For two centuries the stunning beauty and dramatic power of the Maine landscape have inspired generations of American artists. Among them: Frederic E. Church, Thomas Cole, George Bellows, Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. Three generations of the Wyeth family have lived and worked in Maine.
All have profoundly influenced American art. This vibrant tradition continues today in the work of professional and amateur artists who call Maine their home.
Visitors can take their own art-filled journey to see the work of these artists and many others by following the Maine Art Trail offering more than 73,000 works of art in seven museums from Ogunquit to Bangor. The museums feature paintings from Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Renoir, as well as contemporary prints and sculpture.
From Boston, take I95 north to Route 1 where your art-filled journey begins. First stop is Nubble Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S. Artists with easels set up are oblivious to curious tourists taking selfies. Nubble Light sits atop a large rock island a few hundred feet offshore and is 15 minutes away from York.
The town of Ogunquit began to lure fine artists in the l880s when they became enchanted with the artists’ paradise of Perkins cove, a quaint inlet with sailing dories and weathered fish shacks. Ogunquit is a well-established artists’ colony. The Museum of American Art, along with galleries, art studios, and beachside cafes, is the main attraction.
Once praised as “the most beautiful small museum in the world,” the museum is perched high above the rocks in Narrow Cove. An all-glass wall looks over a spectacular expanse of ocean.
The well-loved Marginal Way, a paved footpath above the cliffs, is an outdoor museum in its own right. The path meanders through bayberry bushes and sea roses. Here, artists are at work capturing panoramic sweeping views of the ocean. People stroll the Marginal Way to unwind and soak in the atmosphere.
In Kennebunkport, it’s easy to see how Maine’s majestic natural surroundings and seascapes encourage a swell of creativity in amateur and professional artists alike. The crash of waves on the rocks below, the rush of wind and taste of salt air are a primal force that few can explain. You know you’re in Maine.
Kennebunkport has several art galleries, as well as many turn of the century grand hotels and mansions on the ocean. The Maine Art Gallery in Kennebunk displays works from 30 artists. The Kennebunkport Historical Society houses the First Families Museum at White Columns in an l853 Greek revival home.
The Portland Museum of Art is the pride of this city, also a cultural haven. Art at the museum embodies the quintessential Maine ideals of fierce independence, innovation, and self sufficiency.
“Artists have been coming to Maine since the l800s,” said Museum Director Mark Bessire. He cites an intriguing reason for the state’s artistic allure—the Northern high-contrast light.” This sublime nature of air and light has a mesmerizing effect not unlike that in Honfleur, a picturesque city in France’s Normandy region and subject for French artists.
The art trail came together in the early 2000s to bring a greater awareness to Maine’s art history. “The museums felt they had a great story to tell and they wanted more people to share that story,” Bessire said.
The Portland Art Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the life of Winslow Homer, the great American artist. Homer, often called the American Monet, painted many of his masterpieces from l883 to his death in l910 at this oceanfront studio, one of the most magnificent locations in the history of American art.
Tour busses take visitors from the museum to Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck, a half hour drive. Bathed by the constant ebb and flow of the ocean, this spit of land is illustrated in Homer’s painting, Cannon Rock, now at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Walk in the artist’s footsteps past the juniper trees to the mile-long Cliff Walk. This jagged shoreline was the inspiration for High Cliff, Coast of Maine, now at the National Gallery of Art. Down below, Kettle Cove is reached at the end of the walk, where Homer created his final work, Driftwood.
Today, Homer’s world is accessible to all, thanks to the Portland Museum of Art which restored the two-story structure.
Head north on the art trail to tour other museums:
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick
The Monhegan Museum of Art and History on Monhegan Island
The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland
Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston
Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville
University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor
The Maine Art Trail provides a way to discover the state’s beauty and culture through its museums and art galleries. Here, art is a way of life.