In the early decades of the 20th century a new generation of socially concerned, modernist artists summered on Cape Ann. These city dwellers, some of whom worked for the socialist publication, The Masses, came to vacation and create. While enjoying the conviviality of the Red House in East Gloucester, or gatherings at the Blacksmith Shop, a Rockport restaurant, it was inevitable to want to exhibit and possibly sell the work they produced.
While there has always been a viable market for representational, conservative work, it was and is a harder sell for more progressive artists. The expanded critical mass of artists spawned opportunities to exhibit in the 1920s.
William and Emmeline Atwood founded the Gallery-on-the-Moors in East Gloucester in the summer of 1916 which continued to 1922. Located on a hill overlooking Gloucester harbor, the gallery was the first for Cape Ann artists to exhibit their work. It featured annual painting, sculpture and drawing exhibitions including prominent artists such as Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002), her husband William Meyerowitz (1887-1981), John Sloan (1871-1951), Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), and others.
The Gallery also hosted wartime theatrical events, known as the Community Theater at the Playhouse-on-the-Moors, wartime fund raisers, and was a temporary Red Cross center during World War I. After which, numerous new artists were coming to Cape Ann.
The Rockport Art Association and Museum was established in 1921. A year later marked the establishment of the North Shore Art Association. With time they became ever more conservative exhibiting realist landscapes, seascapes, genre and still life paintings and sculpture. Today NSAA has some 600 members.
In 1922 NSAA held an open meeting to consider a proposition made by Thomas E. Reed to sell his property and building off East Main Street to the Association. The property overlooks Gloucester’s inner harbor and the art community of Rocky Neck. The artists immediately planned a large exhibition to be held in the summer of 1923, the year of Gloucester’s tercentenary. The exhibition was held on two floors with 230 paintings, drawings, etchings, and fifteen pieces of sculpture by more than 140 artists.
Rockport, no longer a dry town, seems quaint and touristy but that was not the case early on. The highlight of the summer season was the annual artists’ ball. Emulating those in Paris, they proved to be raucous celebrations. There was a theme and artists fabricated fanciful costumes. Tickets sold out and there were generally far more revelers outside than in. Things got out of hand and state troopers were called in to quell the 1932 ball. It seems that the revelers were adamantly fending off the Great Depression.
During WWI artists and gays enjoying permissive and affordable Paris came home to accepting enclaves in New York’s Greenwich Village, Provincetown, and Cape Ann. Maude Squires and Ethel Mars, who appear in “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” were artists who settled in Provincetown where the Provincetown Art Association and Museum was founded in 1914.
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) painted brilliant, abstracted paintings dedicated to the memory of his deceased German officer lover. Back in New York his dealer, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), declared them unpatriotic and refused to sell them. Facing extreme poverty the artist, with limited storage space, was forced to destroy much of his work because he could not afford the rent. Hartley visited and worked from Maine to the South West, and Gloucester, seeking saleable “American” subjects.
Susan Erony conveys that women artists found safe haven on Cape Ann. “Art in Lanesville, a bit north of Annisquam, probably began in the mid-1880s when William Morris Hunt’s student and Boston School painter Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940), and painter, muralist and etcher Gabrielle de Vaux Clements (1858-1945) began to visit. They brought their artist friends and in 1893 built ‘The Thickets,’ a summer home and studio. Like Martha Harvey, a photographer and wife of the artist George Wainwright Harvey, Hale and Clements were pioneering women artists. They both came from distinguished, comfortable backgrounds, Clements from Philadelphia, and Hale from Worcester, Massachusetts. Both took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, though not together. They met in Philadelphia in 1883 and became close in 1885 on a trip to Europe during which they attended the Académie Julian in Paris. Clements taught Hale how to etch on the trip, and they both went on to be part of a Painter-Etcher movement during the period. Clements taught etching at Bryn Mawr and they both taught on Cape Ann in the summers.
“Like Gabrielle deVaux Clements, who became her lifelong companion, Ellen Hale never married and supported herself with her work. The two lived together, a common arrangement for women seeking to escape the constraints of Victorian marriage and have a career. Henry James came across such relationships often enough in the Boston area to call female cohabitation a ‘Boston Marriage.’ Ellen Hale’s brother, painter Philip Leslie Hale and his wife, painter Lillian Westcott Hale, visited ‘The Thickets’ for much of the summers, along with their friend, Cecilia Beaux. In addition, many other single women artists visited all summer long and made art together. All of them were part of the first generation of women artists in Boston who were able to enter the same training system as men, gaining entrance to art schools and being allowed to participate in life drawing from the nude. They studied under teachers Edmund Tarbell (1862 – 1938), Frank Benson (1862 – 1951), William Morris Hunt (1824 – 1879) and Joseph DeCamp (1858 – 1923). Mostly, they painted portraits, still lifes and lovely interiors. They were not concerned with social issues or intense emotional content…”
Breezing Up, by Winslow Homer, National Gallery of Art.
Gloucester Harbor. Giuliano photo.
Rockport Harbor. Giuliano Photo
Fitz Henry Lane home overlooking Gloucester Harbor. Giuliano Photo
Fitz Henry Lane sculpture by Al Duca. Giuliano photo.
Fitz Henry Lane in old age.
Our Lady of Good Voyage. Giuliano Photo
Fishernan's Memorial by Leonard Craske, Giuliano Photo
Fishermen's Wives Memorial by Morgan Faulds Pike
Maxfield Parrish and his father shared an Annisquam studio.
Frank Duveneck brought students to Gloucester.
Cecilia Beaux worked in Annisquam.
While Lanesville and Folly Cove sustained as a locus for sculptors, the new generation of progressive and often socialist artists mingled in “The Red House” in East Gloucester with studios in Rocky Neck. Among those were Robert Henri (1865-1929) Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924), John Sloan (1871-1951), William Glackens (1870-1938), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939), Randall Davey (1887-1972), Charles Allan Winter (1869-1942), Alice Beach Winter (1877-1968), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Josephine Nivison Hopper (1883-1986), Charles Demuth (1883-1935), Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Paul Cornoyer (1864-1923), and Hayley Lever (1876-1958).
A number of the artists shared the political views of the International Workers of the World (IWW) also known as Wobblies. They supported the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike of Paterson, New Jersey. During the strike, 1,850 strikers were arrested and jailed, 300 mills and dye houses were shut down. The artist John Sloan was an editor of The Masses and taught at the radical Ferrer School. He depicted Gloucester in the manner of the realist Ashcan School.
During WW1 many IWW leaders were jailed and radical media was shut down when President Woodrow Wilson enacted Alien and Sedition laws. Defying the guarantee of free speech the Post Master General refused to mail publications he single-handedly censored. They could, however, be sold on the street.
Artists were reacting to the avant-garde European work which was featured in the seminal 1913 Armory Show. There was the shock of Marcel Duchamp’s cubist/ futurist “Nude Descending a Staircase.” It was described by a reporter as “an explosion in a shingle factory.”
Some Americans were included in the exhibition primarily organized by Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) but they were overshadowed by attention for the European artists. The artists of the Ashcan School were radical socialists who painted in a realistic genre manner. With an infusion of political and polemical content the approach of realism prevailed in the Social Realism and Regionalism of the depression years of the 1930s.
There were more progressive artists among those who exhibited with Stieglitz: Demuth, Hartley, Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986).
Stuart Davis was one of the youngest artists to exhibit in the Armory Show. He was a friend of Dolly and John Sloan who rented The Red Cottage across from Rocky Neck. The Sloans shared the Red Cottage with sculptor Helen Stuart Davis, who came in 1915 with her sons painter Stuart and photographer Wyatt, and the newly married Alice Beach (1877-1970) and Charles Allen Winter (1869-1942). Many other artists visited as well.
Davis came annually until 1934. In 1925, he bought a house on Mount Pleasant Avenue in East Gloucester for his mother with a studio for him, and another studio for his mother on Reed’s Wharf. Helen Davis spent most of the rest of her life in Gloucester.
While Davis trained under Robert Henri he outgrew the conservative realism of the Ashcan school. Vistas of Gloucester’s schooners and waterfront morphed into ever more unique abstracted paintings. In 1928 he spent a year in Paris as his work absorbed and morphed influences into a unique style. He loved jazz, and like Picasso, incorporated branded commercial subject matter into the work. That aspect is regarded as anticipating Pop art.
Compared to Davis who evolved toward the sensibility of the European avant-garde Hartley was steeped in it first hand. There were no filters to pass through in his abstracted German art which stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of European artists.
In a sense Hartley devolved when returning to America. The work he produced in Gloucester is odd verging on peculiar. He ignored proximity to the sea and turned his attention to the undeveloped interior of Dogtown Common with its striking granite boulders like the landmark “Whale’s Jaw.” There are cellar holes that marked homes of early settlers who abandoned the area. There is a mystique about the area now coveted by developers. An ongoing battle entails schemes to manicure it for recreation and those adamant about keeping it natural.
Dogtown was first settled in 1693. The community grew to be 5 square miles, and was an ideal location as it provided protection from marauders. By the early 1700s, through timbering, more common pasture land opened up to individual settlement. There were 60 to 80 homes at its peak.
Various factors led to the demise of Dogtown which included a revived fishing industry from Gloucester Harbor after the American Revolution had ended. The harbor was secure and fishing expanded. New coastal roads were built that also contributed to Dogtown’s demise. Some of its last occupants were suspected of practicing witchcraft. One such inhabitant named Thomazine “Tammy” Younger was described as “Queen of the Witches” by Thomas Dresser. As the last inhabitants died, their pets became feral, possibly giving rise to the nickname “Dogtown.” The last structure was razed in 1845.
There was a growing need for fresh water and Dogtown was donated to the city to create reservoirs. Roger Ward Babson (1875 -1967) commissioned masons to carve inspirational inscriptions on approximately two dozen boulders in the area surrounding Dogtown Common. Today it is a hiking and mountain-biking trail.
At the Cape Ann Museum we viewed works by Sloan and others who, like Hartley, also painted the natural beauty of Dogtown.
The ever expanding artist’s community continued to attract progressive artists. Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002) and William Meyerowitz (1887-1981) were committed socialists. Their home was a gathering place for artists: Davis, the Hoppers, Hartley, Leon Kroll (1884-1974) who lived in Lanesville, Raphael Soyer (1899 – 1987), Peter Blume (1906 – 1992), David Burliuk (1882 – 1967), Umberto Romano (1906-1982) and Milton Avery (1885-1965).
As a young artist Edward Hopper made three trips to Paris where he created landscapes and sketched in cafes. His palette retained the dark tones of American realism. He seemed indifferent to the avant-garde and later stated that while in Paris, sticking to himself, he never heard of Picasso.
In 1912 he traveled to Gloucester where he painted “Squam Light” the first of many lighthouse paintings. Participating in the 1913 Armory Show he sold a painting “Sailing” for $250. During a 1923 visit to Gloucester he reconnected with Josephine Nivison who he later married. She was a frequent model in his work and largely abandoned her own career to support his. The Cape Ann Museum is planning a 2023 exhibition of their Gloucester work.
With Nivison’s help, six of Hopper’s Gloucester watercolors were admitted to an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1923. One of them, The Mansard Roof, was purchased by the museum for its permanent collection for $100. He sold all his watercolors at a one-man show the following year and decided to put illustration, which he hated, behind him. There is, however, a narrative quality in his mature work. Often his city dwellers, particularly women, have a lonely, haunted sensibility.
As in Paris, Hopper rendered the architecture of Gloucester. Curator Carol Troyen states that “Hopper really liked the way these houses, with their turrets and towers and porches and mansard roofs and ornament cast wonderful shadows. Hopper always said that his favorite thing was painting sunlight on the side of a house.”
Previously unknown to me was the painter Umberto Romano. There are two singular works on view at the CAM. One is a bold portrait of a woman and another a sardonic send up of the Biblical story of “Susanna and the Elders.” It was a subject for the Old Masters to indulge in voyeurism. Romano restaged it very much in the genre of his time. The riveting, broadly painted work has unique style and punchy humor.
The Italian born artist had his first solo exhibition at 22 with New York’s Rehn Gallery. By the 1930s, Romano was teaching regularly. From 1934 to 1940, he was head of the Worcester Art Museum School and in 1933 he began teaching in Gloucester. He purchased the Gallery-on-the-Moors in East Gloucester in 1937, making it the headquarters for the Romano School of Art.
Erony identifies the Gloucester artist “Allan Randall Freelon, Sr., (1895 – 1960) was one of the many students who studied at the Breckenridge School of Art. A Philadelphia native, he may have known of Breckenridge from there. Freelon grew up in a middle class African American family and received a master of fine arts degree from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art. He made his living first as a teacher and in 1919 became the art supervisor for the Philadelphia public schools, the first African American to be hired for such a position in the United States. At the same time he pursued his career as an artist.”
Escaping fascism in Europe many leading European artists emigrated to the United States. The surrealists, lead by André Robert Breton (1896 – 1966), engaged with the salon of Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). They remained aloof but Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) aspired to join them. Their concepts of automatic painting influenced the development of abstract expressionism and the New York School. A sense of scale was inspired by the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886-1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) who all had American projects. The young Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was an assistant to Siqueiros who influenced his early work.
In the aftermath of World War II, the epicenter of the art world transferred from Paris to New York. There was a period of gestation, including on Cape Ann, in the 1930s. While American art was deeply rooted in representation there was an ever expanding transition toward radical abstraction. There was resistance to change with conservative artists like Annisquam’s Margaret Fitzhugh Browne (1882-1972) calling for common sense.
While in a transitional stage some of the leading abstract expressionists came to Gloucester but lacked a sense of communal support. The opposite was true in Provincetown. Instead of conflict the older generation of artists engaged in lively dialogues with the emerging artists. The painter, poet and jazz expert, Weldon Kees (1914-disappeared July 18, 1955), organized a summer of exhibitions, lectures, and panel discussions called “Forum ’49.” There were topics like the influence of psychology and therapy on the arts. Jackson Pollock, for example, was using drawings as a means of communication with his Jungian therapist.
Those dialogues continued at New York’s Cedar Bar and weekly meetings of the Artist’s Club organized by critic Irving Sandler. Cape Ann simply could not compete and the avant-garde decamped.
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) visited Gloucester in the summers of 1933 and 1934, teaching at Ernest Thurn’s School of Art on East Main Street. Thurn, a painter of still lifes and abstractions based on shape, color and texture, had been a Hofmann student in 1920s Munich. After a hiatus of many years primarily as a teacher he returned to painting. He did not remain in Gloucester establishing schools in New York and Provincetown. His theories of “push-pull” would inform generations of art students.
Through friendship with Milton Avery and Marsden Hartley others of the New York School who visited and worked were Adolf Gottlieb (1903-1974), Mark Rothko (1903-suicide 1970) and Barnett Newman (1905-1970).
Gottlieb and his wife spent their honeymoon in Rockport in 1931. He was able to indulge a passion for sailing. He spent time in Gloucester from 1933 to 1946. He sketched the waterfront with Milton Avery who influenced his work. During time in Arizona in 1937 and 1938, for his wife’s health, he started to develop his own style. In 1939 he painted still lifes of sea shells and beach detritus.
While Gottlieb painted detritus Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) photographed it. One of his canonical works is “Gloucester 1H (Glove)” 1944. His “abstract” black and white photographs of tar stains and graffiti have been compared to gestural works by abstract expressionists particularly Franz Kline (1910-1962).
Renowned Life Magazine photographer, Gordon Parks (1912-2006), created a portfolio of images of Gloucester’s fishermen “The Other Cape” in 1943. He photographed the fishing community in their homes and on their vessels. Parks went to sea on the F/V Alden, with Captain Lorenzo Scola.
As a teenager in Annisquam in the 1950s I soon outgrew the Rockport School of realism when I majored in the fine arts in the 1960s. For fun and stimulation we made excursions to Provincetown where we slept in the dunes. At first light we made it into town for hot fresh bread at the Portuguese bakery. There were more serious galleries than exist today. It was truly summer camp for New York artists.
By comparison Annisquam and Gloucester seemed hopelessly provincial. My time spent there in recent years has disabused me of that notion. Although it has endured the scandal of sexual abuse by its artistic director, the late Israel Horowitz (1939-2020), The Gloucester Stage Company is a respected regional theatre company. As a resident of Gloucester Writers Center, I was able to work on a Gloucester book and meet the thriving community of writers and poets.
Through the Trident Gallery, now Matthew Swift Gallery, I have enjoyed the special exhibitions of vibrant artists including Susan Erony, Jay Jaroslav and a former colleague, Gabrielle Barzaghi. Ken Hruby creates sculptural works related to his service in Vietnam.
Inspired by a generous three weeks at Manship Artists Residency I was able to research the artists of Cape Ann and work on a book with my sister Annisquam: Pip and Me Coming of Age. Engaging with family, artists, writers, researchers, archivists, curators there is the sense that much creativity, matching that of its past, is on the horizon for Gloucester’s next hundred years.