Editor's note: The following essay was published on August 24, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of the author.


Artists of Cape Ann: A 150 Year Tradition

by Kristian Davies


Cape Ann, the oldest art colony in America, has inspired art and artists with a startling diversity of styles. The roster of painters who have worked on Cape Ann is a virtual who's who of American art from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Fitz Hugh Lane, Francis Silva, Winslow Homer, John Twachtman, Childe Hassam, Edward Potthast, Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley and Mark Rothko all painted in the tough and humble little fishing community north of Boston. It is difficult imagining in what other context such a diverse and almost contradictory selection of names would find themselves in the same sentence. Such a phenomenon is Cape Ann's unique contribution to American Art. What began as a pilgrimage point for artists to gaze at its majestic harbor outlived the era of the schooners, and over the course of the next hundred years, whether it was Impressionism, Modernism, or the WPA, Cape Ann became a continuous muse for its artists.

Though the city of Gloucester makes up most of the Cape, the surrounding towns of Rockport, Annisquam and Lanesville have all become important elements in the story of the colony. From its establishment in 1623, Gloucester was a major harbor, known around the globe for its importance in fishing and international trade. Over the decades the need for workers to fill various demands in fishing, ship building and rock quarrying drew great numbers of Italians, Portuguese, Finns, Swedes and Irish from across the ocean. With their language, music, family heritage and holiday customs, the tiny Cape, technically an island, became a microcosm of the American immigrant experience. Trade with ports of call as distant as the Far East meant the continuous presence of exotic languages and products, both good and bad (Gloucester was once known to have a very high number of opium addicts, compliments of Chinese mariners). Rudyard Kipling is said to have found his inspiration for Captain's Courageous while on Cape Ann. In many regards Gloucester lived out a centuries long history before the first artists came to paint, and ultimately to defame the region.

Taken from a private collection that has been thirty-five years in the making, many of the paintings in the Lyme Art Association exhibition, Artists of Cape Ann: A 150 Year Tradition, will be on display to the public for the first time. Included in the show are examples by artists such as Jonas Lie, Stephen Parrish, George L. Noyes, Frederick Mulhaupt, Max Kuehne, Harry Vincent, William Lester Stevens, Felicia Waldo Howell, Claire Shuttleworth, Emile and Charles Gruppe, Harriet Randall Lumis, Marguerite Pearson, Antonio Cirino, Aldro Hibbard, Hayley Lever, Augustus Buhler, Paul Cornoyer, Aldro Hibbard, and Frederick Waugh.

Stephen Parrish's Gloucester Wharves (1880), the earliest work in the exhibition, is a crisp, detailed etching showcasing the talents of an artist often referred to as merely the father of his more famous son, Maxfield Parrish. Having broken away from the family tradition of law and business, Parrish went to Philadelphia where he began to study etching in 1879. Gloucester Wharves was created during Parrish's first trip to Cape Ann. It is remarkable that such a work was completed within a year of beginning his formal training. Over the next decade Parrish's etchings became very popular and sold well nationally. Later, with the decline in the etching market, Parrish returned to painting in oils, a medium he had neglected for many years.

A giant among Cape Ann painters, Frederick J. Mulhaupt is today one of the more sought after artists associated with the region. A quiet, independent-minded workaholic, Mulhaupt came to the region in 1907 after returning from training in Europe. Considered the ''Dean of the Cape Ann School," Mulhaupt greatly influenced a generation of painters. Of all the deceased alumni of the North Shore, Mulhaupt is the artist who is generally accepted as the most consistent in quality and most readily identified in galleries.

While many Cape Ann painters are known for their harbor images, none compare to Mulhaupt's originality. He possessed both the careful draftsmanship and preparation of an academic painter and the spontaneous gusto of a plein-air Impressionist. His harbor scenes, especially those depicting winter, always capture this wonderful blend of the two, a sort of carefully executed improvisation. Schooner Imperator highlights Mulhaupt's masterful handling of white, a color whose careless use is often the undoing of lesser artists. Like Aldro T. Hibbard, Mulhaupt could paint a hundred different shades and tones of white, bringing out countless moods all within the bounds of a single color.

A frequent trend among many painters of the first half of the twentieth century was a lightening of the palette after exposure to Cape Ann, especially New York painters working in the Ashcan style. Before his visits to Cape Ann, Jonas Lie's work had a brooding, moody atmosphere inspired by his years in New York City. But after his trips to Cape Ann, first before World War I, and more frequently in the 1930s, a change appeared in his work. Cape Ann Street Scene is an example of the region's light and open atmosphere instilled in the artist's paintings. Yet there is an element of Lie bringing the Ashcan style to Cape Ann. The stormy sky and rich shadows lend the image a more thoughtful quality than a mere sunny picture with a white picket fence.

The number of painters "imported" to Cape Ann is extensive, which makes the rise of accomplished local talent all the more special. William Lester Stevens is perhaps the most well-known local painter to achieve a national reputation. Born in Rockport, Stevens was the consummate plein air painter, possessing both the hearty toughness of the quarry workmen with the imperviousness to weather of the Gloucester seaman. First trained by local legend Parker Perkins, Stevens spent his days on location in all seasons and in all weather conditions. Fall Landscape has all the Impressionist delicateness characteristic of the style's French origins, but it also has a robust vigor that is perhaps more American.

Harry Vincent's Motif #1, Rockport has a similar quality to Stevens, both of whom represent the Post World War I era when American artists sought a return to fundamentals and Impressionism saw a major resurgence along with the ever more progressive Modernist styles. Depicting the virtually inescapable red fishermens' shack of Cape Ann lore, the painting bursts with color. Working in an Impressionist style, Vincent succeeded in painting large fields of almost uninterrupted blue. This mixed with an Ashcan School sky and the broken color in the boats, masts and rigging, provide an amazing sense of scale.

Every year it seems, a few previously unappreciated or unknown Cape Ann artists' work is "discovered." Perhaps Swedish-born Gunnar Bjareby, both a painter and a sculptor, is one such artist. One of his unique paintings of the famous Motif # 1 has a very unusual perspective: from the inside. At this time it appears that this is the only painting actually created from within the little red fisherman's shack that has won the unlikely title of being the most frequently painted building in America. Showing a lobsterman's work table inside the shack, the image is filled with interesting details and pieces of equipment. Most noteworthy is the red paint spread over various surfaces, evidence of some individual testing the color mixture of red used to repaint the exterior. Aldro Hibbard was said to have been in charge of mixing the paint for the shack for many years.

Cape Ann also attracted many American painters usually associated with other art colonies. Guy Wiggins is considered principally a painter of both Old Lyme and snowy New York street scenes. But in his early years Wiggins traveled throughout the United States, visiting Cape Ann and painting in Gloucester harbor. In Blue Water, Gloucester, he fills the small canvas with a massiveness that makes the picture seem large in scale. Wiggins appears just as adept at handling the color blue for the water as he was at using white in his winter scenes without becoming monotonous.

There was what might be called a healthy competition among artists from different "schools." Gerrit Beneker was first and foremost a Provincetown painter. Famous for his scenes of industrial workers, Rockport from the Headlands is more Impressionistic in approach than usual. Depicting the Rockport Inner Harbor from the headland, the town's famous "Motif # 1" is visible.

Reversing the experience was H. Boylston Dummer who frequently traveled to different areas of New England including Provincetown, creating hearty images of the outdoor life among the woodsmen, loggers and hunters. His eye for people and faces was well developed upon his arrival in Cape Ann and was ripe for capturing different aspects of the harbor life not frequently explored by other artists.

The Red Sail Boat is a unique image among Rockport paintings and certainly reflects the influence of the Provincetown figure painter Charles Hawthorne. Depicting a fisherman away from his boat and the harbor, separated from his usual surroundings, is a surprisingly little explored genre among Cape Ann painters. Often in the evening, and when weather was particularly bad, fishermen had little to do but wait for the next journey. Model ship building seemed a natural pursuit to pass the time and distract one's thoughts from the unpredictable life of a fisherman.

Though they are so often present in Cape Ann images, fishermen are usually reduced to a few impressionistic strokes, obscured on the deck of a ship some distance from the viewer's eye. They become representational, rather than personal. Such a direct gaze and personal look as in The Red Sail Boat can at first be bewildering for the sitter holds none of the expressions or poses usually found in commissioned portraiture. The fishermen in fact appears somewhat awkward: he doesn't know how to look. He knows nothing of dramatic posturing to accent or enhance the folkloric aspect of his life at sea. This is not a studio model. His expression is of a man of the sea who appears a little out of place in the presence of a painter whose lifestyle and aesthetic preoccupation are quite foreign to him.

Perhaps, this picture is a symbol of the art colony's inseparable connection to the fishing industry and to a seamens' life. This attachment to industry also makes it unrivaled among art colonies, not being an area that thrived solely because of painting. Apparently this working class atmosphere is what has caused the colony to remain in demand for so many years.

Unlike John Carlson in Woodstock or Charles Hawthorne among Provincetown painters, no single Cape Ann artist, through the popularity of his paintings or the influence of his teaching, has ever been so dominant as to define a single "look" for Cape Ann. This has ensured a variety of work among generations of painters and freed the colony from the limits such a definition would instill. Cape Ann's popularity to "the artist" did not wane or die with the popularity of one particular style, or even one particular evolution of modern art. If it had, the appeal of Cape Ann would have revealed its own limitations. Instead it was continuously redefined as painters redefined their art.


About the author:

Born in Hong Kong and raised in New England, Kristian Davies grew up spending summers on Cape Ann exposed to the art and history of the region. He received his degree from Northwestern University and has also studied at the Paris III Sorbonne and New York University. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Art history has always been of great interest to him.

Artists of Cape Ann: A 150 Year Tradition, an exhibition featuring some of the paintings in Mr. Davies' illustrated 2001 book [1] Artists of Cape Ann: A 150 Year Tradition, ISBN 1-885435-18-5,, but also several not included in he book, was held in 2003 at the Lyme Art Association. Kristian Davies later wrote an article for the exhibition which was published in American Art Review, Volume XV, Number 1 January-February 2003. Art & Antiques published an essay by Kristian Davies titled "Raised on Art" in its Summer 2002 issue and another titled "Family Tradition" in the June 2003 issue. Thomas Davies, Kristian Davies' father, recalls that according to Art & Antiques the 2002 article had the highest reader response of any article published in the magazine up to that point in time.

A new book by Mr. Davies titled The Orientalists: Western Artists in Arabia, the Sahara, Persia and India will be published in January of 2005.

1. Copies of the book may be obtained (as of August 2004) by forwarding $29.95 plus a $4.50 mail and handling fee to Thomas Davies, 58 Beacon Hill Lane, New Canaan, CT 06480.

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