Last week I made a long-overdue pilgrimage back to Rockport, which, along with its more famous neighbor, Gloucester, occupies a small, rugged island at the tip of Cape Ann. (Founded in 1623, Gloucester lays claim to being the oldest seaport in Massachusetts. Always famous as a fishing and ship-building town, it gained more recent notoriety when it was pummeled by the “Perfect Storm” in 1991.) The rugged beauty of the landscape and sea, along with its proximity—a short train ride north of Boston—has attracted many famous artists. Considering how well suited the character of the place is to their work, these include some you might expect, such as Winslow Homer (above right), Edward Hopper, and John Marin. But other less predictable artists, like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, also found here an atmosphere conducive to their creative impulses. Close knit art colonies were established in Gloucester and Rockport that continue to this day.
But this odd déjà vu feeling is accompanied by another, more solid, comforting one. Here, still, is a place where artists gather and ply their craft, some successfully enough that their names have become familiar over the years. Today the tourist trade is Rockport’s major industry and, unfortunately, the better artists, in my experience, are a little harder to find amongst the plethora of artsy-craftsy shops that cater unabashedly to the undiscriminating crowds. As an art educator, it often feels like an uphill battle to raise my students’ aesthetic sights against an overwhelming, homogenous commercial culture. I can well imagine the artists of Rockport feeling that way, too.
Susanne White takes as her subject the familiar rocky terrain, strewn with driftwood, shells, and other flotsam. She enlarges them until their abstract qualities—color, texture, line, pattern—come to the fore. Her “Vertigo” is below left. Proving an exception to my earlier observation, my favorite photographer, Robert Lerch, runs his gallery in a surprisingly sequestered alcove in the heart of Bearskin Neck.
To see other samples of Rockport artist’s work, go to the Rockport Artist’s Association.
To see a few preliminary photos from my excursion there, go to my flickr page.
To read about my Rockport experience from another perspective, go to my Urban Wilderness blog.