Discovering Marsden Hartley in Stoneham, Maine

An Interview with Dan Barker

While researching Marsden Hartley’s years in western Maine, Lunder Curator of American Art Beth Finch had the pleasure of meeting Dan Barker, a retired teacher and lifelong Stoneham resident. Recently Beth returned to the area to talk with Mr. Barker about his own research on the history of the area. They met in nearby Lovell at the Lewis Dana Hill Memorial Library where Library Director Dennis Hodge had created a wonderful display dedicated to the exhibition Marsden Hartley’s Maine.

Dan Barker, with photographs from his collection.

Beth Finch: How did your research begin?

Dan Barker: It started back thirty or forty years ago. I was noticing that the houses in Stoneham were disappearing. They had burned or had fallen into disrepair. I went knocking on the doors of the houses that remained to find old pictures. If I didn’t collect them, they would be lost forever. I wanted to create records of the architecture in this area, but I also began to put together pictures of people. I got interested in the local genealogy. In Stoneham you can’t just do one family because they are so interconnected here. My family goes back ten generations including my daughter, Faith Barker ’02. My family is descended from the original settlers who came here.

Originally I planned on documenting all the houses that were gone. I felt they should be remembered. I would meet one person and they would connect me with someone else. I would stop by their place or call them and ask, “Can I come talk with you about what it was like in Stoneham?” I often did these visits on my way home from a day of teaching. Some people came to expect me and when I arrived they’d say, “You’re late today!”

Marsden Hartley display at the Lewis Dana Hill Memorial Library.

BF: How did you learn about Marsden Hartley?

DB: I was still interested in the houses foremost. Some of the people I spoke with would mention Marsden Hartley but his name was new to me and I didn’t know of a connection between him and a local family. But Hartley’s name came up often and some people mentioned that he had lived in the Hut. You’ll recall there’s the Hut Road and you and I visited it when you were here last. The Hut was a house that people would stay in for a brief period and move on. My family stayed in their house for sixty-five years but this place was more like temporary housing, transient.

Eventually I learned that Hartley was an artist who had been born in Lewiston and occasionally the Lewiston Sun Journal would publish something on him. I began keeping the clippings from these stories. There has always been a close connection between Stoneham and the nearby towns and cities, including Lewiston.

North Lovell cabin known as the Hut.

BF: What industries were in this area?

DB: There were lumber mills and cooper shops. Also dairy as well as apple farmers. But it was remote; the closest trains were Bridgton and Fryeburg. Hartley took the stage [coach] from there to Lovell, which is near Stoneham. Once here, he would walk between towns. The thing about Stoneham is that it’s at the hub of all these other towns: Waterford, Bridgton, Fryeburg, Bethel, and Lovell. The whole ridge of mountains is the Stoneham town line.

BF: Yes, when I’m here, I feel like I’m encircled by mountains.

DB: Right, it’s remote but well situated. When the road was built between Bethel and Fryeburg at the turn of the century, that opened up the whole area for logging.

BF: What about tourism in this area?

DB: People came by word of mouth, and tourism and summer residents were then and still are integral to this area, but the season is short. When Hartley was in the area, there were families who offered places to stay; they functioned much like the bed-and-breakfasts of today. My grandparents cleaned the summer places around Keewaydin Lake, which is in Stoneham. My grandfather was also a mail carrier for forty-three years and in the winter he used a sleigh. You could say, “Could you take this pie and give it to Sarah up the road?” and he would do it.

BF: So he was willing to carry more than just the mail!

DB: Yes, indeed.

BF: Tell me about Hartley’s friend Wesley Adams, the Stoneham resident whom he wrote about late in life, working from his memories.

DB: Wesley’s grandfather was one of the first settlers, and Wesley has been portrayed by Hartley and others as living a simple life but he had a role in this community. He would go around town and he would say, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” And he would pick everything up and deliver it. He visited and called on people. He was also a wilderness guide.

Field with Wesley Adams’ cabin, North Stoneham.

BF: One of the paintings in our exhibition depicts an ice hole. Can you talk about that industry in this area? 

DB: The harvesting would start in January into February and they had big saws. They would cut the blocks and local people would put the ice up in icehouses. It was mostly a local business, not like the big outfits elsewhere.

In other paintings in the exhibition you can see things that recall this area. Some of the paintings evoke Speckled Mountain and Durgin Mountain as well as Miles Notch. Also, houses like the ones he painted can still be seen in this area. He liked to walk and spent a lot of time on the road. He collected thoughts and memories and then used them later on somewhere else. The waterfall Hartley painted is on Great Brook and today you can’t see it because it’s all grown back up with forest growth. I’ve shown you the picture of Sidney and Abbie McAllister, the children of Eastman McAllister, who owned and farmed that land. It’s now part of the White Mountain National Forest.

The Ice Hole, Maine, 1908–9. Oil on canvas, 34 x 34 in. (86.4 x 86.4 cm). New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum Purchase through the Ella West Freeman Foundation Matching Fund.

When I started doing research I had an uncle in his nineties and I would interview him once a week and we’d go over cemetery notes, town history notes. In the early 1900s my grandfather and his brothers were working for a local farmer and logger. They spent hours building stone walls in this area. They worked for Jonathan Bartlett Jr. He owned lots of land. Dairy. There’s a place in North Stoneham that has no rocks and Stoneham is aptly named—it is full of rocks! Well, the boys who worked for the Bartletts cleared them, stacked them, and made walls. It’s mind-boggling how hard they worked. I’m the last one. The person who has stayed here. I’m part of the Stoneham earth. This area has become a bedroom community for people who work in Lewiston, Conway, and even Portland, but Stoneham is still a world away, not unlike it was for Hartley back at the turn of the century.