By Carl Little
I don’t know if there are any cut-and-dry criteria for what comprises an art colony, for example, there has to be so many artists that there must be some sort of art school, etc. In the history of Maine art, Ogunquit and Monhegan Island are most often associated with the term—places where a lot of artists have congregated, with a variety of activities, social, aesthetic, and otherwise, weaving them together.
Maine has also had its share of “salons,” several of them island-based. One thinks of Celia Thaxter’s place on the Isles of Shoals where Childe Hassam painted some of his greatest landscapes; Dwight Blaney’s retreat on Ironbound Island in Frenchman Bay where the Boston painter hosted John Singer Sargent and others; and the Porter family compound on Great Spruce Head Island, which continues to nurture art-making today through a residency program.
The Cranberry Isles fall in between colony and, shall we say, cohort: they represent an artist community—or better, a community of which artists are a part. Over the past 70 or so years, Little and Great Cranberry islands have been home, seasonal and year-round, to a remarkable group of artists who give to their communities—contributing a work of art to an auction to help a lobsterman with hospital bills; painting sets for an island theater production; teaching in the schools; creating a historical society.
The artists have also formed communities within communities. Dorothy Eisner’s painting Desk II in the Portland Museum of Art show features a schedule that notes visits from painters John Heliker and William Kienbusch—a painterly documentation of a circle of friends who spent summers making art on Great Cranberry while enjoying one another’s company. On Little Cranberry, the Islesford Artists Gallery has been the center of a wonderfully interconnected posse of painters and printmakers—a communal clutch of individuals committed to art.
In my upcoming talk at the Museum on Saturday, June 20 at 11 a.m., I will seek to provide a sense of those communities of artists that have made the Cranberries a vibrant place of art during the past 75 or so years. Drawing on personal connections—William Kienbusch was my uncle—I will offer a view of the islands, from dock to home to outer edge, through image and imagination—and community.
Image credit: Dorothy Eisner (United States, 1906–1984), Desk II , 1979, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches. Lent by the Estate of Dorothy Eisner.