The Arts In Ogunquit


The Arts in Ogunquit – Beauty by the Sea
Even a short history of Perkins Cove would have to include its influence in the development of the arts. Ogunquit’s ability to lure fine artists dates back to 1888 when Charles Woodbury (1864-1940), a young proper Bostonian, stumbled upon Perkins Cove, a small picturesque inlet with colorful, sturdy New England sailing dories and weathered fish shacks. Calling it “an artist’s paradise”, he opened a school for his coterie of academic followers among the fishermen’s shacks. In time, some of these shacks were converted to housing for the burgeoning art colony, providing meals and lodging, and eventually becoming forerunners of the B&Bs and inns which later dotted the Cove. By the end of the 19th century, Ogunquit had become a well-established artist colony. Woodbury’s students tended to be bright young women who strolled the beach with parasols and painted parti-colored beach scenes in the polite style of Postimpressionism. They were known locally as the Virginial Wayfarers.
It has been written that the arrival of Modernism in Maine can be traced directly to a summer day in 1902 when New York art critic, Hamilton Easter Field (1873-1922), arrived by carriage at Perkins Cove accompanied by a twelve-year-old French protégé, Robert Laurent (1890-1970). Ogunquit’s reputation as an art colony continued into the 20th century with the arrival of Henry Strater, a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who, in 1952, founded the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, since praised as “…the most beautiful small museum in the world.” Perched high above the rocks in Narrow Cove where artists used to congregate, the Museum’s all-glass east wall looks dramatically out over a wide expanse of the Atlantic. The lawn is “dressed” with whimsical, oversized wood sculptures and a small pond where blue heron and butterflies gather. It is dedicated to displaying a wide range of works by American artists in an open, uncluttered exhibit area throughout the summer months. Many of America’s outstanding artists lived or have summered in Ogunquit since those times. Among them were Edward Hopper, Elyot Henderson, Marsden Hartley, Bernard Karfiol, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Alfred Bellows, Harmon Neill, Peggy Bacon, William Ehrig and, perhaps the most important American artist associated with the Ogunquit colony, Walt Kuhn.
In 1928 Charles Woodbury and Henry Strater, along with other artists, formed the Ogunquit Art Association, thus instituting one of the first exhibition spaces to show the work of local artists and to present programs for the community. The gallery and colorful annual Art Auction are still run by the artists themselves, just as they were in the past. Ogunquit artists, along with other regionally and nationally recognized artists, exhibit and conduct workshops in the Barn Gallery located on Shore Road at Bourne Lane. Additionally, Ogunquit offers a profusion of privately owned galleries, many still in Perkins Cove, where fine original art can be viewed and purchased.
In the area of performing arts, Ogunquit has been similarly blessed. Its reputation as an important art colony, coupled with the area’s great popularity as a summer resort, convinced Walter Hartwig, a former Hollywood director and Broadway producer, and his wife, Maude, that it was the ideal location for a permanent playhouse. In 1933, in the former Ogunquit Square Movie Theatre, the Ogunquit Playhouse was inaugurated. By the end of the 1936 season, it was obvious a larger theatre was needed. The new Ogunquit Playhouse debuted in 1937 in a large building just south of the Village Center. In succeeding seasons, top stars flocked to Ogunquit to perform splendid theatre for local and visiting audiences. Walter Hartwig was credited with pioneering the original “straw hat circuit.”
In 1950 John Lane, who first came to the Ogunquit Playhouse as an actor, returned as co-producer. A short time later, Maude Hartwig retired, and John Lane acquired the theatre, which to this day remains John Lane’s Ogunquit Playhouse. Upon Mr. Lane’s retirement, and in order to ensure that the theatre remains operating well into the future, he very generously offered to donate the Playhouse to a foundation created just for this purpose. The Ogunquit Playhouse Foundation is now accepting contributions to establish an endowment fund to guarantee that the tradition of high theatrical standards and the excellent quality of performances and productions of the past will continue for the enjoyment of future generations who flock to this small town on the Maine coast.
From the mid-thirties to the late forties, smaller theatrical groups and repertory companies flourished in this welcoming atmosphere, conducive to the artistic temperament. Art galleries and summer theatre are still an important part of Ogunquit’s “landscape”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: