Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


Monhegan Island Exhibit

June 5 - August 10, 2003

Most comprehensive exhibition of Monhegan Island art at Hamilton College's Emerson Gallery opened June 5, 2003 at Hamilton College's Emerson Gallery in Clinton, N.Y. is hosting  the most comprehensive exhibition of Monhegan art ever mounted anywhere.  Covering the entire history of Monhegan Island art, beginning in 1858 and continuing until the present day, the exhibition includes works representative of every major school of art of the last 150 years.  More than 100 artists are represented in this show including George Bellow, C.K. Chatterton, Randall Davey, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, Edward Willis Redfield, Frederick Judd Waugh, James Browning Wyeth, and Zero Mostel, a serious artist better known as an actor.  The exhibition ran through August 10.

A unique aspect of this exhibition is its inclusion of multiple interpretations of several different island scenes.  More than a dozen paintings, spanning from 1880 to the 1950s, show the headlands on the island's east side in varying styles, from a luminist to an abstract expressionist treatment.  Shipwrecks, the harbor and wharf, fish-houses and Manana Island, a small adjacent piece of land, are also featured in many diverse paintings.

Although painters visited Monhegan beginning in the 1850s, it wasn't until the first boarding house opened in the 1880s that significant numbers arrived.  Work represented in this exhibition include classic 19th century paintings influenced by the Hudson River School; a piece by Robert Henri, head of the Ashcan School, and other pieces from his circle of students and friends; Edward Willis Redfield, an American impressionist and other impressionists from the Old Lyme colony founded by Childe Hassam; marine painters; modernists; and abstract expressionists from the post-World War II era.

"One of the things I find remarkable is that giants of American art from every school have been inspired by this tiny island. It is fascinating to see the same Monhegan motifs rendered in such divergent ways," said Ed Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and one of the exhibition's lenders. Deci is also director of the Monhegan Museum. This exhibit includes the work of 16 foreign-born artists from distant countries including Estonia, Indonesia, Australia, and Italy. Perhaps it is the island's light, reflecting off the ocean from all sides, that attracts artists from around the world.  Because Monhegan is 12 miles off the U.S. mainland, it is surrounded by open ocean. It offers several spots on the island where one can sit and watch the sun rise over the open ocean in the east and set over the open ocean in the west in a continuous day-long period. A 39-page exhibition catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition.


Monhegan Island Facts:
  • The island is located 12 miles off the mid-Maine coast.
  • The island is one mile wide and two miles long.
  • The island was settled by Englishman John Smith in 1614.
  • Monhegan residents provided fish to help the Pilgrims through their first long winter in Plymouth.
  • Through the 19th century, Monhegan residents remained focused primarily on fishing and farming for their livelihoods.
  • The first artist to arrive on the island was Aaron Draper Shattuck.  He did so in 1858.
  • Artists began coming to the island in significant numbers in the late 1880s when boarding houses opened on Monhegan.
  • The period between 1903 and 1918 is frequently referred to as the golden age of painting on the island.
  • Artists representing every major school of American art have painted on the island.
  • Three generations of the well-known Wyeth family have painted on the island.
  • The year-round island population is under 100.