Category Archives: Arts
A folk art masterpiece in the Cornelius Tarbox house
When Callie and Bob Connor, classics professors from North Carolina, considered purchasing the historic Cornelius Tarbox home on Westport Island, their decision was as much about saving a colonial treasure as about having a waterfront refuge. The house — though in need of “TLC” — had good, solid colonial bones and was decorated with an expansive folk art/maritime mural in the front entry that captivated the Connors.
A floor-to-ceiling mural of a colorful coastal panorama extends through the front hallway and up the stairwell. The mural is done in a similar style to that of folk art muralist Rufus Porter who was active from 1825 to 1840. The Connors’ mural is unsigned — a mystery as to who painted it and as to the story that inspired it.
The clues? There is a schooner with flags bearing the initials “WFT”, presumably for Cornelius’s son who died at age 32 — William F. Tarbox (1832-1865), a U.S. flag, a red burgee and a blue rectangular flag with a white circle — possibly a merchant flag? The schooner “William F. Tarbox” was lost with all hands on board in 1857; and the person William F. Tarbox died in 1865 in Nova Scotia where he had moved to stake a gold claim.
The panoramic mural also depicts a lighthouse (Seguin?), a fisherman’s home, a fishing vessel, a seascape with many vessels fading into the background and some grand trees that have a tendency to lean. The type of trees — or the leaning — may be a clue or maybe the brushstrokes, the way people are depicted, or the mural’s resonance with other historical murals in area structures…
By poring through valuation and tax books at the Westport Island town office, Callie established that the Tarbox house was built between 1848 and 1850. Through additional research, the Connors found leads to two additional area murals painted in a similar style. One of the murals is at the Five Islands Baptist Church (built 1841) in Georgetown. That mural was believed to have been done some time after 1864 by “an anonymous itinerant painter”. The third mural is at the Alvah Morse house (built 1847-1852) in Bath. All of these murals are unsigned; experts believe the Connors’ mural and the Five Islands Baptist Church 1864 mural are likely by the same painter.
Are there more murals in our midst that might hold additional clues to who painted the Tarbox House mural? Are there others who may know more about the story or the symbols depicted? The Connors are dedicated to learning this story — a story that promises to add another interesting page to Westport Island history.
Dan Osterman’s Island Impressions
Though much of his artistic “ocean inspiration” has derived from Cape Cod and Monhegan Island, for six weeks in time, Dan Osterman was inspired by Westport Island. Osterman was an artist in residency at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation on East Shore Road in the winter of 2006.
Although it was cold, Osterman drew and painted while exploring the Island. “Twilight on the Sheepscot” and the “House on the Curve” were done “plein air” along East Shore Road. “Under the Dock” began as a drawing from his East Shore rambles and became a painting later. The marsh paintings were two of several he did of the marsh behind the MacNamara barn. …And, “Maine Inlet at Low Tide”, the vertical pen and ink scene, evolved in his studio where he was primed with cranked up music and contemplating his raw sketches on a large plank of wood.
One of Osterman’s most contemplative spots was the inlet on Jerry Day Mason’s property with its rhythm of tides and winter ice lines. That spot inspired his “Inlet” painting. He believes he spoke with Jerry at the time and that she was the sweet lady he gave a small version of his “Inlet” painting to as an expression of his appreciation.
Osterman’s boldest Westport piece, the yellow painting of “Clouds on the Horizon”, represented an overall impression of his Westport experience. The painting is also representative of why he is drawn to the coast to paint: “I go to the sea where the land disappears, and the clouds stack up, and the elements fight for supremacy.”
Dan Osterman lives and works in Boston these days where he has a studio in the Fort Point Arts Community, but he has continuing ties to Maine. His wife’s parents are from Maine, and several artists who have influenced his style were regular pilgrims to Monhegan’s summer art colony. For both the artistic tradition of the area as well as its coastal horizons, he looks forward to a trip back to Westport and Wiscasset. His work, including Westport pieces, can be purchased at his shop on Etsy; and he can be contacted at email@example.com.
When 8-year old Mara Abbott put crayons to paper to create a t-shirt design for Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools (FARMS), she had lots of “farm inspiration” to draw on. There was a time when much of the land on Westport Island was farmland. Produce, poultry and berries were grown for residents as well as ferried by boat to Southport and other islands off Boothbay Harbor. Although that’s not true today, farms are still integral to the Island character.
FARMS sponsored its first annual T-shirt design contest this year. Entries were sought in the newspaper, and students from at least five schools submitted design artwork. The winner for grades k-6…was our own hometown hero, Mara Abbott!
Where did Mara find her inspiration? One thing she thought about were past visits to the Squire Tarbox Farm — the Island’s oldest farm — where she saw chickens and pigs. Her inspiration began with thoughts of visiting the farm and her favorite farm animals: rabbits, cats, horses and chickens. She thought about her parents’ garden and and other local gardens where tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and corn are grown. And, she thought about what her school’s FARM Coordinator, Abby Plummer, always talks about: recycling and eating fresh food grown on neighborhood farms.
The FARM program at WPS (Wiscasset Primary School) is about how to integrate farming and eating well into early education. Children learn how to grow food organically, eat nutritiously and support local farms and economies. When asked about her response to Mara’s t-shirt design, “FARM Abby” said “We love it!!!! It really captures the mission of FARMS.”
To support Westport Island farmers — from May to October — visit the Tarbox Farm on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; or visit the Boothbay Farmers Market on Thursday mornings or the Bath Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to buy produce from the Tarbox Farm or microgreens from Westport’s Judy Hughes at MicroMainea.
William Oberst’s Island Diary
Perched on East Shore Road with a view to Long Cove sits an 1860’s barn moved to Westport Island from Pennsylvania. The distinctively-renovated barn houses the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation’s artists’ residency program. Since 2002, as finances have allowed, small groups of artists – fine artists, crafts persons, writers, and photographers – have been awarded “sabbaticals” allowing them expense-paid time to develop their crafts here on Westport Island.
The “art-colony” program was the realization of a dream for Maureen MacNamara Barrett: a dream unknown to many on the Island.
One of the artists who has benefited from the MacNamara program, is William Oberst, a painter now living in North Adams, Massachusetts. He spent six weeks here in 2007 and is sharing some of his thoughts.
Although always a painter at some level, Oberst didn’t pursue a formal education in the arts until his late 40’s, after which he taught college-level painting and drawing. Until coming to the artists’ program on Westport Island, he was an oil painter who focused on portraits of people. The Island, as a place, changed his focus. When he arrived here: saw the rocks, the water, his spectacular cottage, the dark of night lit only by stars — and he heard only lobster boats and birds at the break of day — he didn’t want to be tied to a canvas. He wanted to take advantage of where he found himself.
When Maureen Barrett brought him and fellow residents to an art supply store in Portland, he bought watercolors. In the ensuing weeks, he ferried a portable chair and his watercolors along our shore where he painted 12 of his first watercolors.
Oberst spent much of his painting time at Kehail Point where he was transfixed by a shoreline of rocks, gravel, high and low tide bands, and the different zones of rock. He also became fascinated with the portability, the spontaneity, and the “gesture” of watercolors.
Like the other artists who came here to discover something new about their craft, he discovered our Island. In appreciation for his experience here, he is sharing his visual Westport Island diary…