Author’s note: An earlier, longer version of this essay was destined for Edgar Allen Beem’s book Maine Art New as an overview of landscape painting in Maine but was derailed when the University of Maine Press canceled the project in 2018 after sitting on it for many years. Because of space considerations, the piece has been cut and tweaked. It is by no means comprehensive.
[Landscape painters] are blessed with the unique ability to make their places visible, and [are] able, thus, to share with those of us who have not been there what they have learned from their encounters with the land.
—Alan Gussow, A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land, 1972
Exploring Mount Desert Island in 1844, the British-born painter Thomas Cole (1801–48) remarked on the “fine views of Frenchman Bay” and the “lofty peaks of Mount Desert.” As founder of the Hudson River School, Cole had seen his share of picture-perfect panoramas, but here was a lesser-known territory, a landscape not yet firmly on the radar of American painters.
Other painters had preceded Cole, including the Reverend Jonathan Fisher (1768–1847), whose biblical vista of Blue Hill village (1824) stands among the earliest landscape representations of Maine. Yet it was Cole’s visit and subsequent paintings that seemed to spark that line of landscape art that has been near-continuous for more than 150 years.
In Cole’s immediate footsteps came his sole pupil, Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), who took his teacher’s lead and visited—and painted—Mount Desert Island. Church then explored further: his canvases of Mount Katahdin helped introduce Maine’s mightiest mountain—and the state’s interior riches—to the world.
In a succession that became more rapid over time, landscape painters arrived in Maine, many of them subsequently taking their place in the American pantheon. Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Fairfield Porter, Lois Dodd, and Yvonne Jacquette are a few names in that distinguished procession.
At the same time, nearly every “ism” came to be represented. Childe Hassam and Frank Benson offered impressionist views of, respectively, Appledore Island and North Haven, while the likes of Marsden Hartley and Marguerite Zorach treated Maine motifs in a modernist manner. After World War II, the aesthetic spectrum ran from William Kienbusch’s abstract-expressionist visions of Maine islands to Andrew Wyeth’s realist renderings of the Olson place in Cushing.
The artist enclaves of Ogunquit and Monhegan, which had taken shape around the turn of the century, maintained their eminent places, joined by the Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle-Stonington, and many other spots. In fact, painters looking for landscape took up residence in just about every corner of the state. They were fully engaged in painting places.
Maine’s preeminence in the American landscape tradition was reconfirmed in the 1960s by a mid-coast contingent that included Neil Welliver, Charles DuBack, Rackstraw Downes, Emily Brown, Dodd, and Jacquette. These painters brought new energy and vision to the way Maine is represented, their subjects ranging from the wilderness reaches of the Allagash River to aerial views of the Belfast waterfront.
Born in Pembury, UK, Downes was part of a mini-British invasion in Maine. William Irvine, who grew up in the Scottish town of Troon on the Atlantic, found the New England equivalent of this childhood home in Blue Hill in the 1960s and embraced the coast and its clouds. Around that time, Brenda Bettinson purchased property on Barter’s Island near Boothbay Harbor; she became a year-round Mainer in 1989, using a semi-Cubist approach to interpret her coastal surroundings.
John Walker, originally from Birmingham, England, started spending time on the coast in the late 1990s. His Seal Point series (2005) consists of several hundred landscapes painted on antique bingo cards the artist discovered in his Walpole studio. “It’s one spot,” Walker has said about Seal Point, “and I’m painting it, hopefully, with the idea that I will be, eventually, the world’s greatest expert of that spot.”
Maine has also grown its own. In the early 1980s, Eric Hopkins took to the skies over his home on North Haven Island to discover a fresh perspective on the Penobscot Bay archipelago. Concurrently, Alan Bray was studying his neck of the woods in Sangerville in Piscataquis County, looking for patterns and places that might trigger his intricate compositions.
Belfast-born Dennis Pinette has painted a variety of landscapes that blend the real and imagined. He often works in series: industrial sites, train yards, crashing surf and high seas, hay bales—and piles of highway sand painted in a George Inness manner.
Another Mainer by birth, Connie Hayes from Gardiner, adopted Fairfield Porter’s painterly realism to make coastal studies rich in color and mood. Hayes has a special eye for working harbors, in particular at Vinalhaven. An advocate for preserving the waterfront, she paints those places that have, she says, “a human scale.”
The working waterfront is a time-honored subject in Maine art with a wide range of interpretations, from the coolish realism of Stephen Etnier (1903–84) to the dashing expressionism of Stephen Pace (1918–2010). As if in recognition of the pressures that working waterfronts face to exist, many painters have taken up this subject in recent years. Philip Frey, Tina Ingraham, Alison Goodwin, and many others pay tribute to Maine’s docks, wharves, and fishers of the sea.
Nancy Morgan-Barnes, who moved from Indiana to Searsport in 2001, was drawn to the cargo ship terminal at Mack Point on Sears Island with its mighty whistling steam cranes. John Moore creates composites, blending views of Belfast, Bangor, Augusta, and his former home city of Philadelphia. Even the Casco Bay Ferry terminal has been painted by Alison Rector of Monroe—a humble “Embarkation for Peaks Island.”
Homer, Kent, Andrew Winter, Welliver, and a handful of other artists painted snow and ice in their Maine years. In more recent times, a number of artists have specialized in winter. Realists Thomas Crotty (1935–2015), Linden Frederick, and Vaino Kola are among the virtuosi of the off-season.
Crotty, out of Freeport and Thomaston, brought an air-brush quality to his coastal vistas, an approach well suited to ice and the ocean. Frederick, who maintains a studio in Belfast, often sets his landscapes in the dusk, which adds to their mystery. Finnish-born Kola seems to have ice in his pigment as he renders the frozen reaches of Deer Isle.
With more year-round artists in residence, wintry views have become more common—and helped answer that perennial and annoying question, “What’s it like in Maine in winter?” Marguerite Robichaux, Jane Dahmen, Andrea Peters, Robert Pollien, and Thomas Higgins, among many others, have a special feel for the bleak and beautiful, from coastal coves to the western mountains.
Welliver’s exploration of remote parts of Maine is carried on by the likes of Janice Anthony of Jackson, who has made a conscious point of avoiding landscapes impacted by human beings. There are no houses in her landscapes, just glacial erratics, waterfalls, mountains, and reindeer moss on the summit of Mount Waldo.
Ed Nadeau has produced a remarkable series of narrative landscapes that speak to a northern Maine ethic of logging trucks and backyard woodpiles. Nina Jerome has been painting Maine for more than 40 years now, inspired, she says, by light and color interacting with both natural and constructed environments.
A loose-knit community of artists formed around watercolorist Marsha Donahue’s North Light Gallery in Millinocket, which opened in 2005. Her stable included such masters of the interior as Abbott Meader and Christopher Huntington. Newer arrivals include Evelyn Dunphy, Caren-Marie Michel, Larry Moffett, Elaine Crossman, Milton Christianson, Jane Freiman, and Donahue herself. All have a special feel for the north country motif, be it Mount Katahdin or the marshes along the Golden Road.
Other painters specialize in the urban view. Robert Solotaire (1930–2008) loved the skylines of Portland and Lewiston. Thomas Connolly explores the depths of city streets. He has been a mainstay of Greenhut Galleries’ invitational Portland Show, which has inspired a wide range of images of the Forest City by such painters as Alec Richardson, Joseph Nicoletti, Rush Brown, Alice Spencer, Chris Beneman, Margaret Lawrence, John Whalley, David Campbell, Lindsay Hancock, Tom Hall, Tom Glover, Mary Bourke, Kathleen Galligan, Roy Germon, Joel Babb, C. Michael Lewis, James Mullen, and Ann Lofquist.
Southern Maine, too, has its landscapes and its artists. The late Edward Betts (1920–2008) was a master of the seascape. Michael Palmer, Pat Hardy, Lincoln Perry, Grant Drumheller, Wendy Turner, Phyllis Wolf Wilkins, and Charles Thompson have all added to the rich continuum of painting the land and water.
Maine’s long and rich tradition of watercolor painting, stretching from Homer, Sargent, Hopper, Zorach, Marin, James Fitzgerald, and Wyeth to Vincent Hartgen (1914–2002) and William Thon (1906–2000), has continued without pause over recent decades. Such late brilliant practitioners as Robert Eric Moore (1927–2006), Carolyn Brady (1937–2005), Lawrence Goldsmith (1916–2004), Susan Shatter (1943–2011), and Donald Holden (1931–2017) brought new energy and vision to the land- and seascapes they painted.
Paul Rickert, DeWitt Hardy, Gregory Dunham, Joel Janowitz, Terry Hilt, Diana Roper McDowell, Linda Norton, Susan Van Campen, and David Dewey have long been active along the coast, deploying atmospheric washes and precise brushstrokes to render a variety of motifs, from Castine boatyards to a cairn in Acadia. Their approach is steeped in tradition—Chinese painting, Whistler, Hopper, Homer—each of them matching the medium to their individual response to the landscape.
Dewey is one of a number of landscape-oriented painters that the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, under the direction of painters Cynthia Hyde and Jim Kinnealey, has championed over the years. Antonia Munroe, Nancy Glassman, Sam Cady, Cicely Aikman, Anne Ayvaliotis, Frederic Kellogg, Melanie Essex, Janice Kasper, and Chris Osgood make up an impressive roster anchored by Bray, Dodd, Nancy Wissemann-Widrig, and Dennis Pinette.
Maine islands are a constant landscape subject, with Monhegan a tried-and-true lodestone for painters. A very short list of painters who have spent time on this rocky outpost in recent years includes Kevin Beers, Diana Young, John LeBlanc, Michael Torlen, Michael Vermette, Alison Hill, Arline Simon, Alexandra Tyng, Mary Alice Treworgy, Sylvia Murdock, Björn Runquist, Ron Frontin, Don Stone, Caleb Stone, Scott Kelly, and Jamie Wyeth. Mostly seasonal visitors, these painters draw visual sustenance from all parts of the island.
The Monhegan Artists’ Residency program, launched in 1989, has introduced a distinguished group of painters to island subjects. Sarah Knock, Marguerite Robichaux, David Vickery, David Little, Michael Vermette, Terry Hilt, and Carol Sloane have all made return trips—and have all staked claim to other parts of the state as well, from Bar Harbor, Cushing and Freeport to Millinocket, Stratton, and Washington.
Another island residency, “Art Week” on Great Spruce Head Island, has served to further the legacy of Fairfield Porter. Such painters as Sarah Faragher, Louise Bourne, MaJo Keleshian, Natasha Mayers, Susan Webster, and Anina Porter Fuller have responded to the island.
Some of these same painters have joined Brita Holmquist for retreats on Islesboro. Over the years, she has painted the island in all its diverse light and weather, heightening the patterns of currents and clouds. Her paintings are a kind of expressive experiment in landscape permeability.
The Deer Isle-Stonington legacy of, among others, Emily Muir (1904–2003), Karl Schrag (1912–95), Stephen Pace (1918–2010), Howard Fussiner (1923-2006), Daniel Hodermarsky (1924–99), Theophil Groell (1932–2004), and Alfred Chadbourn (1921–98) is carried on by a number of exceptional landscape painters. One thinks of Jill Hoy and Jonathan Imber (1950–2014), that dynamic artist couple. Hoy produces light-filled joyous views of harbor and fields, while Imber offered images of coastal reaches subjected to an abstracting sensibility.
Other artists active in the area display the diversity of possible visions. The Turtle Gallery has played a significant role in presenting these painters to the public. Alix Bacon, Galen Davis, Lydia Cassatt, and Jeff Loxtercamp have all graced Elena Kubler’s Deer Isle gallery walls.
A Turtle Gallery regular, Mary Aro has produced stunning depictions of the transfer station at Sedgwick. These oils and watercolors, which have earned her several appearances in the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, are not anti-landscapes but acknowledgments of places marred by man.
The Blue Hill peninsula has been a rich territory for a host of landscape painters, thanks in part to Judith Leighton (1929–2011), who launched her gallery in 1980. Leighton had an eye for abstract-leaning landscape painters, among them Francis Hamabe, Monica Kelly, Michael Rich, Jennifer Whiting, Heidi Daub, Hannah Burr, Stephen Burt, and Russell Smith.
The Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth has continued Leighton’s legacy, showing some of her stable plus many others, among them Brooklin painter Tom Curry. Curry has painted numerous views of Chatto Island, a rather unassuming isle that has become, in writer Susan Hand Shetterly’s words, “a totem to a certain kind of fixedness in a swirl of uncertainty and change.” Down the road, a piece Robert Shillady paints deep woods, boatyards, and harbors, some of them in a style he calls “Pop Expressionist.”
Mount Desert Island also boasts a passel of painters working in landscape. Richard Estes, who has been living half the year in Northeast Harbor since the 1970s, has turned his realist brush to a range of island subjects, including the Cranberry Isles water taxi. Other island artists, among them Judy Taylor, Constance LaPalombara, Ellen Church, Amy Pollien, and Robert Pollien, contribute to a rich tradition going back to the aforementioned Cole and Church.
Based in Colorado, Joellyn Duesberry (1944–2016) came to the coast of Maine for more than 30 years, spending most of her time on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island and on Great Cranberry Island as an artist at the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation residency program. Her Plein air paintings are marked by an underlying abstract energy picked up early in her career through studies with Richard Diebenkorn.
The Cranberry Isles have a heritage of landscape painters, especially in the post-war era when an informal colony materialized on the big island. John Heliker, Robert LaHotan, Gretna Campbell, Dorothy Eisner, and William Kienbusch were among the regulars traveling from New York City every year to set up seasonal studios. The next generation of island painters has been represented by, among others, Henry Finkelstein, Campbell’s son, and David Little, Kienbusch’s nephew.
Perhaps the most notable among contemporary Great Cranberry artists is Emily Nelligan (1924–2018). She focused her artistic attention entirely on the island, her “sole muse,” as Bowdoin Museum of Art curator Alison Ferris once called it, working exclusively in charcoal. Her studies of the island under the influence of light and weather elicited comparisons to Seurat’s drawings.
Little Cranberry also boasts its artists. Henry Isaacs and Ashley Bryan (1924–2022) helped nurture a spirited art scene. Isaacs painted lyric and light-filled vistas of island meadows and sail-accented waters, while Bryan focused on more intimate subjects, such as a neighbor’s dahlia garden. Island natives Dan Fernald and Rick Alley have contributed memorable images of waterfront and wildlife, the former in expressive modes, the latter in studied realism.
Way down east Maine remains fertile ground for landscape painters. Philip Barter of Sullivan has been a mainstay of the region, producing his Hartley-esque vistas, some of which he has translated into boldly painted wood reliefs. Down the road from him, Philip Frey maintains a studio from which emerge canvases in acrylic and oil of Schoodic, Grindstone Neck, and other motifs painted in a palette that ranges from cool to Fauvist.
In 2010, the Tides Institute and Museum of Art in Eastport put on a show of artists who came to its coastal neighborhood in the 1970s. Such painters as Leslie Bowman, Judith Colemann, Leatrice Linden, Lee Suta, and Mac Wells explored a variety of landscape modes. Hyman Bloom (1913–2009), Arthur Cadieux (1943–2015), Nina Bohlen, Jude Valentine, and Sharon Yates have numbered among the mainstays of the down east reaches.
The spectrum of landscape art as it stands today in Maine remains within the bounds it has always occupied: realism to abstraction and back again—and everything in between. There is an independence of vision—even where the painters share the same landscape. Motifs are revisited and reinvented—the crashing wave, the Monhegan headlands, Mount Katahdin.
At the same time, the landscape legacy continues to grow and diversify, as evidenced by the variety of modes highlighted in this issue of the Maine Arts Journal. New residencies like Monson Arts and the Surf Point Foundation in York are introducing painters to diverse motifs. The state’s colleges and universities play a similar role, as do such institutions as the Skowhegan School of Painting of Sculpture and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.
If asked to choose one painter who is bringing remarkable changes to the Maine landscape, I would offer Anne Neely, a Boston-based painter who lives part of the year in Washington County. In response to threats to the environment, she has created ethereal landscapes, some of which pay homage to the Mopang Aquifer in Township 30.
The Maine landscape has changed a great deal since Thomas Cole’s time. Richard Estes once noted how disturbed he was by the blight: “Route 1 was probably originally a very lovely drive, with beautiful houses,” he said in an interview, “but now they’ve become auto outlets or malls.” When Alan Gussow asked Emily Nelligan to speak on the subject of place for his book The Artist as Native (1993), she responded with despair: “My beloved [Great] Cranberry Island habitat is inexorably changing—its wildness destroyed. I am too distraught to write about it.”
Fortunately, Estes and Nelligan continued to find material for their Maine work. And much of the state goes on offering the landscape artist a wealth of subjects—islands, waterfront, wilderness—not to mention cities, towns, and transfer stations.
Well into the new century, Maine’s landscape tradition shows no sign of diminution. Many a painter might echo what Samuel Gelber, of Morrill, wrote in his statement for A Sense of Place: “I trust the landscape; it tells me what to paint each day, and I believe it.”
[This fall, Carl Little will be co-curating A Sense of Place: 50 Years On with Alice Gauvin and Audrey Maynard. The exhibition, which will be on view at the Alice Gauvin Gallery in Portland, marks the 50th anniversary of Alan Gussow’s groundbreaking A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land and will feature artists from the book, including Gussow, Sheridan Lord, Lennart Anderson, William Kienbusch, Karl Schrag, Sharon Yates, and Samuel Gelber. Dates for the show will be announced later this summer.]
Image at top: Frederic Edwin Church, Lake Scene in Mount Desert (Little Long Pond and Jordan Cliffs), oil on canvas, 20¾ x 30 7/8 in., 1851, Private collection (photo: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, NY).