Seated Bear by Bernard Langlais 1973, Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Last year when we were in Maine we went to Ogunquit, to the Museum of American Art. As the guide books have it, Ogunquit is an Abernaki word meaning ‘beautiful place by the sea’. Some also say that this small art gallery is the most beautiful in the world. I think I must agree. It is certainly in the most stunning location. As you enter the main hall your eye is drawn, not so much to the works of art, but to the east wall that is entirely glass (a picture window if ever there was one), and looks out on the great Atlantic.
Photo: copyright 2013 Ogunquit Gallery of American Art
Places of pilgrimage
Of course, not for all the world would I be without the world’s great art galleries. To simply speak their names: the Tate, Met, V & A, Hermitage, Rijksmuseum, to name but a few in my particular hemisphere, induces in me feelings of awe, reverence, and even that childhood sense of bursting expectation at opening Christmas tree presents. I may never visit most of them, but somehow it is enough to know they are there. Their palatial chambers may ooze worthy academicism and the particular brand of nineteenth century paternalism that was intent on informing the masses while keeping them firmly in their place, but these monumental repositories are indeed our treasure houses. And not because of the monetary value of the works they contain, but because the quiet spaces filled with marvellous pieces of human craft and ingenuity are true resorts: places of pilgrimage, edification, solace, joyousness, meditation. People come there to commune with the spirit of creation and creator, each according to their inclination.
The museum sits not so much in ‘grounds’ but in a lovely seaside garden with art amongst the plants.
Art without blisters
But for me, there is something altogether more beguiling about a small gallery. It is less physically arduous for one thing; you need not leave, as you can well do from the V & A or the Met, feeling cross that after many hours spent hiking up and down marble corridors and staircases, there was something important that you missed, but were simply too foot-sore to look for.
There is none of this at the Ogunquit Museum. It is definitely small-scale, and its mission clearly defined: the art it shows is exclusively American art. In particular, the collection includes works by Ogunquit’s art colony that was founded by Charles Woodbury in 1890. The theme, then, is simple. The visitor’s mind and gaze is immediately focused. The setting is intimate too, for once you tear yourself from the view of the sea in the main hall, the display spaces are of domestic scale. Only missing is the cosy arm chair and somewhere to put your tea tray. Wise omissions nonetheless; otherwise you might not ever leave.
‘An artist’s paradise’
When Bostonian, Charles Woodbury, visited Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove in 1890 and declared it ‘an artist’s paradise’, the seed for the Ogunquit artists’ colony was sown. He opened a school for his student followers, providing board and lodging in converted fishermen’s shacks along the shore. From the late nineteenth century Ogunquit’s reputation as a place for artists grew. Some of those associated with the colony include Edward Betts, Hamilton Easter Field, Robert Laurent and Walt Kuhn. But many other American artists later lived or spent their summers here, including Edward Hopper, and their works are also included in the Museum’s collection.
It was Henry Strater, artist and friend of Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, who in 1953 founded the Ogunquit Museum. He sited it above the rocks on Narrow Cove where many artists used to congregate – a perfect fusion of place, building and content, or, for that matter, of nature and culture. The three-acre garden is a rambling, blissful place with hidden corners and unexpected vistas and sculptures perfectly placed.
Cabot Lyford’s Otters above Narrow Cove.
Narrow Cove below the Museum.
Antoinette Prien Schultze: Life Entwined 1988, Vermont marble.
Sixty works 60 Years
This year, then, the OMoAA is celebrating its sixtieth year with a show of works from its permanent collection. The pieces have been chosen to illustrate the Museum’s collecting trends from the days of Henry Strater to the most recent acquisitions. If you are in Maine you have until October 31st to see it, along with the accompanying exhibitions. The programme of events is here. And if you are not in Maine, then make the OMoAA the reason to go there. You will not be disappointed.
You can find the Ogunquit Museum of American Art at 543 Shore Road, Ogunquit ME, on Facebook and the website links below:
And some other entries:
© 2013 Tish Farrell