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Standing Tall: Lighthouses in Cape and Islands Art

July 25 - September 8, 2013


Not so long ago there were 31 lighthouses rimming Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and neighboring islands like sentinels -- at least if you counted each of the "Three Sisters" of Eastham. Even today, the number stands at 27, with many of them still operational. It's small wonder that lighthouses have appeared in many regional artworks. Some would say far too many -- and the phrase "paintings of lighthouses" is sometimes used to dismiss clichéd paintings of Cape Cod in general. It probably doesn't help their cause that we have a lighthouse on the Cape and Islands license plate, on bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips and as the logo for innumerable businesses. And what rack of postcards doesn't have at least one picturesque scene of a seaside tower?

It's true there are many routine paintings of lighthouses around. There are even some very good artists -- leery of guilt by association -- who simply won't paint them. Others approach the subject with trepidation. Yet, lighthouses truly have a mystique about them. They symbolize hope. They're often beautiful. There is something quite dramatic about them, standing tall and strong at the edge of the sea. Now that sailors have such aids as electronic charting, GPS and radar, lighthouses no longer play the essential role in navigation they once did (though they're still useful). But have one threatened by erosion, and we spare no effort to save it. Elaine Starks at Dennis Chamber of Commerce has said they get visitors every week who want to know where they can find lighthouses. And many of the artists represented here freely admit to being as fascinated by them as anyone, painting them without apology -- while generally trying to find some fresh treatment that ensures their originality.

I believe the time has come to reconsider these fascinating structures as a valid artistic motif -- to recognize that, like any other subject, they can carry authority and genuine emotional impact, depending upon the skill, imagination and honesty of the artist. That's the mission -- in part -- of "Standing Tall: Lighthouses in Cape and Islands Art," which is a mix of works of the past and, especially, the present. I hope this show also will provide some sense of lighthouses' historical importance. My main source in that regard has been Jeremy D'Entremont's wonderfully comprehensive and user-friendly book "The Lighthouses of Massachusetts" (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). I heartily recommend it if you're seeking additional information.

Finally, my warmest thanks to Dennis chiropractor Dr. Richard Singleton who -- with his wife, Jody -- has sponsored this exhibition. I heartily recommend him if your back needs an adjustment.

- Cindy Nickerson, Guest Curator


(above: Kimberly duCharme, Brant Point Light, pastel on sanded paper, 15 x 20 inches; Collection of the Artist)



(above: Donald Stoltenberg, Nobska Light, 1989, watercolor on paper, 13 x 21 inches; Collection of the Artist)


Wall text from the exhibition

Note: The text from the wall labels for the forty works in the Standing Tall exhibition are in alphabetical order by the artists' last names.
Nantucket Treasure
Sam Barber
Oil on canvas
The bathing beauties are probably the main subject of impressionist Sam Barber's sunny, high-key painting; but Brant Point Light holds its own, quickly establishing the Nantucket locale. Whether the "treasure" is the comely young women, the lighthouse or both is a little less clear.
Chatham Twin Lights 1935
Harold Brett (1880-1955)
Oil on canvas
A descendent of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins, Brett studied with Philip Leslie Hale and Frank W. Benson at the Museum School in Boston, then later with noted illustrator Howard Pyle. He himself was a successful illustrator, working on commission for such magazines as Harper's Weekly, Colliers, Ladies' Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post. He also illustrated books, including a number of Joseph C. Lincoln's Cape Cod novels. During World War I, Brett created art posters for the Liberty Loan campaign. Like Norman Rockwell, his work evokes nostalgia for simpler times in American life. He is featured in Walter Reed's "The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000."
In 1923, the venerable twin lights of Chatham had been separated, with the north tower moved about 12 miles north to become Nauset Light, replacing the last of the Three Sisters lighthouses in Eastham. Brett likely worked from an old photo when he painted this interpretation of the Chatham Light Station in 1935. But it has a gentle moodiness and keen sense of place that suggest a far deeper affinity for the locale.
In its new incarnation as Nauset Light, the relocated tower also received a Fresnel lens from the remaining Sister. (A transplant for the transplant?) The upper half of the tower was painted red in the early 1940s. Nauset Light is the lighthouse pictured on the Cape and Islands license plate and on bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips.
Three Sisters, No. Eastham
Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982)
Oil on masonite
It's probably safe to say that Ralph Cahoon is the most famous native artist Cape Cod has ever produced. He was born and grew up in Chatham, where the Chatham Light Station overlooking the Atlantic and Stage Harbor Light on Harding's Beach must have been frequent sights. As an adult, he and his wife, Martha, enjoyed pretty fair success as furniture decorators and antiques dealers, first in Osterville and then in a big Colonial home (now the Cahoon Museum of American Art) in Cotuit. In the early 1950s, they started painting primitive pictures that took the smart set (and others) by storm. Ralph, who had a flair for wit and whimsy, quickly became identified with mermaids and their admiring sailor companions. A great many of his scenes are set on the shores of Cape Cod; and, eventually, having a lighthouse on a promontory at the horizon became something of a trademark. Paintings where Cahoon made the lighthouse the main subject aren't as common.
This is a guess -- and only a guess -- about why he painted the Three Sisters. He may well have seen them together during his childhood, but was only about eight when they were split up. However, he probably took an interest when the National Park Service reunited them on Cable Road in Eastham in 1975. Perhaps he based the lighthouses on some historical photo that was published at the time they were back in the news. He liked history -- and took that approach quite frequently. But it's obvious some of the scene came entirely from his imagination.
Highland Light
Robert Cardinal
Oil on canvas
Back from the Edge 1996
Peter Coes
Acrylic on panel
When the first Highland Light was built in Truro in 1797, it stood more than 500 feet from the ocean cliff. Because of erosion, the distance between the current lighthouse and the edge of the bluff had dwindled to some 112 feet by the early 1990s. The Save the Light Committee -- a group under the auspices of Truro Historical Society -- raised more than $180,000 to move the tower. With these monies -- combined with substantial federal and state funds -- the operation to move the 404-ton lighthouse 450 feet inland got under way in 1996. After being lifted with hydraulic jacks, the lighthouse was placed on roller beams (supported by a wooden framework). Hydraulic push jacks moved the structure five feet at a time before they needed repositioning. The whole procedure took 18 days and drew thousands of sightseers.
One frequent observer was artist Peter Coes, who now lives in Cummaquid, but resided in Provincetown at the time. "I found it fascinating," he says. "You'd think it would fall over or something, but it didn't." And the experience inspired his painting "Back from the Edge," where fantasy mixes enchantingly with reality. At the time, Coes -- known for his paintings of Cape Cod houses -- was beginning to paint pictures showing the architecture miniaturized, as dollhouses, on tabletops. He did the same thing with Highland Light -- and took other artistic license besides. He added a model train (which puffs real steam), though no train was involved in the actual operation. The fluorescent light serves as a substitute sun.
Coes has only put the American flag in two of his paintings. He wrapped one around the lighthouse here because that's the way it was in real life.
She Wanted to Wonder 2005-2011
Peter Coes
Acrylic on wood
Peter Coes first started painting miniaturized houses and lighthouses on tabletops in his interiors ­ as in "Back from the Edge." Eventually, he began constructing and carving them to sit on actual tables or pedestals, as in "She Wanted to Wonder." Waves, too, are a recurring motif in his work. He has sometimes painted throw rugs where the "design" appears as stylized waves encroaching on the sand.
This is only one of several lighthouses among Coes' "three-dimensional paintings," as he calls them. "Everyone loves lighthouses, and I do, too," he says. "I was a boatman for a long time, and lighthouses have a very comforting feel to them when you're coming into the harbor at night." When Coes lived in Provincetown, he actually had a boat he used as a floating studio for a time.
Cape Cod '49
Vernon Coleman (1898-1978)
Oil on canvas
As Supervisor of Art for the Barnstable School System from 1943 through the mid-1960s, Vernon Coleman taught hundreds of school students. Following his retirement, he taught many others through adult education courses and private classes. During the Depression he painted more than a hundred murals under the Works Progress Administration, including the prominent painting of the clipper ship Red Jacket at Barnstable Town Hall. He was assistant stage manager for the opening season at the Cape Playhouse and also designed sets for community theater groups. He was a founding member of the Cape Cod Art Club (now Cape Cod Art Association).
Coleman printed "Cape Cod '49 in the lower right-hand corner of this piece, but the rocky coast looks much more like Maine ­ which is where Edward Hopper did many of his lighthouse paintings. With its gleaming white buildings and the strong light on the rocks, Coleman's lighthouse is quite Hopper-esque. It's likely he thought the idea of "the Cape Cod lighthouse" was more important than the reality. This type of generic Cape Cod painting was fairly common at the time.
Morning Row Past Brant Point c. 2010
William R. Davis
Oil on panel
William R. Davis of Harwich is a self-taught artist who has mastered the luminist style of such 19th-century landscape artists as Fitz Hugh Lane, Martin Johnson Heade and Frederic Church. Luminist landscapes tend to be tranquil with, often, reflective water and a glowing sky. Brushstrokes are smooth, almost invisible. "Morning Row Past Brant Point" is a beautiful example. While Davis' marine scenes -- as well as his style -- often hark back to the 1800s, there's nothing about this particular view that necessarily relegates it to any particular time period. It might even be today. The light at Brant Point has been red since 1933 ­ to differentiate it from the lights of neighboring homes.
Davis -- who often puts lighthouses in the background of his marine paintings -- readily admits to being fascinated by them. He and his wife, Judy, rented a room at the keeper's cottage at Race Point Lighthouse one very windy night. It was thrilling looking back at Provincetown in the distance and seeing the powerful light sweeping over the dunes, he says, calling the experience "a "different time and space."
Long Point Light c. 1970s-1980s
Salvatore Del Deo
Oil on canvas
Sal Del Deo came to Provincetown to study with Henry Hensche in 1946 and moved there permanently in 1954. During the intervening years he opened two popular restaurants ­ Ciro & Sal's and Sal's Place ­ and has painted pretty much every subject relevant to life at the Cape's tip. His robust style ranges from realistic to abstract -- with stops at any number of variations in between. With "Long Point Light" he dramatized the square beacon that stands at the entrance to Provincetown Harbor by reducing it to its simplest terms and adopting an unusually low vantage point (perhaps from behind the remains of the Long Point Battery, constructed by the Union Army during the Civil War). Del Deo has referred to Long Point Light as the "metronome" of Provincetown, according to the painting's owner, Napi Van Dereck. We don't know if it can keep a beat, but it does provide a visual center for the East and West ends of town when viewed from across the harbor.
Wellfleet Light 1973
D. Cary Dodd (1918-1986)
Watercolor on paper
Billingsgate is the Atlantis of Cape Cod ­ an island that has disappeared, or nearly so. When the Mayflower reached Cape Cod Bay in 1620, it was a 60-acre island just south of what is now Jeremy Point in Wellfleet. An exploring party that included Miles Standish spent a night there. During the first half of the 19th century there was a small community on Billingsgate, including more than 30 homes, a school, a factory for extracting oil from pilot whales, a baseball team and a lighthouse to mark the entrance to Wellfleet Harbor. After an 1855 storm divided the island in half, a second lighthouse was built on higher ground in 1858. The island continued to erode despite the addition of a sea wall in 1888. The last families moved away in the early 1900s, leaving only the lighthouse keeper and his family there year-round. Many of the houses were saved by floating them over to Wellfleet and Eastham on rafts. Abandoned in 1915, the 1858 lighthouse was destroyed by a December storm the same year. For a time, the island had a light atop a skeleton tower. Although the island had essentially washed away by 1942, a sandbar littered with granite foundation blocks and bricks from the lighthouse is still visible at low tide.
Dodd, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, worked from a circa 1900 photograph when he painted this watercolor in 1973. That year he was director and artist-in-residence of the Zephry Gallery in Orleans. In 1974, he was artist-in-residence at Bramhall Gallery in Eastham.
Brant Point Lighthouse
Kimberly duCharme
Pastel on sanded paper
Brant Point Light is the country's second oldest light station. (Only Boston Light is older.) A grand total of nine lighthouses have stood there on the west side of the entrance to Nantucket Harbor, with the first erected in 1746 and the last one -- by far the most enduring -- in 1901. (Among the causes of their demise: fires, a tornado, general deterioration and shifts in the channel.) At 26 feet tall, the present wooden tower also has the distinction of being one of New England's shortest beacons. It's a pretty little thing, however, with the addition of a pediment-topped entryway. Chatham artist Kimberly duCharme zeroed in on just a small portion of the light's black lantern, white tower and the pediment to create this pastel. It's an eye-catching study in the interplay of geometric forms -- yet, at the same time, thoroughly indicative of all that's charming about Brant Point Light.
Lighthouse at Night c. 1930
Harold C. Dunbar (1882-1953)
Oil on board
Harold Dunbar studied with a number of important impressionists, including Edward H. Barnard, who introduced him to Chatham. Dunbar established the Chatham School of Painting in 1915 and moved to town permanently a few years later. In addition to being a prolific artist, he was the editor of The Cape Cod Beacon and wrote a weekly column. His lovely little "Lighthouse at Night" has an illustrative quality -- as if there's a story behind it -- but we don't know his intention in painting it. The lighthouse itself seems idealized, sitting up there on the headland shining forth hopeful rays of light. Rather like the Vernon Coleman painting to its left, this Dunbar conveys a nostalgic vision of Cape Cod that doesn't quite square with reality.
Highland Light
Mary Giammarino
Oil on masonite
Race Point Light
Wayne S. Gowell
Etching on paper
The light station at Race Point was the third on Cape Cod, following Highland Light in Truro and the twin lights at Chatham. The strong crosscurrents and sandbars off Provincetown's Back Beach made this a treacherous place for vessels sailing anywhere south of Cape Cod from Boston. (And, before the Cape Cod Canal was built, it was impossible not to navigate them.) Installed in 1875, the current tower is a cast-iron model that was frequently issued by the U.S. government in the 1870s and 1880s. The keeper's house has been carefully restored and is available for overnight stays.
To the Lighthouse 1997
Red Grooms
Aquatint etching on paper 1/50
Red Grooms is a multimedia artist best-known for his colorful "Pop art" constructions depicting frenetic scenes of modern urban life. But in this wonderfully tongue-in-cheek print, he imagines himself watching Edward Hopper painting a lighthouse on site -- though somehow we know he's an observer removed in time. Clearly Grooms is poking fun at the way in which Hopper's masterful lighthouse paintings sparked the proliferation of so many routine versions. Yet, his title, "To the Lighthouse" (think "Ode to the West Wind" or "Ode to a Nightingale"), isn't without respect. Grooms -- who studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown the 1950s and, for a time, was married to and collaborated with Mimi Gross, the daughter of Provincetown/New York sculptor Chaim Gross -- managed to do a lighthouse painting without really doing a lighthouse painting. Notice the rock that's anchoring the easel, to keep it from blowing over.
Twin Lights and Lighthouse Keeper's House 1885
Calvin Hammond (1847-1918)
Oil on canvas
Like so many of the American folk artists who preceded him in the early 1800s, Chatham native Calvin Hammond was a housepainter who tried his hand at painting on canvas -- clearly with charming results. He liked painting local sites that had some history, such as this picture of Chatham Light Station.
When the first light station was established on the high bluff overlooking Chatham's outer beach in 1808, it was decided there would be two towers to distinguish it from the solo tower, Highland Light, at Truro. The structures Hammond painted were the third to serve as the Chatham Light Station. (Just a few years after No. 3 went into operation, the towers from light station No. 2 toppled onto the beach as the cliff gave way to erosion.) Installed in 1877, they were 48-foot conical cast-iron towers with two 1?-story wooden dwellings (for two keepers) between them. Hammond exaggerated the towers' shape in a delightful way.
Later in life, Hammond studied to be a mortician in Boston and returned to operate a funeral parlor in Chatham.
Stage Harbor Light 2011
James Holland
Oil on canvas
Jim Holland enjoys painting architecture -- and does so with a spare realism and sense of solitude reminiscent of Edward Hopper, an artist whose work he admires. He paints a lighthouse every couple of years or so, he says. "They're very iconic, and I love to find a way of painting them that's not a huge cliché." His innovation for painting Stage Harbor Light was to diminish the light station within the larger context of the sky and landscape, in an effort to heighten the sense of isolation. The lighthouse is, in fact, at the end of Harding's Beach near the entrance to Stage Harbor, right on the Cape's "elbow." It was about a mile-and-a-half walk on the beach to get there, Holland says.
Built in 1880, Stage Harbor Light was decommissioned in 1933 and replaced with an automated light on a skeleton tower. The lantern was removed shortly thereafter and never replaced. The lighthouse property is now in private hands.
Winter Afternoon, Highland Light 2013
Steve Kennedy
Oil on canvas
Wellfleet artist Steve Kennedy generally works en plein air, but photographed this scene to paint in the studio. He paints lighthouses now and then, but says: "If you're going to do them, there probably has to be a little bit of a twist to it." In this case, it was the drama of the snow and the alternating strata of darks and lights in the sky. The almost horizontal rays of the sun make the white lighthouse glow with a striking intensity. We've all seen that late winter afternoon effect. Here, it gives the Highland Light tower an added air of majesty.
Truro's Highland Light -- also known as Cape Cod Light -- was the first light station on Cape Cod. The first tower was built in 1797, the third (and current) one in 1856. Since 1626 -- when the Sparrowhawk ran aground off Orleans -- there have been countless shipwrecks along the coast from Chatham to Provincetown. That 50-mile stretch is sometimes called an "ocean graveyard." More than a thousand wrecks have occurred off the coast of Truro and Wellfleet alone. The site for the lighthouse was selected, in part, because it was about a mile from particularly dangerous shoals. And the
experts of the day deemed that setting it on Truro's Highlands -- bluffs 150 feet above the beach -- would make it all the more visible for ships at sea.
The Relief Lightship at Woods Hole 1938
Charles R. Knight (1874-1953)
Oil on canvas
Best-known for his paintings of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, Charles Knight did much to popularize prehistory. He painted many murals for natural history museums and zoos and illustrated many books on dinosaurs during the first half of the 20th century.
Knight spent one wonderful summer in Woods Hole with his family and apparently painted the Lightship Relief during that visit. The U.S. Coast Guard had seven relief ships that wandered up and down the coastlines to substitute for the regular lightships when they needed repair. This ship may have been the U.S. Coast Guard's Relief 78/505, built in 1904 using the same type of steel used on the Titanic and sunk following a collision in 1960. Knight likely saw it docked at the Coast Guard station in Woods Hole either just before or after a stint at the Nantucket shoals.
Leaving Nantucket c. 2005
David Kooharian
Oil on panel
Mashpee artist David Kooharian tends to paint a subject for a while, then moves on to others. During a lighthouse phase a few years back, he took photos of Brant Point as he was leaving Nantucket Harbor on the ferry. He says he considers photos to be "notes," supplementary to just soaking up the atmosphere. While acknowledging the lighthouse as an "iconic" image, his chief interest was to capture the feeling of a hot and humid summer afternoon. "I don't like to romanticize the picture too much or change the scene," he says. As he hoped, "Leaving Nantucket" transports us back to a particular time, day and place in the artist's experience. His view from the ferry's deck is one thousands of other Nantucket visitors have seen.
Nauset Light 1949
Lawrence Kupferman (1909-1982)
India ink on casein
Lawrence Kupferman was the chairman of the painting department at Massachusetts College of Arts. He summered in Provincetown and participated in the groundbreaking Forum 49 show with the likes of Robert Motherwell, Richard Pousette-Dart, Weldon Kees and Karl Knath. While Kupferman borrowed motifs from the real world, he sought to explore a more spiritualized comprehension of the cosmos through his art. The title "Nauset Light" certainly suggests he had some experience of the lighthouse, but the manner in which it inspired him remains mysterious. Yet, the shape that dominates this piece is powerful. We do know Kupferman believed life began in the sea and often painted biomorphic or microscopic forms. All of the little filament-like lines in this picture seem like bits and pieces of electrical circuitry!
Lighthouse at Sundown
Joan Cobb Marsh
Oil on canvas
The lighthouse in Joan Cobb Marsh's atmospheric painting is Race Point Light, located off the Back Beach in Provincetown, welcoming vessels as they round the clenched fist of Cape Cod. But its identity is almost beside the point: The painting is really about a fleetingly beautiful moment experienced by the artist. With the tower and lighthouse keeper's house in silhouette, we know less about the structures than we might, but share more deeply in the emotional impact. Marsh selected a viewpoint that leaves a significant space between the structures, somehow heightening the sense of wild isolation.
The Old Lighthouse 2006
Susan O'Brien McLean
Oil on canvas
A barrier beach six miles long and a half-mile wide, Sandy Neck creates -- and provides protection for -- Barnstable Harbor on the Cape's north side. In the early 1800s, the harbor bustled with whalers, fishing boats and trading vessels. The first lighthouse at the end of the dune-swept peninsula was just a lantern on top of the keeper's dwelling. In 1857, it was replaced by the current 48-foot-tall brick structure, painted white. Two women served as keepers at Sandy Neck Light ­ Lucy Hinckley Baxter from 1862 to 1867 and Eunice Crowell Howes from 1880 to 1886. Both succeeded husbands who had died.
Over the years, sand accumulated to the east, leaving the lighthouse at some distance from the peninsula's tip. It was decommissioned in 1931, and a skeleton steel tower with an automated light (in operation until 1952) set up closer to the harbor's entrance. The lantern was removed from atop the lighthouse in 1933. The tower remained in this truncated condition until 2007 -- the year after "The Old Lighthouse" was painted.
Osterville artist Susan O'Brien McLean was fascinated by the summer cottage colony clustered near Sandy Neck Light, so a friend took her over there in his boat so she could take some pictures. "I love these buildings -- they have souls," she says. "I think it's kind of a spiritual place. You feel like you're in another world out there."
Summer at Sankaty 2013
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
Distinguished by a wide red band midway up its white tower, Sankaty Head Light was built in 1850 in the village of Siasconset on the southeast coast of Nantucket. The original 53-foot tower constructed of brick and granite still stands and remains in operation, having been moved approximately 400 back from an eroding bluff in 2007. Sankaty is the tallest lighthouse on the Cape and Islands. In addition, it was the first lighthouse in Massachusetts equipped with a Fresnel lens -- and the first in the country to have a Fresnel lens installed as part of its original equipment. (French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel had developed a lighter, more compact lens for lighthouses in the 1820s. It had greater focusing power, so as to throw light greater distances.) Nationally recognized folk artist Janet Munro has imagined Sankaty Head Light presiding over a real nice clambake.
Long Point
Ray Nolin
Oil on canvas
Highland Light, Sunrise 1995
Ernest Principato
Oil on board
Paul Resika
Etching on paper
Highland Light Sunrise 2011
Amy Sanders
Pastel on paper
Amy Sanders grew up in Truro, where Highland Light made its presence felt on a daily basis. She wrote the following to go with this painting:
"Highland Light is rich with memories and tradition for me. When I was young, I used to lie in bed and watch the flash of light pass across my ceiling. I cherished the foghorn in stormy weather. I once taught a child who had lived there, and now my father [Dan Sanders] is president of the Highland Lighthouse Association. I've climbed this light and stood on its upper decks more times, and with more people, than I can count.
"One morning a few years ago, I took my sister-in-law and my father there to see the sunrise, and this glorious sight greeted us. It was positively spectacular and begged to be painted as no photograph would ever capture the glory of this scene.
"Highland Light is now operated by Highland Museum and Lighthouse, Inc. (of which the Highland Lighthouse Association is a part). However, a substantial part of the financial burden for maintaining this light is borne by the National Seashore, and the Seashore was instrumental in having the Lighthouse moved in 1996. We have the National Park system to thank for preserving this historic landmark for the generations to enjoy."
Nobska Lighthouse, Falmouth
Jeanne Staples
Oil on linen
Nobska Point Lighthouse is one of the two most accessible lighthouses on Cape Cod (along with Chatham Light). It sits just off Church Street, part of the stretch of road that follows the shore in Woods Hole and Falmouth. Thousands of Falmouth Road Race participants run past it every August. And when artist Jeanne Staples of Edgartown comes over to the Cape from Martha's Vineyard, she often takes that route because it gets her where she's going faster -- or just to take in the spectacular view of the lighthouse crowning a bluff overlooking Vineyard Sound. She finally painted it three or four years ago. "It took a little time to decide 'How am I going to do this one?'" she says. But she knew right away it was going to take a large canvas. "It has such a presence -- it's very commanding and demanding. It requires that level of size to begin to give a sense of its presence in person. It's a beacon for ships, but also for individuals as they're approaching it. It demands your attention."
Lightship Hauled Out 2011
Donald Stoltenberg
Watercolor on paper
Although essentially a lighthouse in function, the lightship has one distinct advantage: It can be moored in dangerous offshore waters. Established in 1854, the Nantucket Lightship station marked the treacherous shoals south of Nantucket Island. Lying just off a major transatlantic shipping line, these shallow waters (sometimes as little as three feet deep) extend for many miles. The Lightship Nantucket was the name given to a number of ships commissioned to serve at that station. The lightships were manned, with crews often deployed for up to 30 days. By the 1860s, some crew members on the Lightship Nantucket were passing their time weaving the baskets now so greatly admired as Nantucket Lightship baskets.
In the 1960s, Brewster artist Donald Stoltenberg had a studio on Commercial Wharf on Boston Harbor, a location that inspired his lifelong dedication to marine art. During those years he occasionally saw the Lightship Nantucket brought in for maintenance. He took photos -- and even did a drawing -- but never painted the famous vessel until two years ago. The lightship he saw was likely the one built by the Coast Guard in 1950 and decommissioned in 1985. During the 20th century, all lightships were painted red with their station name lettered in white on both sides.
Nobska Light 1989
Donald Stoltenberg
Watercolor on paper
Donald Stoltenberg acknowledges that cubism -- more than anything -- has influenced his distinctive painting style (which is rather reminiscent of the Precisionist style developed by such artists as Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth). He's fascinated by how one plane intersects another and likes to emphasize (by now it's all but second nature) the interplay of diagonals. For that reason, the 1876 Nobska Point Lighthouse is -- for him -- the Cape's most interesting lighthouse. "I think it's the combination of the gables and the roof -- the building part seems to almost envelope the lighthouse tower," he says.
Quahog Corner 2013
John Sullivan
John Sullivan was Barnstable High School's drama coach for many years, highly acclaimed for the quality of his productions. For a time he left to work as an animator in Hollywood, but missed teaching and returned to finish his career at BHS, retiring a year and a half ago. Since then he's been developing a new project called "Quahog Corner," a children's show combining live actors and cartoon animation that's set on a fictional island off the coast of Dennisport. It will be available as an "app" -- Sullivan hopes by November. Anyone who purchases the app will get two 22-minute TV shows, a 15-minute short, a game for three levels and coloring pages. He envisions it as "kind of retro, like the old Captain Bob show, like Captain Kangaroo" -- not so much "Bang! Pow! Zam!" like many current children's shows.
As he's conceived it, the island Quahog Corner was formed from shells dropped by scallop, clam and quahog fishermen, with the addition of sand added by the tides. The main character, Captain Salty, lives there with Mrs. Salty. "I wanted to have a manmade lighthouse built out of driftwood," Sullivan says. "Captain Salty just didn't want people bumping into his house." Sullivan will play Professor Ticonderoga (after the pencil, not the fort), a drawing instructor who travels about in his "magnificent submarine-spaceship-time machine." A number of former students -- including Siobhan Magnus, who wowed "American Idol" audiences a few years back -- are helping Sullivan with the project,.
Wood End Light
Donald Edward Voorhees (1926- )
Watercolor on paper
The lighthouses at Race Point and Long Point had been in operation for decades when Wood End Light was built between them in 1872 -- just about a mile from Long Point Light at the southernmost curve of the spit protecting Provincetown Harbor. The original brick structure still stands.
As with the beacons along the Outer Beach, every effort has been made to aid navigation by differentiating the lighthouses. While Long Point has a fixed green light, Wood End has a flashing red one. Race Point has a flashing white light.
The exaggerated horizontal Donald Voorhees selected for his painting format emphasizes the lighthouse's lonely location.
Cape Cod Light 2010
Thomas A. D. Watson
Oil on linen
While not inclined to paint lighthouses in general, Truro artist Thomas Watson has painted Highland Light -- also known as Cape Cod Light -- a number of times. "The reason I've painted it so many times is because it's near where I live; and, when I was a kid, it was a big expedition to go up there at night." Like Amy Sanders -- another artist represented in this show -- he remembers seeing "the sweep of the light at night a huge arching beam like a searchlight." Living only a couple of miles away from the lighthouse, he also heard its foghorn. "It was deafening," he recalls.
Since the lighthouse was moved in 1996, he can no longer see the light -- and it no longer has a foghorn. But now he takes his children there -- to see this nostalgic part of his own childhood. "The lighthouse has come to represent the heart and soul of the Outer Cape to me," he says. His painting is an honest and straightforward view that captures the mystique of the place.
Three Trees at Three Sisters c. 2010
Robert Wisner
Egg tempera on panel
The Three Sisters of Nauset were first erected overlooking Nauset Beach in Eastham in 1838, in response to the need for an additional lighthouse midway between Highland Light in North Truro and the twin lights at Chatham. The idea behind having a trio of small lighthouses was to help sailors differentiate them from their counterparts on the Outer Beach, so they could better locate their whereabouts. The "Sisters" may have acquired their nickname because their conical brick towers resembled white skirts, or because some lighthouse keeper had three daughters -- reasons suggested by Jeremy D'Entremont in "The Lighthouses of Massachusetts." In 1892, the lights were replaced by three new, slightly taller (22-foot), shingled towers about 30 feet inland. These were moved again in 1911, but only one remained operational. The other two -- their lanterns removed ­ were purchased by a family in 1918. In 1923, the remaining lighthouse also passed into private hands, having been replaced by a single beacon, Nauset Light, formerly one of Chatham's twin towers. Since 1989, the Three Sisters -- newly restored by the National Park Service -- have stood reunited in their original orientation (in a straight line 150 feet apart) at a site on Cable Road in Eastham.
Robert Wisner now lives in western New York, but shows at Addison Art Gallery in Orleans. His grandparents took him out to see the lighthouses back in the mid-1950s and he's taken lots of pictures of them on more recent visits to the Cape. "It's kind of weird that they're stuck in a forest," he says. "They're surrounded by trees about three-quarters of a mile from the beach." A sense of the lighthouses being out of their element comes through in Wisner's painting even as the three trees add interest and a certain degree of visual tension.
The Clammer 2013
Karol B. Wyckoff
Watercolor on paper
"The Clammer" shows Sandy Neck Light with its new lantern. Ken Morton, manager of the Sandy Neck Lighthouse property, and the Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation raised sufficient funds to have the lantern installed in time for the light's 150th birthday in 2007. It's now in operation as a private aid to navigation.
In 1887, the 1857 brick tower was shored up with two iron hoops connected by six iron staves. In addition to helping to prevent further cracking, it has given the lighthouse a touch of distinction.
Highland Light Interior 1992
Karol B. Wyckoff
Watercolor on paper
South Yarmouth watercolorist Karol B. Wyckoff has probably done as many lighthouse paintings as any artist on the Cape and Islands. She summered in Truro as a child and has painted them her entire career -- in all different seasons and from every imaginable angle, including from inside. She has even done entire series of paintings for the benefit of Sandy Neck Light and Highland Light. "Highland Light Interior" was accepted for exhibition in the 2006 "Arts for the Parks" competition.
Evening Light II
Barbara Wylan
Acrylic on linen
Suffused in the golden glow of evening, the beacon in Barnstable artist Barbara Wylan's painting is Gay Head Light, located in Aquinnah on the westernmost end of Martha's Vineyard. It was the first light station on the island, the original tower erected in 1799 to help ensure safe passage for shipping vessels through the dangerous waters between the colorful clay cliffs of Gay Head and the Elizabeth Islands. The infamous shoal and rock formation Devil's Bridge lies to the west. In an 1852 report, Gay Head Light was ranked as the ninth most important coastal lighthouse in the country ­ or the most important north of New York. This precipitated a move to build a taller tower to accommodate a new Fresnel lens. The current 51-foot brick tower went into operation in 1956 and remains an active navigational aid.
Barrel Traps c. mid-1930s
George Yater (1910-1993)
Watercolor on paper
Truro artist George Yater studied in Provincetown with Henry Hensche at the Cape School of Art and privately with Richard Miller and Edwin Dickinson. He served as director of Provincetown Art Association and Museum from 1947 to 1961. His oils and watercolors have a clarity that makes even early works like "Barrel Traps" look remarkably fresh.
While the fishermen in the foreground are the main subject of this peaceful early-morning painting, Yater provides a clear pictorial record of the arrangement of structures out on Long Point, the spit of land that curves around Provincetown Harbor, back in the 1930s. To the left of the lighthouse stands a fog-bell tower. The fog-bell was used to alert sailors when conditions prevented them from seeing the light. The mounds of sand are the remains of fortifications built up during Civil War -- with the intention of putting cannons on top of them. The cannons never materialized (nor were they needed), and the mounds earned the nicknames "Fort Stupid" and "Fort Ridiculous," according to Napi Van Dereck, who owns the painting (and also Napi's, the Provinctown restaurant). The building to the right went up in the 1930s to house a lifesaving boat for the Coast Guard. The poles and lines running out to the point indicate the lighthouse had power by this time.
On a personal note, Van Dereck recalls rowing over to Long Point with a friend once or twice when he was growing up in Provincetown ­ and the lighthouse keeper's wife inviting them in for milk and cookies. Given her isolation, she no doubt enjoyed the company.
Moonlight on the Water c. mid-1930s
George Yater (1910-1993)
Watercolor on paper
Judging by the spontaneity of this watercolor -- executed using only black paint -- it appears George Yater went out one moonlit night and painted on location. (A further indication is that it's a half moon. Artists seem to select a full moon or sliver moon when left to their own devices.) While the moon's reflection makes a fluid zigzag across the water, the lighthouse casts a strip of light. Lighthouses are such iconic seaside images that it requires only the most rudimentary marks to tell the story. Given that lighthouses are designed to do some of their best work at night, it's surprising there aren't more nocturnal scenes around.

TFAO wishes to express appreciation to Cindy Nickerson, Guest Curator, for providing the introductory text for this exhibition to Resource Library.

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