Archives for category: Artists studios

motif-number-1This post is part of a continuing series about Cape Ann artists, their studios and work.

When Cape Ann was a budding art colony attracting artists from near and far, the buildings that became art studios were as varied as the artists themselves. Barns, fishing shacks, and storage sheds were pressed into use as studios.

Even the most iconic building in Rockport, Motif #1, was once a studio for a painter. Built as a fish shack in about 1884 (records are a bit fuzzy on the actual date), cod, pollock, hake, mackerel, herring and lobster made their way through its portals on their way to market. For a time, the small gabled second floor was used as an office to pay the fisherman. Unfortunately, large-scale commercial fishing in Rockport began a slow death in the late 1920s. The depression finished it off.

As the fish industry faded and Rockport’s reputation as an art colony grew, Motif #1’s function changed. The fish shack was leased to artist John Buckley in 1931 and then purchased by him in 1933. Buckley had come to Rockport a decade earlier. After being wounded in World War I and being recommended for a Medal of Honor, Buckley attended the Massachusetts Normal School of Art (now known as Massachusetts College of Art and Design) under an early precursor to the GI bill. In his school summer vacation in 1920, he came to Rockport as part of the first classes of summer students to study under Aldro Hibbard. He became a full time resident of Rockport after graduation and marriage. Buckley dove into community affairs in the town, becoming the elected secretary of the Rockport Art Association, performing in fund raisers as an actor for both the March of Dimes and the Rockport Art Association, and opening an artists supply store on Dock Square. Prior to acquiring Motif #1, Buckley did most of his painting and teaching outside. After purchasing the iconic building he made some-oh-so modern improvements like installing a toilet, a kerosene stove, and a window in the dormer to let in the Northern light. From the wharfage fees for the tip of Bradley Wharf (often waived in exchange for fish), Buckley was able to put dinner on his family’s dinner table through the Depression.

Artist John D. Buckley

Artist John D. Buckley

By 1945, Buckley had put Motif #1 up for sale. During the 1930s, he had taken on a position as a middle school art teacher in Natick, Massachusetts and was in Rockport only on weekends. The red fishing shack had become a financial lodestone. In the town meeting of March 6, 1945, the town residents voted to purchase it as a war memorial, the only way the selectman and the town attorney could see their way to purchasing it. A series of convoluted financial snafus involving taxes and the needed state legislature approval for purchasing delayed the purchase for almost a year. The sentiment at town meeting was that the building should be used for fishing purposes. Three lobstermen then leased the shack from the town. The townspeople had their way.

The story of Motif #1 reflects the history of Rockport as both a fishing village and a mecca for artists. For only 14 years during the height of the art colony era, the shack which has been painted in countless styles, was used as an artist’s studio. Since then, it it has been used on and off for activities related to fishing, or as it is currently being used, for the gathering of friends of Captain Billy Lee, the current lessee, to talk about fishing.

Art class, circa 1961, postcard courtesy of the  blog vintagerockport.com

Art class, circa 1961, postcard courtesy of the blog vintagerockport.com

For more on the history of Motif #1, check out L.M. Vincent’s In Search of Motif No. 1.  Vintagerockport.com  also has a great assortment of photographs and stories about Rockport’s past. 

Being asked to do something that you have never done before, and with which you have no experience, can be an intimidating request. A voice in your head shouts, “you don’t know how to do that, just say no, you’ll make a mess of it.” Ignoring the voice, I plunged ahead and dived into unknown waters. Luckily the waters were not shallow.

Heather Atwood asked me to design a memorial bench for her mother. The bench was to be placed at Howlets, Heather’s home. The first decision to be made was, where on the property the bench should be placed? We agreed that it would sit in a small shade plant garden tucked at the edge of the property. Discovering the bench as one strolls about the property, rather than it standing out in a prominent “main event” kind of way, was the right subtle treatment for the bench. Sitting in this semi-hidden spot would provide a welcome, contemplative retreat.IMG_1416

The best design for the low-key setting was a large single block of granite with the initials of Heather’s mother carved on the face. Large single blocks of granite can look so heavy and cumbersome when placed in a garden. To make it less squatty and lighter looking in appearance, two semi-hidden stone block feet about the size of large shoe boxes underneath the bench elevate it and make it “float.”

For Heather’s mother’s initials, CCL, we wanted a script style that fit the bench design. After a search through several seaside cemeteries we found a font that we both liked. Bold yet light. The letters would be set in a rectangular shaped frame cut into the stone. During our search of cemeteries we happened upon the grave of Gabrielle de Veaux Clements, a painter who shared a home with Ellen Day Hale, the builder of Howlets. It was a totally unexpected and serendipitous discovery.IMG_1419

Dave McGibbon, stonemason, began the task of splitting the large oblong piece of granite from an even larger rough stone. So that it will blend in with the stone wall behind it, we decided that the finish on the bench should not be polished and shiny. The slightly dimpled surface, called bushed, gives the bench a time worn visage. With time, the fresh cut granite will age and darken and become like the lichen covered and weathered stone wall close by.

Working on a history-laden property like Howlets is always daunting. But the addition of this memorial bench on the property somehow felt right, like adding yet a new layer of beautiful patina on the old home. I am glad I took the plunge.

leslie's dinner party guests 6Where better to have a birthday dinner with all women than in a house that was built one hundred and two years ago by a woman? Ellen Day Hale designed Howlets as an artist studio for herself in 1911. Hale was no hack artist. Her paintings are still hung today in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The house was passed onto her niece Nancy Hale, who wrote articles for The New York Times and many novels in the room.

Heather Atwood, food writer and current owner of Howlets, decided to host a milestone birthday dinner for her friend Leslie, having Leslie’s female friends from all over the country to dinner. Many hands went into making the evening a hit. Leslie came up with the guest list of seventeen friends from near and far, Heather and Sofia created the menu and did the lion’s share of the cooking, and I got the large studio’s dining table ready for the celebration.

leslie's party photos good light 7In keeping with the low key color palette of Howlets (better to let the stones speak), the table’s linens and napkins were a linen tea stained color and the flowers were all white. Luckily, no trip to the florist was needed — all of the flowers came from our garden. Phlox, Rose of Sharon, potato vine and three types of hydrangea were marshaled into place.

Heather placed the napkins in an embroidery hoop and traced the initial letter of the guest on the napkin. A needle and thread were left with each napkin. These served as place cards for Leslie’s friends. No idle hands were noted after dinner as all of the women took up the hoop and embroidered their initial on the napkins.

leslie's party photos embroidery copyI suspect that Ellen Day Hale would have enjoyed the collection of women talking, laughing, creating and celebrating. The studio’s history of strong and talented women is still very much alive in its second century.leslie's dinner party photo 5

Portrait of a young girl.

Elana

For many children and teenagers growing up on Cape Ann, Art was not something that resided far away, in museums in Boston and New York. Great art was being made in studios down the street or across the cove. Many youths were asked to pose by the great artists that created their art in Rockport and Gloucester. Elana Brink, nee Pistenmaa, was such a teenager.

On a recent August afternoon, Elana generously shared her memories of when, at age 17, her portrait was drawn by Lilian Westcott Hale. Lilian Wescott Hale was thought to be one of the best portrait painters of her time. She met her husband Philip Leslie Hale while taking classes at the School of Fine Arts in Boston. He was her teacher and seventeen years her senior. While Philip studied under Monet at Giverny, Lilian was recognized as the better painter of the two. When viewers admired Philip’s paintings, as he peered over his glasses, his usual reply was, “Wait until you see Mrs. Hale’s paintings.” Lilian’s paintings can be seen at the Harvard University Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.

Lilian sketching in 1902

Elana’s portrait was executed in the stone studio at Howlets, the Hale family summer studio in Folly Cove. She posed four mornings a week for a two week time span during August of 1959. This pencil sketch was one of the last works that Lilian produced before passing away in 1963. Elana did not see her portrait in progress during the sittings and when she finally did see it upon its completion, she felt as if she had been portrayed in such a saddened state that she told both Lilian and her daughter Nancy that she looked like “she should have tears running down my face.” Upon hearing this, Nancy replied, “Oh no darling, you look dramatic ! “

Hale family studio

Elana’s family was no stranger to great artists. Elana’s father, when he was a teen, was immortalized as “The Diver” by the sculptor Walker Hancock.

Elana visited the studio again this month and graciously brought the portrait for Heather, one of the current owners of the studio, and myself to see. Nancy Hale was correct in her assessment of the portrait of Elana:  she does look dramatic in it, wonderfully so. It captures the beauty and slightly self-possessed air that only a 17 year old can carry off successfully. Elana had made the dress in which she posed. When sitting for the portrait, Elana recalled that Lilian, aged 78, kept asking Elana, aged 17, if she was tired and needed a rest from posing. Nancy Hale said of her mother during that time period, “In her early eighties, my mother produced some of her best portrait drawings, working as ever, with arms outstretched at full length without a tremor for hours, although by that time she could not hold a cup and saucer without rattling it.” Elana remembers both Lilian and her daughter Nancy as being “so elegant with their styled white hair.”

For Elana, growing up among artists was nothing remarkable. She remembers meeting “so many artists” and only later recognized that quite a few of them were famous. Elana and her father are part of a long legacy of artists drawing their inspiration from not only Cape Ann’s landscape, but from its people.

Elana and her portrait in the studio

Hardscrabble

This post is part of a continuing series on Cape Ann artists, their studios and work.

Scattered throughout the old village of Rockport, Massachusetts are studios of famous and not-so-famous artists. Richard Recchia and Kitty Parsons Recchia had a home and studio there. Richard was a sculptor and Kitty was a watercolorist and poetess. Kitty was a founding member of the Rockport Art Association in 1920. You may recognize some of Richard’s work that are on public display in New England.

Poised to dive

His friezes, depicting “Art” and “Architecture,” done in a Greek style, adorn the Fenway side of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A joyfully whimsical boy riding a frog is in a pocket park beside the Rockport Art Association and a woman executed in bronze, on the verge of diving, is in the inner courtyard of the Association. The diver was originally placed near their studio under a magnolia tree. When the blossoms began to fall, they created a pool of petals below, creating the illusion that she was diving into a pond of pink petals. Recchia’s statue of the Revolutionary War General John Stark astride a fiery steed graces Stark Park in Manchester, New Hampshire near the equestrian’s burial site. The Association and the Museum of Fine Arts have permission to reproduce some of his smaller pieces and they are occasionally available for sale.

Joyride

Self-satisfied feline

At peace

Kitty’s watercolors are more difficult to find on public display. However, I have included two examples from a private collection below.

Something to crow about

Summer in a vase

Richard and Kitty’s house and studio are Dutch Colonial in style with sweeping end gables, which give it a flair. Dutch Colonial architecture was not widely used on Cape Ann so the house stands out. The house, grounds and studio, although in a neighborhood setting, have a mini estate feel, complete with gazebo. They named the house and studio, Hardscrabble. Their early years of the struggling artists’ life were perhaps the inspiration for the name. The old artists-colony-style studio’s large metal framed windows that are inset into the Dutch style gable of the roof give clues to what lies within. The studio ceiling is two stories high with a huge arched doorway to the outside to accommodate the large sculptures that Richard executed in the space. Thankfully, both structures remain intact, although the studio was converted to a living space and both the house and studio were sold out of the family after their deaths.

Richard, sculptures, & studio

Richard, Kitty, & collie

Richard had the foresight to design his own tombstone before his demise, a large bronze headstone depicting Richard as a figure leaping in an upward rush heavenward. It is entitled “Flight of the Soul” and is located in a Rockport cemetery. Although not widely known, both of these individuals made up a group of artists that lived worked and created art in a town at the end of a cape.

Flight of the soul

Click on any photo to enlarge.

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