When Artwork Whispers: Cape Ann’s Creative Heritage

Summer, Marine Railways.    Nell Blaine (1922-1996)

by Holly Clay

You could say our geographical roots are showing at Cape Ann Collectors (CAC), a recently opened art gallery at 474 Washington Street in Gloucester. The pieces on display celebrate the best of the island’s oeuvre, and do so comprehensively.

For starters, the gallery features works by artists who contributed to exhibits at Gallery-on-the-Moors on Ledge Road, in East Gloucester, (1916-1922), the first local venue to show Cape Ann artists’ works. Prominent artists such as William Meyerowitz, John Sloan, Stuart Davis and Frank Duveneck were featured.  Founders William and Emmeline Atwood hired architect Ralph Adams Cram to design the building, which, like the exhibiting artists’ reputations, still stands.

Atwood’s ‘Gallery on the Moors’

CAC dedicates itself to acquiring, displaying and making available these once-upon-a-time trend-setters. Among a host of other Cape Ann masters, CAC has presented works by painters who showed at the premiere exhibit at Gallery-on-the-Moor, in 1916, including: Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002); Hayley Lever (1876-1958); Jane Peterson (1876-1965); Ethel Louise Paddock (1887-1975); and Child Hassam (1859-1935).

Janet Ware, Ann Mechem Ziergiebel and Molly Ziergiebel Anderson launched CAC collaboratively, with an eye to past masters. Just like the art they promote, the three CAC principals have deep roots on Cape Ann

Molly Ziergiebel

“It is a perfect storm of us three,” says Ann. “Each of us has another full-time career.”

And, each woman is an artist in her own right, with an abiding and passionate interest in others’ work. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the new gallery is owned and managed by women. Half of the artists represented at CAC are women.   In keeping with the pioneering tradition of women in the arts on Cape Ann, CAC has featured Teresa Bernstein and Ethel Louise Paddock, who were muses for each other and participants in the early feminist movement.  CAC has also shown art by Virginia Gruppe, the lesser-known sister of Emil Gruppe, and by Nell Blaine, who was an established painter in New York before coming to Gloucester.

The gallery equally reflects the proprietors’ Gloucester and Rockport experiences. Janet, the director, has collected local art for decades, while owner Ann, grew up in a family deeply immersed in the fine arts. The same might be said for gallery manager, Ann’s daughter Molly. On a professional basis, Molly has run art galleries in the greater New England area. But as far as inspiration is concerned, daughter, like mother, can look to a long, arts-imbued line of ancestors.

Ann Ziergiebel & Janet Ware holding works by Teresa Bernstein and Ethel Louise Paddock.

Ann’s grandfather and Molly’s great grandfather, Frederick H. Norton, taught at MIT. A ceramicist and ultimately professor emeritus of ceramics, he developed a superior terra cotta clay in the mid-20th century. Walker Hancock and George Demetrios, Norton’s neighbors and sculptors-in-arms, tried and tested the product.

The two “coveted” the material, says Ann. “It had unique qualities of elasticity, allowing for multiple castings.”

In addition, Norton’s sisters and Norton himself were artistically inclined, Ann says: “My grandfather regularly hosted portrait and figure study sessions at his cathedral-like studio on Revere Street, in the Lanesville Wood. These were attended by many prominent Lanesville artists of the time including Hancock, Demetrios, and Virginia Lee Burton. Peggy and Dorothy Norton were acclaimed members of the renowned Folly Cove Designers.”

Ann, Janet and Molly didn’t start out to assemble a collection of Cape Ann masters, or any other kind of collection, for that matter.

“We didn’t think it (Ann’s house) would be a gallery,” Ann says.

However, three pieces of artwork emerged on their immediate horizon: two Walker Hancock basketball player sculptures and a George Demetrius’ drawing (pencil on paper). If one were to count, crafted by her grandfather, there were four pieces. These acted as a catalyst for a reaction the three didn’t expect.

The sculpted head of 12-year-old Ann Norton Mechem (Ann Ziergiebel).

“The gallery started as a ‘salon.’” Ann and Janet say: “We placed items together [in a sitting room on the ground floor). There’s lots of light. Dusk is beautiful, the sunsets, too. It’s on the water. All the key elements are here.”

The space became a metaphor for a collection of works depicting sea-drenched Cape Ann. It mirrors the history of the arts on Cape Ann and the community of artists.

“We found ourselves drawn to bring the most historically and artistically significant works from Cape Ann into this space,” says Ann.

Ann, Janet and Molly write: “Cape Ann has been home (and second or third home) to thousands of talented artists over centuries. While we find inspiration in almost all of them, our collection focuses on the artists who have made the most significant lasting contributions to the Cape Ann artistic legacy.”

“There’s no reason why anyone cannot own extraordinary art,” Janet and Ann claim.

According to Ann and Janet, their aim is to acquire “undervalued or underestimated art, pieces that have been over looked or misinterpreted… The ‘Movalli’ we have is a good example of this,” they explain.

Lobster Cove, Annisquam.    Charles Movalli (1945–2016)

CAC had Movalli’s oil painting completely restored. The gallery offers Movalli’s Lobster Cove, Annisquam for a respectfully moderate price, in keeping with their mission to encourage viewers and buyers from all socio-economic backgrounds, and most especially those with limited resources. Thus, at CAC works range from an affordable hundred dollars up to just a high of ten thousand dollars.

Their approach is calculated to keep the costs down. To begin with, CAC finds and displays underrated works of Cape Ann masters. Then, in addition, the gallery’s proprietors have unusual control. CAC owns every piece offered for sale.

“We bring back these treasures responsibly,” says Ann.

They make an investment in refinishing and reframing, replacing old mats with archival ones, and using museum glass to protect framed pieces. The expenditure affects the quality of a piece more than it does the price tag. Thus, they keep a lid on prices while simultaneously maintaining high standards.

In the three years since CAC’s founding, the gallery and its overseers have evolved. The three talk extensively when exploring acquisition of a piece. As a consequence, the gallery’s three rooms currently house 51 pieces by 23 different artists.

Mystery Ship.    Artist unknown.

“Molly is the ‘acquisition genius,’” say Janet and Ann. “She works with a network of dealers, collectors, and galleries that know what we are looking for. In addition, a lot of pieces come over the transom by word of mouth or from private collections.”

A number of the works that have found their way to the gallery were lost . “The art objects are ‘lost and found.’ It’s like other processes, like grief is loss,” Ann says. “Molly usually runs across these ‘lost’ objects.” Ann and Janet join her in assessing them.”

For example, they found the George Demetrios drawing, the Hancock bronze sculptures, and the sculpted head of a girl, Ann, in the studio at the Norton Farm. Following a path that unearths a consequential find in the wake of loss, bestows a buoyant feeling of discovery, the owners say

“It makes us grateful. We’re grateful for the community heritage,” Ann adds.

Nude.    George Demetrios (1896-1974)

The “lost to found” process has reaped a visual and historic feast of rewards. In addition to the artists already mentioned, CAC has featured works by Charles Allan Grafly (1862-1929) and Anna Vaugh Hyatt [Huntington](1876-1973), renowned sculptors, displayed in 1916 at Gallery-on-the-Moors. So have pieces by Frederick Mulhaupt (1872-1938) and J. Eliot Enneking (1881-1942), whose works were also displayed at Gallery-on-the-Moors in 1917 and 1918, respectively. Further, in 1919, Gallery-on-the-Moors featured William Meyerowitz (1887-1981). Two of his etchings are currently shown at CAC.

Then, as now, Cape Ann brewed a dynamic mix of artists and styles. Beyond the generalized appeal of sculptures and images that represent Cape Ann’s familiar scenes in tantalizing ways, Cape Ann’s “legacy of egalitarianism” stands out prominently in its arts community. Firstly, women were accepted into the ranks of working artists on Cape Ann. But also, personalized expression and innovation were encouraged. Thus, style-wise, the visitor finds everything at Cape Ann Collectors: expressionism, modernism, realism, as well as lithographs, etchings, watercolors, and sculptures. The artists herald from both national and international backgrounds,

Sky Hook.    Walker Hancock (1901-1998)

Mulhaupt and John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), ostensibly the two most famous artists whose works appear at CAC, experimented stylistically and technically, as did many of the others whom CAC collects. Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), whose paintings have been known to grace CAC walls, went through a number of stylistic periods, as did Virginia.

In some cases the artists worked in multiple genres, and CAC offers these for viewing.

“We have six of Nell Blaine’s pieces, silk screens, water colors, prints and drawings,” Janet says. “The breadth of Nell Blaine’s (1922-1996) oeuvre: silkscreens, lithographs, water colors, brightly colored oils and prints has been an inspiration.”

“We have Hayley [Lever] (1875-1958) represented in oil, water color, etching, and ink and crayon,” she adds.

Sunset, Niles Beach.    Hayley Lever (1876 -1958)

Ann says having examples of artists’ work in multiple media allows “a comprehensive look at each artist. It draws people to see how the artist grew in her or his passion for work.”

The artists’ products evoke their life stories, compelling fodder for the viewing public. If one looks closely, and in an analytical way, which the gallery owners encourage, “the connection between the story and what inspired the work of art” become clear.

In order to foment a stronger connection between viewer and artist, CAC emphasizes relaxed open houses and socializing, a salon atmosphere in a home. Pieces become “animated” in the rooms of a house, the gallery owners believe.

Ann says, “The key is we want people to celebrate with us the deep historic and artistic roots on Cape Ann.

“When you love Cape Ann landscapes, people want to share. We want people to join us in investigating the settings.

“We only sell a piece of art to a customer if everybody thinks it’s a perfect match. We say ‘take it home, see if it works. Keep it for a while. See how it feels.’”

And if you’re inclined towards the deep reservoir of artistic output on Cape Ann and the masters who created, experimented and breathed the sea-infused air here, feel free to take a step back in time at CAC. Explore the roots.

As Ann and Janet say, “this caliber of art can be in anyone’s home.”

CAC showcases pieces of art at regularly scheduled viewings that are open to the public. The “soft opening” was held in June 2016. Among these events have been: Palette to Palate: The Pairing of art and Wine, Modernism on Cape Ann, Among Our Piers: Views from the Docks of Cape Ann.

Cape Ann Collectors

 The next Open Hours will be Saturday, April 27, from 3-7pm. That will be followed by another themed show the last week of June. CAC is always open by appointment. Call: 978.430.0414.

 The April event, “Wet-on-Wet: Watercolors of Cape Ann,” is based on recent acquisitions. The exhibit will also include works in multiple mediums previously acquired for display and sale.

 

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.

 

2 thoughts on “When Artwork Whispers: Cape Ann’s Creative Heritage

  1. A terrific write up on a group of thankfully same artists. I hope to get to the reception on Saturday.
    Mary McCarl

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