PORTLAND — Seguin Island Light casts its beacon over the peninsulas of Phippsburg and Georgetown at the mouth of the Kennebec River.

The area is sometimes called Seguinland, a geographic and cultural reference that encompasses a collection of remote villages, islands and coves south of Bath that a century ago were most easily accessed by steamboat or some other vessel.

Mostly fishing villages and small farming communities, these outposts were difficult to reach by land, and only with the advent of the automobile and the construction of bridges did they become the popular destinations they are today.

But a small and influential group of American Modernist painters, sculptors and photographers found Little Good Harbor, Robinhood Cove, West Point and Small Point ideal for their work.

John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Max Weber, William and Marquerite Zorach and Gaston Lachaise, among others, came to Seguinland precisely because these places were hard to find. Their remoteness and ruggedness served the painters’ artistic muse.

The work they accomplished in these parts is the subject of “Maine Moderns: Art in Seguinland, 1900-1940,” opening Saturday and showing through Sept. 11 at the Portland Museum of Art. It will feature more than 65 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs.

This second-floor show serves as a lead-in to the museum’s major summer show, “John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury.” The larger Marin show, on view June 23 to Oct. 10, concentrates on the late period of Marin’s career, whereas the “Seguinland” exhibition examines the early discovery of Maine by Marin and his cohorts.

Susan Danly, a PMA curator, created the exhibition with Elizabeth Bischof, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Maine.

Danly heard Bischof speak about photographer F. Holland Day at the Georgetown Historical Society, and realized their research paths intersected. Danly, whose curatorial domain includes photography, was interested in expanding the museum’s collection to better represent the work of Maine pictorialists.

Bischof, then a doctoral candidate at Boston College, was finishing her dissertation on Day and his activities at Little Good Harbor. The women forged a collaboration.

Their premise centers on the idea that these artists chose Maine as their summer home, all coming up from New York at the urging of their mentor and dealer, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Although they lived most of the year in New York, it was in Maine where they developed their friendship and found their artistic voice, both individually and collectively.

“It was never the most fashionable place to be, but the artists quickly realized this wonderful balance between nature and this use of the land by farmers and fishermen and then later the summer folk,” Danly said.

“All those artists that came here, most of their livelihood was centered in New York City. Their gallery was in New York, their teaching was in New York, the critics were in New York. They needed to get away from that. There is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of discussions about the meaning of modern art on a personal level that takes place in Maine that could not have occurred in New York.”

The artists became friends, and gathered socially to compare their work and ideas. Their chosen locales became entwined with their work, and their artistic personalities reflected where and how they lived while in Maine.

One of the revelations of this show, Danly said, is the advent of Modernism in rural and remote areas. People assumed that Modernism emerged from urban living. These artists proved otherwise, she said.
“Modernism is not just about the city. It’s also about being in a rural area, where life is a little bit slow and where changes are dictated not by technology but by the season. All of that comes out in their work,” Danly said.

Much of this work has been exhibited before, and individually the artists in this exhibition have received due attention. This is the first time their work has been examined collectively with a focus on shared geographic bonds and the influence of this specific place on their artistic paths.

The exhibition begins with photographs by Day, Clarence White, Gertrude Käsebier and others taken around Day’s home in Georgetown and White’s summer art school at the nearby Seguinland Hotel.
Marin arrived in Phippsburg in 1914, supported financially by Stieglitz. He used that money to buy a small island in Small Point, and although he later established himself as a Down East painter from Cape Split, he found his way back to Phippsburg into the 1920s.

This show traces his development as a painter. His earliest Maine work, from West Point, depicts clearly realistic scenes – spruce branches, boats on the water, structures on the mainland. His later work verges on the abstract “where you cannot tell what you are looking at except for the title,” Danly said. “Maine allowed him to use that form of expression in wonderful and painterly ways.”

By the early 1920s, sculptor Gaston Lachaise had bought a summer home and studio in Georgetown, and welcomed Marsden Hartley home to Maine. Hartley lived for years overseas, and came back to Maine to work. He completed one of his signature paintings, “Jotham’s Island,” off Indian Point in Georgetown in 1937. It’s a stiff, rugged seascape in brown, blue and green.

The Zorachs arrived in Georgetown in the mid-1920s, and summered there the rest of their lives.
Seguinland never became an artist colony like Ogunquit or Monhegan. The area was spread out among connected waterways, and remained remote even after roads and bridges connected these communities to the mainland.

And although the area remains rich in artists today, its point of influence began to fade somewhat by the 1940s with the dissolution of the social network that sustained bonds among the artists.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Follow him on Twitter at:

twitter.com/pphbkeyes