Sunday, March 24, 2013

TIP's: Harold B. Warren & the Three Islesford Painters

Tucked away in a corner where I used to work while on hiatus Down East, is a small sampling in the Islesford Historical Museum that is dedicated to one of the crucial foundations in the evolution of Little Cranberry Island's, and by extension, Maine's art scene. Attracted to the area were a trio of artists, the "Three Islesford Painters" - aka TIPs - that drew their inspiration from the Acadian landscape. Charles Edwin Kinkead, C. Scott White and Harold B. Warren were summer people who would migrate north and set up shop for the season on the island, and they peddled their wares right across the lawn within my usual view right out of the front doors. 

Warren, White and Kinkead (L to R) - 1921

William Otis Sawtelle, who was a retired Harvard physicist and teacher, frequently vacationed on the island, and in 1917 bought what was the general store (previously owned and operated by one Sam Hadlock). Being somewhat of an amateur historian, now a full-time hobbyist dedicated to documenting and supporting local culture, Sawtelle acquired a large amount of collected material stashed in the attic of the building known as "The Blue Duck." From this he culled exhibits in the humble hall on the ground floor (in turn eventually prompting the construction of the official Isleford Historical Museum), and also made the upstairs into a themed gallery, festooned with nautical and maritime ephemera.

from "Harold B. Warren and Mount Desert Island" exhibition catalog, 2009, by Royal W. Leith

(more below the fold)

from "Harold B. Warren and Mount Desert Island" exhibition catalog, 2009, by Royal W. Leith

This is where the inaugural exhibition was held in 1919, from Monday, August 25 and held over until September 6th. The annual show of small watercolors continued for another decade, and after Sawtelle's death in 1939, the then-Superintendent of Acadia National Park, George B. Dorr, successfully pushed for the one-acre plot of land housing the museum and the Blue Duck to become a part of the protected parklands.

Katy Fernald of the Isleford Artists Gallery was kind enough to loan me a catalog from a 2009 exhibition titled "Harold B. Warren and Mount Desert Island" shown at the Clark Point Gallery in South West Harbor. Author Royal W. Leith credits Warren as "the most gifted and important of the TIPS," and of the trio seems to have secured a lasting legacy. His work is described in academic terms as an American pre-Raphaelite, and practiced painting outdoors before en plein aire became a hipster term for retirees. I developed an informal interpretive talk based on the work of Warren which I could deliver to interested parties who visited the museum, taking any opportunity to expand upon an unassuming image of him on the wall. Springboarding from that old photo it was meaningful to fuse the island's history with the current community, and by connecting the dots keep the past alive. The knowledge of such a backstory gave a richness and depth to my own firsthand artistic investigations of the area. From sketching compositions inside the museum itself to wandering about the same vistas that used to capture the attention of the T.I.P's, that same sense of place began to, in its own humble way, aesthetically infiltrate and inform my own work.

Charles Edwin Kinkead "Wreak of the General Hogg" (1923)

I think that one reason the memory of these painters is somewhat faded from public awareness is that at that time galleries and social imagination was captivated by the epic portrayals of pristine wilderness as depicted by the work of Fred Church and other second generation advocates of Thomas Cole's Hudson River School. Next to the heroic canvases of these oil painters such small watercolors - a matter of inches to feet - were probably seen as comparatively insignificant and impotent in the opinion of esteemed Fine Art collectors and critics. Personally I found them to illustrate a much more intimate aspect of the area, as the medium lends itself to capturing the more evocative and luminescent qualities of the coastal environment.

Consider these pairings of posted examples (all reproduced from Leith's catalog): above, from left to right, are two paintings of Bunker's Cove, both done in 1928, and below, two views of Baker Island from Gilley Beach, both from 1920.

It's immediately apparent to a viewer how perfectly these paintings encapsulate the subtle shifts in natural light at different times of day and the ever-changing weather conditions. Simply put, from the perspective of either a lobster fisherman on their daily rounds or in the eyes of a tourist, these places and views really exist, as opposed to the overwhelming and lavish fantasy centerfolds from the Hudon River School. We can literally see how camping out in such a locale (in Warren's case his Bunker Cove cottage studio) provided a point of view from one who was sensitized to the nuance of being there.

Collaborative T.I.P.'s mural backdrop in the Islesford Neighborhood House


  1. Record the places and people you love. Hope the record survives.

  2. I wanted to know more about the wreck, and found: and

  3. Cool - Thanks!
    I got a kick out of the potential scavenging opportunities many of these wrecks (dig that Wrecksite!) would present to the residents as a bonus supplement to random supplies, sometimes even just a simple matter of simple heating the house.