Wednesday, September 18, 2013
September 18, 2013: Gloucester Stories: Rocky Neck
[A series of posts highlighting some of the many interesting American histories and stories in our oldest seaport. Add your thoughts, please!]
On the art colony that complicates, beautifies, and enriches our narratives of Gloucester and the past.
Much of my argument in yesterday’s post, or at least much of my final point about why we don’t better remember Gloucester’s longterm histories, depended on the city’s identity as a predominantly working—and thus working class—community. But of course no place—and certainly no place in America—is as uniform or simple as that, and Gloucester is no exception. I’m sure there would be plenty of ways to complicate such narratives of Gloucester’s working class identity, to highlight other histories and communities that have contributed to the city’s story as it has unfolded over nearly four hundred years; but the easiest complication to spot is located directly across the harbor, on the beautiful peninsula known as Rocky Neck: the Rocky Neck Art Colony.
The Art Colony’s history dates back to at least the early 19th century, when local painter Fitz Henry Lane (long misidentified as Fitz Hugh Lane) began to capture Gloucester’s landscapes, cityscapes, and ships in a unique style that came to be known as Luminism. As the Colony attracted additional artists over the subsequent century—most famously Winslow Homer for a time, but also Frank Duveneck, John Sloan, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, and many others—it continued to be defined by a close relationship between Gloucester’s images and these artistic ones. That is, while of course such artists were drawn to the area and colony because of that legacy and supportive community of other artistic presences and relationships, they were also clearly drawn (as their works consistently reflected) to the city’s natural and manmade beauties and views, making the art colony truly inseparable from Gloucester’s overall and evolving identity and histories.
The Art Colony is alive and vibrant into the 21st century, with numerous galleries in which (as this AmericanStudier can attest) you’re likely to meet the artists themselves, if not indeed to catch them at work. Because of that continuity, a visit to Rocky Neck, particularly if we can do so informed by the place’s longer term histories and community (which I confess I was not prior to my visit), becomes a kind of intimate historical interpretation, a way in which we can inhabit what the place has long been and meant. Too often, historic sites in America are explicitly separated from the present places and life around them, treated as a monuments rather than as a living and evolving part of their communities; Rocky Neck Art Colony is impossible to treat in that way, and demands instead that we engage with both past and present, and all the artists and images that they contain.
Next Gloucester story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?