Vermont artist Eric Aho knew last year there was a decent chance that his project – to cut a hole in the ice on Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham and re-create the scene from Marsden Hartley’s painting “The Ice Hole, Maine” – could be postponed by weather. But he didn’t think it would be delayed this long.

More than a foot of wet snow that fell on the lake last February made cutting into the ice impossible on the day he had planned to do it, with the few dozen people who turned up to help out. When he decided a couple of weeks ago, with help from a friend who lives on the lake in western Maine and has been keeping him apprised, that conditions would finally be ideal on Tuesday, he put word out on social media. About 30 people showed up again, including family friends, local residents and even a fellow artist he didn’t know who came from Massachusetts with his children.

“The Ice Hole, Maine” (1908-1909) by Marsden Hartley was likely inspired by the artist’s stays in Stoneham, near Bethel. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art

Several of them helped to cut the “H” shape from the painting that Aho said was a typical way to cut ice for harvesting and is believed to have inspired Hartley because of the first letter of his last name. Hartley also painted the mountains behind the lake in an “M” shape, reflecting his first name, which he had changed from Edmund not long before, Aho said.

With the crew using antique tools from a collection that Aho has amassed, which include ones he inherited from his father who participated in ice harvests in Massachusetts in the 1930s, the ice cutting took from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. But it was comfortable outside, Aho said; the temperature hovered around 35 degrees, the sun was out and there was no wind.

“We could not have picked a better day,” he said.

Aho dedicated the event to Danny Barker, a Stoneham resident whose extensive knowledge of the area’s history helped inform his project and who died in November of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Although Hartley, a Lewiston native, was spending time in the area when he made the painting, in 1908-09, it’s uncertain the exact spot, if any, that inspired it. Barker, however, believed that Keewaydin Lake was it, Aho said.


Once the ice cutting was finished and it started getting dark, everyone left but Aho, who took in the scene alone before commemorating the event by creating a painting of his own. Looking back on it later in the week, he said, that – for him – was the moment.

“There’s something special about walking in the footsteps of a historical figure you admire,” said Aho, who doesn’t believe he paints like Hartley but that he and all American painters are influenced by him.

Aho, 56, grew up in New Hampshire and spends time in Maine on Little Cranberry Island in the summer. His interest in ice harvesting led him to create a series of paintings of ice cuts, including one that’s currently on display at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Conversations around those paintings led him to Hartley’s. And his imagination took it from there.

He took some of the ice blocks from the lake with him in coolers and plans to incorporate them into an exhibit in Connecticut in the spring. Other than that, Aho doesn’t have any specific plans for publicizing the project. Although he believes the work contains a message about the natural world, considering how the weather conditions have changed on the lake between Hartley’s time there and his, the takeaway for Aho is more about the importance of communities, and he’s quick to credit the ones that helped carry out his idea.

“It was a crazy dream come true,” he said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: