There is more to Ogunquit, Maine, than beaches and fine dining. For more than a century the center of an active art colony, it is the home of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, an outstanding gallery that helps the town maintain its strong artistic identity.
Fishermen and artists: The birth of Perkin’s Cove
Fishing was one of the things that first drew people to this rugged rock-bound coast. In what is now the Perkins Cove part of Ogunquit, fishermen dug out the land between a peninsula and the mainland to form a protected harbor. By the end of the nineteenth century it was a colorful and busy fishing port. When Walter Charles Woodbury happened upon it in 1898, he fell in love with it and started an art school, particularly popular with young women. Four years later Hamilton Easter Field, a New York art critic, arrived in town and began another art school. Together, these two schools encouraged and attracted a number of artists who worked, or lived, in the Ogunquit area. Works they produced covered a variety of styles and media from impressionism and post-impressionist to modernist.
Another turning point in the artistic life of Ogunquit came in the first quarter of the twentieth century with the arrival in town of the artist Henry Strater. His love and support of the art community in Ogunquit led him and Woodbury to form the Ogunquit Art Association in 1928. In 1952, Strater and his friends founded the Ogunquit Museum of American Art on the rocky heights above Narrow Cove.
OMAA: The Oqunquit Museum of American Art
The objective of Strater and the early supporters of OMAA was dual: to support and showcase the work of artists working in Ogunquit and to promote the work of American artists in general. In the 60 years since its founding OMAA has achieved those goals admirably. The site chosen for the museum is on a rise of land overlooking Narrow Cove, close to the entrance to Perkins Cove. A low, modernist, building, it sits nicely among gardens studded with sculpture (including a few fanciful wooden ones). The gardens lead down to a rugged granite outcrop that drops to the sea with views of Perkins Cove. Entering the museum, directly ahead is the stunning view of the cliffs and ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. Used as a special exhibit venue, along with adjoining exhibit rooms, the entrance gallery highlights the source of the inspiration that guided its founders.
Spotlight on Andy Warhol
When Andy Warhol was younger, after he had become known but before he became an idol, he hired a photographer, Pat Hackett, to take photos of him with celebrities – all the better to gain the notoriety he sought. When Ron Crusan, Director of the museum, heard that these never published photos might be available for exhibit he jumped on the idea. The result is the exhibit Andy Warhol: American Idol, which combines about 10 of his works with 60 rare photographs of Warhol with celebrities and in his studio. Among the 10 of his works in the show are Marilyn Monroe portraits, a variant of the famed Campbell’s Tomato Soup Can, portraits of Jackie Kennedy and a special portrait of Teddy Kennedy prepared for his run for the White House in 1980. The exhibit will stay there until September 1, 2013.
The permanent collection of OMAA
The works in OMAA’s permanent collection are shining examples of the quality of the work produced by the many artists who have studied, worked and visited Oqunquit over the years, but the collection extends beyond them to other American artists. In the former category are two works by the founders of the colony, Charles Woodbury (First Bridge, Perkins Cove, 1915) and Hamilton Easter Field (The Cliff, 1929) which, although later works of the two, illustrate the differences in their styles. They are part of an exhibit in the main gallery entitled Sixty Works – 60 Years that demonstrates the breadth of development in American painting since the opening of the Museum in 1953. A few examples are Still Life with Eel, by Marsden Hartley (1917) who was influenced by Cézanne, the explicit Bowery Drunks in which Reginald Marsh (1947-8) exposed the harsh reality of poverty in New York after the war, and Sleeping Girl by Walter Kuhn (1922), a favorite of the artist which remained in his studio until after his death.
Other artists represented in the permanent collection of OMAA are Eric Aho, Ben Aronson, Peggy Bacon, Will Barnet, Romare Bearden, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Alexander Calder, Charles Demuth, John Flannagan, Gertrude Fiske, Morris Graves, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Peter Hurd, Wolf Kahn, Alex Katz, Rockwell Kent, Gaston Lachaise, Jacob Lawrence, Ernest Lawson, Roy Lichtenstein, George Luks, Paul Manship, John Marin, Louise Nevelson, Arnold Newman, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Tobey, Neil Welliver, Margaret Bourke-White, Marguerite and William Zorach.
A visit to OMAA is itself worth a trip to this small town on the Maine coast, but Ogunquit also offers plenty of other activities and dining and lodging choices for all interests.
Getting to the Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Ogunquit is only an hour and a half drive from greater Boston, perfect for a short getaway. Take I-95 north through New Hampshire and over the bridge into Maine and the Maine Turnpike (toll $1). At exit 7 take Route 1 north to Ogunquit (Route 1 is Main Street). Turn right on Shore Road in the middle of downtown and in about 0.8 mile stay to the right on Shore Road when the road to Perkins Cove bears left. The Museum is about a half mile on the left.