Monhegan Island, an Artist’s Jewel

By, Corlis Carroll

Monhegan Island Artists

23 years ago I was a recent honors graduate of the University at Albany Art Program. I packed my paint and easel, left my Albany home and husband and drove to Port Clyde Maine. Once there I boarded a ferry (no cars allowed) that took me to Monhegan Island where I still live, 5 months of every year, without electricity. One solar panel and a 12 volt battery charges my phone and computer. Bottled propane feeds my stove and refrigerator and portable battery operated lamps light my evenings after the sun goes down.

I was born and raised in Green Island and I have called Albany home for my entire life. My Grandfather laid the sidewalks in Green Island in the late 1800’s and was the lock tender on Federal Lock #1 in Troy. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison met in the Green Island Park where I played as a child and orchestrated and engineered the dam and power plant that still provides power to that community. Theodore Edison, the son of Thomas Alva Edison, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Monhegan Associates, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Monhegan Island, my second home.

So, why would I choose to leave my home and husband for 5 months every year? The answer is simple: I love art and Monhegan Island is a place where conversations about art happen daily. I went there in 1981 with a friend for a 2 week vacation and then spent the next 15 years trying to figure out how I could live there.

Monhegan Island is located 10 miles off the Central Maine coast. This tiny isolated island has been attracting some of the world’s greatest artists for over 150 years. It’s natural beauty still lures artists from all over the United States every year for a chance to stand on her majestic cliffs (the tallest cliffs in the State of Maine), wander through her pristine forest (17 miles of hiking trails) and experience an active community of fish houses, lobster boats and fishermen . It is easy to imagine what life was like all those years ago. There is still a one-room school house on Monhegan (grades preK-8) and a year round population of approximately 40 people. There are trucks on the island for hauling freight from the boat and walking and golf carts are the dominant means of transportation. No cars allowed.

Famous artists such as George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Redfield and former Ausable Forks resident, Rockwell Kent, all painted on Monhegan. Artists who exhibited in the Armory Show of 1913, “The Show that Shocked America” all found a home in Monhegan where they worked and socialized during the summer months. American Sculpture, Louise Nevelson, claimed that Monhegan Island was the inspiration for her larger works for which she is famous.

Ted Edison, whose grave is marked in the Island Cemetery, saw the potential for conservation and worked the latter years of his life to prevent exploitation and development of the “Wild Lands” of Monhegan. He purchased property when it came up for sale, he convinced the locals that protecting Monhegan from development was a good thing to do and eventually endowed the Monhegan Associates with a vision for preservation and some funds to help the process along. Ted Edison was nothing short of a rockstar for the people of Monhegan, ten miles out to sea.

Artists from 7 states will be exhibited in a show at “The Corlis Gallery” in Albany. “Monhegan, Her Art and Her Artists” was supposed to run from April 2nd through May 17th, but with the current corona virus pandemic, this exhibit will be postponed until a later date. At that future date, yet to be determined, the exhibit will include works in sculpture, tapestry, painting, lithography, woodworking, collage, printmaking and photography.

Of particular interest is a work by noted American Artist, Jamie Wyeth. A small edition lithograph, signed and numbered, was a gift from Jamie and his wife Phyllis (sadly, now deceased) to my husband, Robert Bourgeois. The gift was compensation for a little “fender bender” that Bob had with Jamie in the Hannaford Parking Lot in Rockland, Maine. In one of Bob’s more astute moments, he told Jamie that he didn’t need his insurance information, “just a nice little signed sketch would be perfect.”  Jamie, son of artist Andrew Wyeth and Grandson of Illustrator NC Wyeth, did not disappoint! I am honored to present this work, a focal point of the show.

When we are able to safely host this exhibit, we will also feature two lectures, one on “Monhegan Art and the Art of Collecting” and one on “Visiting Monhegan, When to Go, How to Get There, and Where to Stay” are planned, both within the context of viewing the art collection. Please contact the gallery at 518-265-9509 or by email to [email protected]
for scheduling updates. We appreciate your interest and look forward to showing you this outstanding body of Monhegan Art in the very near future.”