For a whole week this summer, artists descended upon Appledore Island off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and helped keep up the tradition of the island as a haven for both amateur and professional artists. The Shoals Marine Laboratory invited the artists to participate in a late summer workshop of drawing, painting, printmaking and photography.
The workshop coincided with PEM’s exhibition American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals and allowed artists to use the rugged seascapes and landscapes of the Isles of Shoals as their palette and follow in the footsteps of 19th century landscape painter Childe Hassam.
The instructors were artists from New Hampshire and Maine who are not only significant artists in their own right but skillful instructors who can work with beginners as well as more advanced painters.
The group hiked around, observing the physical labor involved in getting to the sites of some of Hassam’s masterpieces. They learned about the nature of various rock formations and tide cycles and spotted fluorescent squid at night in the tide channel, gaining inspiration from the underwater world.
“Plein air painting is inspired out on the rocks of Appledore with the sea crashing around you and herring gulls swooping overhead,” said Barbara Houston, a professor emerita, at the University of New Hampshire who focused on watercolors and printing.
“One feels part of a larger artistic community that includes Celia Thaxter, Childe Hassam and others who have found a home here,” she said. “I return each summer because my body registers the joy I feel when I am there. It is exciting to be in this natural painting environment with scientists at the Marine Lab who can open your eyes to aspects and elements of the environment you’ve not noticed.”
Deb Howard of North Hampton, NH agrees that the blend of art and science on Appledore sparks creativity.
“Artists and scientists both look closely at nature and try to see what is there rather than what we think we know. I think we share a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world.”
Maureen Sanderson from Petersham, MA is a graphic designer who is a fan of Celia Thaxter’s book Island Garden.
“It means a great deal to me that it’s been a priority to restore the garden to it’s original grandeur and even more that they share the space with those of us who consider it such a privilege,” she said.
The island’s solitude lent uninterrupted periods of time to concentrate and create.
“I read that there were often hundreds of people on the island when Hassam was there during the hotel years,” said Howard. “I greatly appreciated having many fewer than that while I was there. Artists need solitude in order to get in touch with their inner creative voice and I enjoyed the time I had in solitude while on Appledore.”
Ann Diller, also a professor emerita at the University of New Hampshire, composed this poem while on Appledore.
Artists for Appledore
Salt-scented mists hang thick
dissipating inch by slow inch.
Artists look on, talking of
Davey’s Gray, Cerulean Blue,
until horizon lines ease into view.
Artists hike off in all directions:
to Celia Thaxter’s garden, or
the beach at Broad Cove, or
solitary cliffs on eastern headlands
(where only the gulls can critique their paintings)
or home safe from rain on Laighton’s great porch.
Intermittent cries from gulls
splash sound-blotches across
the wet on wet wash of seawater.
Stalwart rocks pose patiently,
stand still around the clock,
unmoving models of Appledore
calling forth artists for evermore.
Ever more artists for Appledore.