Fine Art in the pine woods
It gets dark early in the wintertime in Rockland, Maine.One afternoon just after the first snow, I visited the William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum. A dying golden light ennobled the waist-high oak wainscoting as I climbed the curving staircase. As the shadows lengthened and the snow outside went that particular dead gray that is picturesque only when seen with a bright sunset from inside a warm place, the museum's seascapes took on a chill tang of reality.Skip to next paragraph
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Upstairs there's a roomful of Wyeths. Under glass, old children's books are turned to N.C. Wyeth's heroic illustrations and there are some posters he painted for the Hercules Powder Company. There are Andrew Wyeth's haunting watercolors -- "Her Room," the museum's most famous example, wasn't up at the time. "It's just back from the Royal Gallery and it's resting up," said the museum's director, Marius Peladeau.
But Wyeth's "Young Fisherman and Dory" washed the room with its feeling of solitude and greenish Atlantic light. Monhegan Island, scene of this and so m any Wyeth paintings, seemed almost palpable, lying as it does off Rockland to the southeast. Though it was warm and dry in the gallery, the sea's presence was there, in the light, the backgrounds, and the feelings of those paintings, almost as tangible as a smack of errant seaspray.
John McCoy, who taught Andrew to use tempera, is represented too. And Ann Wyeth McCoy's "White Daisy," a portrait of a rock with a daisy and a perfectly peaceful field, looked, at least in that context, as if it were painted just onshore.
Down in the basement are clipper ships painted in full sail with frills of foam at their bows, keeling and bucking in front of dramatic clouds through iron-gray, tossing waves. On the shelves lie 18th- and 19th-century souvenirs of the sea, harpoons and whale teeth, as well as a case of silks and fans from the China trade.
And in the library, under the Waterford chandelier, you can sit and look at illustrations by Rockwell Kent, whose houses on Monhegan Jamie Wyeth has painted. Or read first editions of Edna St. Vincent Millay, who grew up in Rockland. Or check out the Louise Nevelson archives. She grew up there too. And her statues crouch outside in the dying light.
Not everything at the museum has to do with the sea or with Rockland. But the William A. Farnsworth Library and Museum is, in the words of Mr. Peladeau, who sports a low-on-the-chin, mustacheless beard like the ones you see in old engravings, "a good, regional museum." Just what constitutes a good regional museum?
Rockland is certainly a good region, having given the world poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, opera singer Maxine Elliott, and sculptor Louise Nevelson. What is it about Rockland that would produce three such different women artists? I ask. "Luck," says Mr. Peladeau.
And maybe landscape, too. But nothing more than that. Though you can see in the rocky coast and piney fields around you the stuff of paintings, poems, and probably songs galore (not to mention the evidence of their inspiration stacked up at the museum) when Millay, Nevelson, and Elliott and cohorts were growing up , they didn't get much official artistic inspiration from Rockland.Which is one of the things you need a good regional museum for.
The museum opened in 1948. Now there is a studio where the next generation's artists can sculpture, dance, make quilts, or do calligraphy. Even if that sort of encouragement doesn't make such difference to artists in the long run, ordinary civilians need artistic inspiration. And there are enough different views of the sea to give the visitor who would never think of painting more to look for out the window. And a library where schoolboys write papers, where summer people like to read between ferries.
What brought all this about? you may ask. The answer is simple: Lucy Farnsworth.