Cahoon Museum of American Art

photo © 1996 Paul Murphy, Hyannis, MA

Cotuit, MA



Tell Me a Story - Chapter 2: Narrative Art of the Cape and Islands


This winter the Cahoon Museum of American Art delighted visitors with an exhibition of fiber-arts creations with "a narrative theme. This summer, the museum will present Tell Me a Story - Chapter 2: Narrative Art of the Cape and Islands from July 17 through September 15, 2001.

Art that tells a story has been a lively strain in American art, especially in the 19th century, when genre paintings were popular and interpretations of historical events and literary subjects were highly regarded. Although narrative art receded in importance as abstractionism dominated much of the 20th century, many artists today are adopting narrative approaches as they seek to tell more personal stories.

With a representation of more than 45 artists of the past and present, Tell Me a Story - Chapter 2 will explore narrative art as it's found expression in the microcosm of the Cape and islands. The earliest piece in the show is Michele Felice Cornè's 1802 painting of a shipwreck off the coast of Cape Cod. Three primitive paintings depict colorful character types of 19th-century Nantucket. Charles W. Hawthorne, who founded his Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown in 1899, is represented by "The Storybook," a tender painting of a mother reading to her child. "After the Blow" and "The Music Lesson" are two lithographs that Thomas Hart Benton did on Martha's Vineyard in the 1940s. (left: Charles W. Hawthorne, The Storybook, oil on canvas)

Works inspired by literature include an enchanting Max Bohm painting of King Arthur, an allegorical painting of a Fate by Ives Gammel and an imposing biblical scene by Caleb Arnold Slade. Although history painting was comparatively uncommon in the 20th century, Chatham artist Harold Dunbar found occasion to paint a scene of "Washington Bidding Farewell to His Troops,"

Narrative artists have long relished the theme of people at work - and their Cape and island counterparts have been no exception. Charles D. Cahoon's "The Cobbler," William L'Engle's "Building the Holland Tunnel," Robert Rogers' "Man-power Project" and Ben Shahn's study "Riveter #2" all present the common worker in a sympathetic light. Chaim Gross' watercolor "Fisherman's Reverie" combines figures of Provincetown fishermen with images of surrealistic fantasy.

Artists who like to tell stories often enjoy making people smile, as well. Humor plays a part in a self-portrait by Marston Hodgin; a Mervin Jules spoof on art critics; Ross Moffett's "Proper Bostonians"; a Red Grooms aquatint of Edward Hopper; and "Sewing," a new painting by Edith Vonnegut in which a classical nude performs a common task with uncommon heroism.

Works by such contemporary artists as Will Barnet, Carmen Cicero, Peter Coes, Jim Peters and Nora Speyer have a strong feeling of psychological unrest or a sense that reality is a bit askew. Three small paintings from Tabitha Vevers current series of "Flying Dreams" are a fascinating addition to the show.

The exhibition also includes four bronze plaques from Falmouth artist Sarah Peters' "The Industries of Falmouth" series, which will eventually be installed along Main Street in front of Falmouth Public Library. The series is an ongoing project of the Committee to Encourage Public Art, and the Cahoon Museum is pleased to play a part in introducing it to the public.

Read more about the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/2/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.