Many observers probably shared my initial thought upon picking up Kevin D. Murphy’s attractive new book, “Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine: Commerce, Culture, and Community on the Eastern Frontier.” Why another examination of one of the state’s most studied individuals?

Good heavens, the house that Parson Fisher built in Blue Hill is an historic place open to the public. The peerless scholar Mary Ellen Chase wrote the classic biograph “Jonathan Fisher, Maine Parson, 1768-1847” (MacMillan, 1948) and the celebrated art historian Alice Winchester produced “Versatile Yankee: The Art of Jonathan Fisher” (Pyne Press, 1973). Indeed, the minister seems to have never departed this world. His paintings (landscapes, still-lives,and portraits), architectural drawings, journals and other publications are frequently exhibited, quoted or used. His much reprinted “Scripture Animals” (Portland, 1834) was selected as one of 100 books that “reveal the history of Maine and the life of its people” in “The Mirror of Maine” (University of Maine Press, Baxter Society & Maine Historical Society, 2000).

So why another Fisher volume with such an abundance of material already handy? There are many other Maine candidates in need of a good biography. Well, first off — this isn’t strictly speaking a biography, though it covers the man and every aspect of his life with thoroughness and verve.

Murphy, professor of art history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, began his career in Maine and one of his first projects was the exhibition “From Revolution to Statehood: Maine Towns, Maine People,” sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council. This put Murphy in contact with the work of the Rev. Fisher as well as a new generation of scholars, including Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Alan Taylor. Indeed it was a productive era for institutions including the Maine Historical Society, the Brick Store Museum, the Farnsworth Art Museum and other scholarly organizations.

Since the time of Mary Ellen Chase, Jonathan Fisher has been spotlighted on the Maine and national stage as a local Leonardo: a Yankee who could do almost everything he turned his mind and hands to. Except, of course, keep his town within the Standing Order of Congregational flock. When Fisher arrived at Blue Hill in 1796, the Harvard trained minister’s role was supported by town taxes and his place in the community was similar to colonial ministers sent out by the Bay Colony since the earliest days. However, post-revolution freedom of religion, and eventually freedom from church taxation, was changing the dynamic. If at first Fisher followed the pattern of Falmouth’s Parson Thomas Smith (1727-1795) as the central community figure, knowledgeable in many things, the pressures of a new Republic and, after 1820, new state, made the reality of their professions quite different. Even more so was the almost itinerant career of Fisher’s son, who also chose the ministry.

Murphy understands Fisher with surprising thoroughness, but it is Fisher’s context — his place in Blue Hill, Maine, the Congregational-Harvard College world, making a living and art — that is essential. He does not view the man as an isolated genius but as a product of his time. There are, of course, other examples, such as mapmaker Moses Greenleaf (1777-1834) and his “Household of Faith.”

Murphy’s thorough examination gives the reader insight not just into one man but into the settling of the Eastern Frontier. This book is up there with those of Steven A. Marini, Walter M. Macdougal and other recent scholars. I was particularly pleased by Murphy’s discussion of Fisher as a painter: “Jonathan Fisher painted landscapes, but he was not a landscape painter.” He goes on to discuss this seeming conundrum with rare skill and clarity, comparing the parson’s approach to that of Charles Codman through the agency of art critics only a few years later. In understanding the development of our own region in the post-Revolutionary years, “Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine” is a necessary key.

 William David Barry is a local historian who has authored or co-authored five books, including “Tate House: Crown of the Maine Mast Trade” and the novel “Pyrrhus Venture.” He lives in Portland