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Marin Island, Small Point Maine, by John Marin

One of my first memories of moving to the East Coast from a childhood in California was discovering Maine. My first 10 years as an expatriated West Coaster were spent in Manhattan, but almost every summer I made the trek Down East on my way to a friend’s island in Canada.

My love of that landscape was instantaneous. It felt familiar. Looking back, I think that was because it shared some of the ruggedness of Point Lobos near Monterey, a favorite childhood spot. (During a recent visit to Point Lobos, I discovered that a number of movies set in Maine and New England were actually filmed at Point Lobos. It was, after all, significantly closer to Hollywood.)

But my attachment to what is wild and yet welcoming is no surprise and actually rather predictable. Many artists have had a love affair with Maine: Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Randall Davey and Leon Kroll at Monhegan Island; Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley and Robert Laurent in Ogunquit, among many other artists and locations.

But what I didn’t realize is that there is also a rich history of artists in and around Small Point, the place I love most of all. Thanks to a fascinating show currently on view at the Portland Museum of Art, Maine Moderns: Art in Seguinland, 1900–1940, I can add the area around the Seguin Lighthouse—thus the name—that includes Phippsburg, Georgetown, Small Point and Robinhood Cove to the list of important early 20th century artist communities.

Many of the artists whose works were being shown at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery (one time husband to Georgia O’Keefe) in New York ended up coming to the area along the coast outside of Bath. Some built homes, some were guests. But the list is impressive: John Marin, Mardsen Hartley, Max Weber, Marguerite and William Zorach, Gaston Lachaise, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand, F. Holland Day, Clarence White. And who knew that the small island that sits in Small Point Harbor, an island I’ve looked at innumerable times, was actually the home of Marin at one point? Many of the houses built by these visiting artists during that period are still standing.

This show, along with John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury exhibit that highlights work from his later years living at Cape Split, Maine, solidifies the significant—and often understated—role the unique Maine landscape has played in the development of American modern art. One more reason for its special place in my life.