Cape Ann figured prominently in the life of Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876- 1973), the highly regarded 19th and 20th-century sculptor. From the studio on the family property, “Seven Acres,” on the Annisquam River, she and her older sister, Harriet kindled their love of natural life. Anna, especially, developed an abiding passion for creating figures that represent fauna, flora and marine life.
Anna cherished her weeks and months in Annisquam. Her family honored the legacy handed to them when, in 1878, they took possession of the Norwood house (c. 1666).
As Anna’s sister Harriet (Harriet Hyatt Mayor] put it in a letter to a friend, “Each year, my thoughts take early flight to Cape Ann, and rest there awaiting my bodily transportation….It was the same with my mother [“Beebe” Hyatt]; from Christmas on, she was restless and did not regain tranquility until she crossed the threshold;…
“This feeling of attraction reaches down to mother’s great grand children…[they are] devoted to Squam and in particular “Seven Acres,” and are never as happy as there.”
“I am convinced the Norwoods’ fine courageous lives left something in the house, a spiritual incandescence to beckon the living under the shelter of its rafters.”
Moving seasonally from Cambridge to their home on the spit of land where the River meets Goose Cove, the two young ladies experimented with clay, paint, and metal to their heart’s content. Anna’s studies focused on animals. She was following in the footsteps of her father, an eminent paleontologist, while simultaneously making her own unique imprint. Professor Alpheus Hyatt heartily indulged his love of animals, sea life, and collecting sea specimen while at “Seven Acres.” He founded the first marine laboratory in the United States, on the site of this “home away from home.” Once established, the laboratory moved to Cape Cod. Today we know it as the Woods Hole Marine Laboratory.
Anna’s first public-scale creation, a rendering of Joan of Arc mounted nobly atop a massive mount, graces the square by Gloucester’s Captain Lester S. Wass American Legion Post 3, where Washington and Middle Streets meet. Gloucester Daily Times reporter Ruth Pappas wrote on April 13, 1962, “The idea for Joan of Arc developed in Annisquam in 1908.” She said Anna used Gloucester’s fire horses as models. This was how she conceived a likeness of a “sturdy” horse.
Joan of Arc ended up paying tribute to the men and women who fought in WWI. At the formal unveiling in 1920, WWI soldiers and sailors and Cape Ann citizens gathered in remembrance of the Great War. The ceremony also marked the day the “Legion,” whose ranks included hundreds of Great War veterans, took possession of the grand, Greek Revival building, Gloucester’s first Town Hall. Gloucester’s “Joan” is one of several studies of France’s beatified heroine. All stand in prominent places. France awarded Huntington the Legion of Honor for its “Joan of Arc.” Anna was on hand to personally dedicate the Blois, France sculpture.
From Joan of Arc onwards, well into her mid-nineties, Anna continued to conceive and build her monumental animal representations. Her adult life and fame took her far from Annisquam, though she continued to have her own home here for many years. She married Archer M. Huntington, a prominent art collector, in 1923. The couple lived in New York City and established a retreat in Redding, Connecticut, rather than on Cape Ann. Still, Annisquam stayed in Anna’s heart. In 1971 she presented two sculptures to the Annisquam Art Gallery. Both are animal studies. The caricature of a horse is called “Portrait of a Friend” and the other “Six Monkeys.” (see below). They are cast in metal from the original sculptures. Today they reside in the gallery above the Exchange.
Over an extremely long and uncompromisingly dedicated life, Anna received literally thousands of awards and accolades. In addition to the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France honored the animalier with the Purple Rosette. Spain gave her the Grand Cross of Alfonso the XII and the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded her with its Gold Medal. And, her powerfully evocative works figure prominently in hundreds of museums and galleries around the world. She was one of the 20th century’s singularly most accomplished women.
In 1912, twelve women earned over $50,000; Anna was among them. And, Anna got her start in Massachusetts, bolstered and nourished by summers on Cape Ann. We too have been handed a legacy to honor.
Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society. With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.