Friday, July 8, 2016

"The Acadia Centennial Collection Show" at The Gallery at Somes Sound: My journey in painting “In Reverence to Lane” and “The Pull of the Sea"

“In Reverence to Lane” by Diana Cobb Ansley
After Fitz Henry Lane’s “Entrance to Somes Sound from Southwest Harbor"

Fitz Henry Lane’s “Entrance to Somes Sound From Southwest Harbor” has a special significance for me as my ancestor,  Abraham Somes sailed up Somes Sound to settle Mount Desert in 1761.  We had a print of the painting in our dining room in Somesville as I was growing up.  I had always been amazed by Lane’s use of light.  I knew that it was painted somewhere off of Manset, but it wasn’t until last summer that I saw the light he painted. 

I was in Manset around 7:30 in the evening as the sun was setting. The mountains were saturated with a glow of light appearing almost bare as the light blocked the tree-covered mountains.  I finally understood the light he had achieved and began to scope out various views for a plein air painting. Over the winter, I was thrilled to be asked to recreate a work for the Centennial Show and I knew Fitz Henry Lane’s Entrance to Somes Sound would be a great challenge.  I named this painting “In Reverence to Lane”.

Before I began I did a great deal of research about Lane and The Entrance to Somes Sound.  The Cape Ann Museum and John Wilmerding’s “The Artist’s of Mount Desert” were wonderful resources. Lane did the painting in 1852 at the age of 48.  Lane came to Mount Desert over several years.  In 1850 he first sketched the view of Somes Sound sitting in the stern of a vessel while sailing up the sound. He came again in 1852 with his friend from Castine, Maine Joseph L. Stevens, Jr. who hired the sloop “Superior” to come to Mount Desert.  In the diary of William Witherle, a member of the boating party, he mentions that Lane took a sketch especially when the water was calm. Lane often stayed on board the boat, while the others went ashore. He walked with crutches and was lame as a child possibly from polio.

I also found sketches by Lane of the sails and studied rigging on similar vessels.  I then painted a grisaille of the vessel, which is a painting done in shades of a neutral color.  I used burnt sienna for the grisaille in order to study the values in the sails.

Old postcards of the view enabled me to see his perspective points-- in one account it said he had often sketched in the crow’s nest of a ship.  I could see that his perspective was lower and probably done off the stern of the Superior.

Lastly, I was trying to decide on my color scheme based on the three images I had of the painting.   I had read a report about Fitz Henry Lane’s work versus an artist named Mary Blood Mellen.  Mellen was a student of Lane’s and may have collaborated with Lane in some of his paintings. The report stated Lane’s palette was restrained and subtle with soft blues.  I wanted to maintain the same soft palette he used, as it is his light and subtle palette which make this painting.  Then I did a small color study of the view to see how Lane’s light pervaded the scene.  I usually begin my paintings with a ground of cadmium scarlet or rose red and orange, but it just did not feel right to tone the canvas.  I felt I would not be able to achieve the light with a red under painting so I began with a blank canvas.

This painting was more difficult to make my own than my rendition of the Frederic Church’s painting.  There was a mostly clear blue sky reflected in almost dead calm water in the Lane painting.  I love history and thought that the painting would lose some of its power without the towering period vessel Lane used and the charming figures and dory in the foreground.  I wanted to show in a modern version the grandeur and power that drew people to travel to Mount Desert after they had viewed these paintings.

It was fascinating to recreate this painting as you could see into Lane’s mind as he made decisions on how he would treat different aspects of the painting. Despite the appearance of it feeling sparse and full of air, the amount of detail in the painting is amazing.  I wonder if he could have seen from his vantage point every line in the rigging that he detailed or whether he just knew it should be there. Lane made calculated decisions on the placement of every house and item.  I tired to match up some of the houses with the early postcards I found without success. In this painting there were 12 buildings with reflections that is 24 structures, 8 boats, countless riggings and 3 figures. One of the people had an odd cap that was unfamiliar.  In my research I found it was called a thrumbcap- a dense woven cap used by sailors at sea for warmth and also the namesake of a rocky outcropping call Thrumcap off Ocean Drive.

I found Lane had lightened a mountain that I believe would have been in shadow using his artistic license to help pop the dark sail on the left in the foreground of the vessel.   He chose not to continue the light reflections in the water perhaps not to break the wonderful expanse of blue.

In the end my goal was to capture the light that made this painting a stunning example of Luminism.  I simplified several aspects and even left out one vessel, as I wanted the left opening to stay pure light.  I pushed the color a bit more, but did not want to lose the simplicity of the color scheme.  It seemed every time I made even a slight change the light seemed out of balance.  I hope I achieved in recreating the spectacular view that captivated Lane and portrays the grandeur of Somes Sound which ultimately drew rusticators to Mount Desert Island

“The Pull of the Sea” by Diana Cobb Ansley
 After Frederic Church’s “Newport Mountain" 

I have always been drawn to the work of artists Fitz Henry Lane and Frederic Church as they both stayed at the inn next to my family home in Somesville, Maine.  Frederic Church invited my family with many of the villagers to a grand party during their stay in Somesville. According to Dr. Virginia Somes Sanderson, my cousin, in her book “The Living Past”, the invitation for the party was in Emma Frances Somes diary.  It read "The Boarders at Mr. Daniel Somes’ will be happy to see Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Somes and family Tuesday evening, August 28, at 1/2 past six”.

Last summer while I was painting up at Katahdin, I was determined to track down Frederic Church’s camp that he built on Millinocket Lake. It was way off the grid and quite interesting to see where he came after painting Mount Desert.  So it is a bit ironic that I had this opportunity to paint Church’s “Newport Mountain”.  Newport Mountain changed names and is currently known as Champlain Mountain.

In this second painting for the Acadia Centennial Collection Show I felt I could be freer and make it more in my style.  I named this the “Pull of the Sea” in reference to Church’s use of the sailor pulling a mast out of the sea indicating the possible perils of the sea.  My goal was to be more painterly and less detailed than Church and too keep that feeling of the power of the sea. 

I had scoped out this site the summer before, as I wanted to determine where he painted this view.  I found that it was probably on private land, but later read in John Wilmerding’s book that he believed that this view was taken from a combination of preparatory sketches “The final composition partially conflates and adjusts elements of the landscape, as different angles of view of the mountain and headlands are synthesized while still remaining true to the specific place.” Church did sketches while visiting the Lyman farm at Great Head.

This is an area I am familiar with, as I have painted on ocean drive many times.  The light appeared to be late day which is my preferred time of painting as the shadows are long and the light is golden.  I kept the light and eliminated many details from the painting.  Church had made notes of the fact there were birch trees in the middle ground which he perfectly delineated.  My focus was to convey the power of the sea with and the breadth of the landscape while remaining looser and more painterly.  

I changed the figure in the foreground especially his face. I have a great respect for the work that it took Church to paint the rocks in such detail.  It would have taken another couple of months to achieve the extent of detail he used. It was a pleasure to do the shallow water in the foreground with so many variations and colors.   The sky was similar to skies I have painted and so this painting seemed to flow from me.

It was an honor to recreate these two works with a contemporary feel and I hope you will have an opportunity to visit The Acadia Centennial Collection on view till October 31st.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


In late September I could not leave Maine without travelling again up to Millinocket and Baxter State Park to paint Katahdin Mountain. Last year we arrived at the peak of the fall color.  This year only the maples were showing their color and the Indian Summer in Maine was continuing. My friend, Paula Vogel, has climbed Katahdin over 30 times and even attended Girl Scout camp at Camp Natarswi just at the base of Katahdin.  We are both drawn to the mountain and wanted to capture it from all sides and weather conditions.  This was the view from our cabin at Twin Pines!

Many of the magnificent views of Katahdin are down rough and remote logging roads.  The logging trucks travel at speeds of 100 mph and we hired Bryant Davis a Registered Maine Guide of Maine Quest Advertures to take us on the back roads.  This year he took us in to the controversial newly proposed National Park by the former co-founder of Burt's Bees.  Roxanne Quimby has purchased over 100,000 acres in hopes of creating a new National Park. (See Boston Globe article "A Feud as Big as the Great Outdoors" 11/17/2013) We went to a spot within the proposed park to the "Lookout".  It had an expansive view looking back at Millinocket Lake in one direction and to Katahdin in the other direction. 


We had traveled over 18 miles up and down rocky roads to this little piece of heaven and I took advantage of painting both views.  As the sun set we were joined by locals for the sunset cocktail hour! 

We worked to the last light and travelled over the dusty road and were back at our cabin by 7:30.  A spectacular day ending with dinner at River Drivers.  Just as we thought the day was done we were mesmerized by a perfect view of
the Super Moon and the scarlet eclipse which was magnificent from Millinocket Lake. In the morning I woke up early to capture the sunrise and caught the moon setting as the sun was rising.  

The light changed dramatically by the minute and it was difficult to capture.  I just had to decide what moment I wanted to remember and capture.  Every direction was a painting and every view changed.

Mid-day Paula and I kayaked out to some of the amazing islands on Millinocket Lake and even took a swim! We knew artist Frederic Church's camp on Millinocket Lake was nearby so we kayaked up the shore, but with no luck. 


Bryant Davis picked us up for another afternoon in search of views of Katahdin. He is a wealth of information on every aspect of the area. This time we were on black top and found several wonderful views off of the interstate and up in Sherman and Patten.  The remaining effects of tropical storm Joaquin were approaching the area and we were losing the good weather.  We were captivated by the cloud formations from the incoming weather.






We lost time following the weather, and double backed through Patten to this view to paint and painted till the sun was setting.


The clouds followed us back to Twin Pines for the evening show over Millinocket Lake.

Overnight the raindrops began and the day was grey.  On our way out we found the road to Frederick Church's camp on Millinocket Lake.  Frederic Church painted on Mount Desert and stayed next to my family home on Mount Desert in 1855. He sketched the view from our house and I have always been fascinated with his work. Frederic Church's visit is recounted in a month long diary account  written by Charles Tracy one of the twenty-seven members of the party visiting Mount Desert.  My family the Somes were invited to a party for the villagers and it was described in the diary.  Frederic Church initially came to Mount Desert following in the footsteps of his teacher Thomas Cole who visited in the 1840's.  So I was excited to see the cabin he eventually made on Millinocket Lake.  Church's home "Rhodora" was named for the species of Rhododendron that      grew near the cabin. The house is in tact, but the contents according to the current owners were given to Olana Church's home in the Hudson River Valley.

The ice house where the current owners Ray Woodworth and Jen Hall live.  The Woodworth's have a long family history with the property and an appreciation for living off the grid. 

The small cabin on the left is the original cabin owned by Frederic Church and his wife. Church stayed here from 1878 to 1898.  His caretaker Eugene Hale rented the cabin when Church was not there. In an old advertisement for Camp Rhodora it stated "Ladies can be perfectly comfortable here.  Bathing, cold spring water, ice, cow, etc, A grand view of Mt. Katahdin and the Lake."

Interior of the Church cabin looking toward the lake

Interior View

Interior view

 Campsite at Millinocket 1879 Oil on Canvas 12 1/2 x 17 by Jervis McEntee.  He visited Church's camp one year after Church owned the property.

Church's son Louis added on to his father's camp with the above cabin.

View from the kitchen

If you look carefully the mantel has the profile of Katahdin set in with rocks.

Louis and Frederic Church's camps.  The rock wall was added when the lake height was raised.  Church entertained at the camp and had other artists visit such as Sanford Gifford and Jervis McEntee.  Jen Hall said the island to the left from the camp was where the servants lived. 

The weather was not cooperating, but we found the beach where this work was painted by Church right in front of the house!


The Woolworth family bought the property from Church's heirs and are restoring each building.  One of our favorites was the lake side lean to.

There was a bathhouse on the property and the tub is now full of flowers and it has been turned into a bedroom with washboards for the headboard and decorated with bowls and pitchers for washing.  All is still very rustic, but there are modern outhouses, water is pumped in, and the lake is perfect for bathing.

Converted Bathhouse

Converted Bathhouse

Converted Bathhouse

Just had to take this amazing birch tree

Another Guest house called the Honeymoon suite

Vegetables are everywhere and the apples are the size of croquet balls!

This was a sweet garden with succulents growing inside of old boots

Some Pigs!

It was amazing to step back in time to a place full of history and the aura of a great painter still remains at Katahdin!

Frederic Edwin Church