Island of the Sea: Monhegan Island, Maine

Artistic Leanings

Monhegan's spare, rough beauty isn't enjoyed only by her lobstermen. One of the keys to this tiny island's modern, almost cultish appeal lies in the art world. The first painter to broach the rocky shores was Aaron Draper Shattuck, in 1858; many others, professional and amateur, followed. Most influentially, Robert Henri (founder of New York's Ashcan school) discovered the island's potential for artistic inspiration in 1903 and passed along this knowledge to his students, among them George Bellows and Rockwell Kent. Other painters, such as Edward Hopper, the Wyeths (particularly Jamie, the third generation), and James Fitzgerald, have sealed the island's reputation as the nature-loving artists' mecca.

Rockwell Kent is perhaps the artist most intimately associated with Monhegan. As observer and as resident, this adventurous, resolutely radical man (he eventually donated more than 80 of his paintings to the Soviet Union in 1960) left a distinctive mark on the island. His bold portraits of Monhegan, considered to be among the best, illustrate the combustible mix of wild beauty and stubbornness, restlessness and romance that characterizes the island and its people. The young artist lived on Monhegan from 1905 until 1910. In addition to his artistic legacy, Kent, who helped support himself by working in construction, left behind many beautifully-designed homes, including the calm, grey-shingled cottage on Lobster Cove, originally built for his mother and now owned by Jamie Wyeth.

Today, artists dominate the landscape of the island. Strung along the rocky headlands, clustered on the scenic rocks at Lobster Cove, perched serenely on the bluff beside the lighthouse, they set up their easels and paint, paint, paint. Photographers practice their craft just as zealously, their spindly tripods nearly as ubiquitous as the easels. The community's embrace of this artistic legacy is apparent in the well-stocked museum, the studio open houses offered by island artists, the two summer residencies awarded by the island to Maine artists each year, and the general appreciation of those who come to depict the island.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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