Far from the Manhattan Crowd


Famous events in New York City—the controversial 1913 Armory Show and the Rockefeller-backed founding of the Museum of Modern Art in 1929—heralded modern art’s raucous entry into the American mainstream. Meanwhile, a less-public side of the movement emerged. Intimate and sociable, it did not unfold amid the rhetoric and infighting associated with the Manhattan scene, but rather through abiding friendships in the sunny gardens and quiet parlors of Georgetown, Maine.

Georgetown was, for a few generations in the early 20th century, an unlikely cradle of the avant-garde. In preparation for an exhibition next year at the Portland Museum, Libby Bischof, a historian at the University of Southern Maine, is researching the work of these photographers and painters.

The first arrivals, at the turn of the century, were photographers Clarence White, F. Holland Day, and Gertrude Käsebier, and painter Max Weber. During the 1920s, a second wave included photographer Paul Strand, painters Marguerite Zorach and Marsden Hartley, and sculptors Gaston Lachaise and William Zorach. They found a collaborative corner of the art world. “The real difference isn’t even the distance from the city,” Bischof says. “It’s born out of their friendships and affection for one another, and how involved they are in one another’s work.”

Their Maine work often stretched in directions different from their New York work. Strand snapped close-ups of driftwood and rocks; Lachaise hewed sculptures out of Maine granite; and White set up a summer school for photography. Hartley eventually made Georgetown his permanent home, billing himself as the Modernist from Maine.

There was talk of Cubism, color, and line; many of their conversations flicker through the art itself. Hartley painted wind-carved stones that look a lot like Lachaise’s statues. Strand showed his driftwood photographs at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, and Lachaise wrote the introduction to the catalog. Some of Käsebier’s most famous images, including “The White Family: 1913,” were staged in Georgetown.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Elyse Graham is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Yale University.


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