October 14, 2012

Worshiping at the altar of Church

For the artists who make the journey to Frederic Edwin Church's farm in the shadow of Katahdin, to see what he saw and paint what he painted is almost a religious experience.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ON THE SHORE OF MILLINOCKET LAKE — Frederic Church knew what he was looking for when he arrived on the south shore of Millinkocket Lake in the waning days of summer 1878.

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West Bath painter Evelyn Dunphy at the site of Frederic Church’s former camp on Millinocket Lake, where she leads workshops focusing on painting Mount Katahdin.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Sandra Pye of Phippsburg frames Katahdin before beginning to paint.

Additional Photos Below

The view.

He was familiar with this terrain, and had spent many years tromping in and around Mount Katahdin.

But this time, he meant to stay.

He purchased the 400-acre Stephens Farm, which offered unobstructed views across the lake to the mountain. For the 20 years that he owned the farm, Church explored the mountain in all its moods and visual glory. He sketched, painted and otherwise portrayed Katahdin hundreds of times, creating sweeping landscapes of Maine's most sacred mountain.

Along with Winslow Homer, Church is considered among America's most accomplished landscape painters. Just as the rocks and water at Prouts Neck became Homer's late-career muse, the woodlands and the ever-changing colors of Katahdin were that for Church.

Their time in Maine overlapped. Church bought the farm near Katahdin in 1878; Homer moved into the studio at Prouts Neck five years later.

Whereas Homer stayed at Prouts Neck until his death in 1910, Church visited his farm at Katahdin mostly in the summer and fall for about 20 years. He sold it to his son in 1898, and died two years later at age 73.

Because this place was important to Church, it remains important in the history of American art. He sought it out because it gave him visual access to the mountain and allowed him to pursue his subject at his vigorous will. Other than Church's majestic home at Olana, N.Y., the 400 acres at Millinocket Lake was the only property the artist owned.

The farm has been improved and developed in the century since, although it is still powered by a generator and water comes from a local spring. A portion of the original rugged log cabin remains standing.

The camp is owned by the Woodworth family and tended to by Raymond "Woody" Woodworth and his girlfriend, Jen Hall.

Woodworth's parents, Ray and Muriel, have owned the camp for years, and live off the grid a few doors down. Woodworth's grandfather, Elmer Woodworth, worked for Church's heirs and tended to the camp. He purchased it in 1953.

Lately, with attention being paid to Church and his time in Maine, Woodworth and Hall have become acutely aware of the legacy of this place, and have begun sharing it with artists who follow in the footsteps of the artist. They enjoy showing off the small portion of the original camp that remains, as well as details of the wing that Church's son built after acquiring the place.

They call attention to the stone mantle of the fireplace, built with rocks that roughly form the outline of Katahdin itself. Delicately, they unfold tattered, century-old deeds with Church's signature, proving his purchase of the camp -- for $112.50 in 1878 -- and later his sale of the camp to his son for $1.

In a letter dated Nov. 29, 1878, Church announced his purchase to a friend: "I have just completed a small picture of Khaadn -- I have purchased the Stephens Farm -- Lake Millinocket -- and have received the deed."

Reproductions of Church's Katahdin paintings hang on the walls, and Hall jokes that they continue to search the rafters for a wayward original. "Don't we wish," she said with a laugh. "And we're always looking."

Evelyn Dunphy appreciates those sentiments. A watercolor painter from West Bath, she has made paintings of mountains all over the world. She has felt kinship with Church for many years, based first on his paintings of Greenland.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Philippa Ann Nice of Millinocket puts down light and dark values for a painting of the mountain.

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Jamie Walker of Naples sketches the mountain.

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West Bath painter Evelyn Dunphy.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Finished painting of Katahdin by Evelyn Dunphy.

Courtesy photo

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Finished painting of Katahdin by Sandra Pye.

Courtesy photo

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