, Jr. | Jul 30, 2011
Courtesy of: Farnsworth Art Museum James Fitzgerald, Fishermen, circa 1938. Watercolor on paper.

Ten years ago or so, an art museum in New York had a show of Maine painters, most of whom were residents of Maine during the 1930s. The catalog described the combined power of their work as presenting the “myth of an American Eden,” a phrase that has resonated with me ever since. Perhaps for these artists during that time — the time of the Depression — this Eden, this Maine, was no myth.

Of course, Maine had long been a special place for American artists. Fitz Henry Lane and Thomas Cole captured the light and essence of the state in the mid-19th Century, and by the 1930s Maine was providing a retreat, haven, and home for an ever-increasing number of artists who were big city refugees. Some were attracted to areas where they could be alone within the Maine lifestyle. Others congregated in communities, such as Monhegan, Sequinland (the Bath area), and Ogunquit. Those small Maine towns offered them some distance from the harsh realities of the day, such as the Depression.

Renowned artists, including Waldo Pierce, Frank Benson, Carroll Thayer Berry, and the Wyeth family, all lived along the shores of Penobscot Bay. By 1937, Andrew Wyeth was beginning to make his mark in the art world. Wyeth’s sold-out 1937 show at the MacBeth Gallery in New York City featured paintings from around his Port Clyde home. The paintings showed the light and the themes that would become the hallmarks of Wyeth’s Maine work — crisp clean mornings, lobster traps, clam diggers and farms.

Here in the Midcoast, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland and Searsport’s Penobscot Marine Museum have extensive collections of work from this period, as does the Portland Museum of Art farther to the south. In the 2011 Boat Show Issue of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Maine art writer Carl Little took a look at some of the output of these artists who called Maine home in the 1930s. Step into some museums and stories this summer, and take a step back into the visual world of 75 years ago.

The 2011 Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show will have special exhibits that focus on the coast circa 1936 as part of an annual exploration of how “Tradition Shapes Innovation.” In addition to historic images and films, a mix of vintage and modern products will trace the influences of the mid-thirties on the products of today, and the ways that creativity has moved the state and its craftspeople ever forward.

As Maine’s only in-the-water boat show and coastal lifestyle event, the show annually features approximately 300 exhibitors of boats and marine gear, home wares and furniture, art and jewelry. It is produced by Rockland-based Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine; maineboats.com, 207-594-8622.

 

John K. Hanson, Jr., is publisher of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.

 

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