The Museum’s 2018 Exhibition Highlights the Island’s Artistic Legacy
The year 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Monhegan Museum of Art & History on Monhegan Island, Maine. Founded by artists and islanders in 1968, the museum draws visitors from all over the world to its outstanding collection and historic architecture, including a working lighthouse built in 1850. The museum’s collection of works by leading American artists who have worked on Monhegan is the focus of the museum’s major exhibition this summer, which will feature paintings, sculpture, photography, and works on paper by some 70 artists, including George Bellows, James Fitzgerald, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Louise Nevelson, and Andrew Wyeth, among others. The Monhegan Museum: Celebrating Fifty Years, accompanied by a commemorative book of the same name, will be on view July 1 through September 30, 2018.
“Monhegan is a small place, but it has had an outsized influence on American Art,” said Ed Deci, who has been director of the Monhegan Museum for more than 30 years. “We offer visitors the rare opportunity to experience these defining works of American art within the setting that inspired them.”
Over the years, the Monhegan Museum’s collection has grown to some 30,000 objects, about 1,500 of which are fine-art paintings, prints, and photographs. All entered the museum’s collection as generous gifts from islanders, artists, collectors, and others who treasure Monhegan’s art and history. Masterpieces featured in the exhibition will include Rockwell Kent’s luminous Village at Night and James Fitzgerald’s Gulls Descending, among many others.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the museum will publish a special, 172-page book featuring essays by six contributors and illustrated with more than 100 full-color reproductions and 50 archival photographs from the museum’s collection. The Monhegan Museum: Celebrating Fifty Years will be for sale in the museum shop and on the museum’s website for $40.
In addition to this summer’s main exhibition, the Monhegan Museum will also present a series of public events in honor of its 50th anniversary, including a lecture series, a film series, a Golden Jubilee party at the lighthouse on August 1, and a special exhibition of the work of James Fitzgerald in his former studio. For more information, visit monheganmuseum.org/50th-anniversary-events.
Monhegan Museum’s History
The lighthouse, Monhegan Light, is the centerpiece of the museum’s architectural campus and is intimately connected to the art history of the island. The first artist to visit the island, Aaron Draper Shattuck, went as part of a survey of Maine Coast lighthouses. He was enthralled by the island’s unique beauty—a combination of stark headlands, tall pine woods, and a picturesque fishing village that dates back to the 1700s. Before long, word spread to other artists, who visited the island in turn, sometimes staying at the keeper’s house. In the early 20th century, the realist painter and teacher Robert Henri brought generations of students, including Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper, to Monhegan in the summers, many of whom painted the lighthouse or perched near its heights to capture views of the village below or take in the unparalleled sunsets over nearby Manana Island.
By the mid-20th century, many artists called Monhegan home for at least the summer months, with some even braving the harsh winters. Among these was the modernist Rockwell Kent, who built a small frame house and studio in the village that are now also part of the museum’s campus. The property was used not only by Kent but also by his cousin and fellow artist, Alice Kent Stoddard, as well as the painter James Fitzgerald, who bought it from Kent in the mid-1950s. The house and studio were donated to the museum in 2003 by Anne Hubert, Fitzgerald’s longtime friend and patron and an artist in her own right.
But it was the lighthouse and adjacent keeper’s house that inspired the creation of the Monhegan Museum and became its first home. When the lighthouse was automated in 1959 and the keeper’s house was suddenly vacant, island residents, including many artists, lobbied to preserve it and give it new life as a shared community resource. The idea of a museum of local art and historic artifacts arose from members of Monhegan Associates, the local land trust, which ultimately purchased the property and opened the museum for its first full season in 1968. In 1984, the Monhegan Museum separated and incorporated as its own nonprofit.
The Museum’s campus has also grown, with the addition of not only the Kent-Fitzgerald House but also a recreated assistant keeper’s house, which is the museum’s space for the annual special exhibitions, and barn, which serves as collections storage. Today the Museum’s historic structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, and in February of 2018, the Kent-Fitzgerald House and Studio were welcomed into the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.