The Painter from Maine

Marsden Hartley in Literary and Artistic Context

As part of a tradition of collaboration and partnership with the Colby Museum, this fall Special Collections presented an exhibit featuring Marsden Hartley’s literary and artistic work along with other Maine writers and artists featured in our collections. The exhibit ran from September through November 2017.

Installation photograph featuring the title of Special Collections’ exhibit.

Special Collections was excited to collaborate with the Colby College Museum of Art in its celebration of the work of Marsden Hartley, the famed “painter from Maine.” On display in the cases across from Miller Library’s circulation desk, Hartley’s connections with Maine’s literary and artistic worlds were featured along with the statewide creative context in which he painted and wrote.

Cover image for Myron H. Avery’s Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Special Collections houses Colby’s rare books and manuscript collections as well as the college archives. Drawing on these rich collections, the exhibit highlighted Hartley’s own literary work as a lesser-known aspect of his creative career, as well as letters, manuscripts, and published works by some of the Maine writers Hartley knew and read. Other writers with strong connections to Maine whose manuscripts, letters, and books are housed in Special Collections include Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Celia Thaxter, and Mary Ellen Chase. The exhibit showcased writers like these as well as Hartley’s own roots in Lewiston and other places and people in Maine who were important parts of his life and his artistic career.

The first case, “Hartley’s Maine Roots,” explored Hartley’s connection to his hometown of Lewiston, where he was born in 1877. This case documented the mills that formed such a large part of Lewiston’s economy and daily life, and where Hartley himself was employed. It also included a photograph of Hartley’s mother, with whom he had a complicated relationship. The people and places of Hartley’s Maine background influenced his later work, as he depicted Maine landscapes and life in both paintings and poetry.

The second case, “Hartley’s Literary & Artistic Connections,” considered some of the other writers and artists whose work Hartley admired and was inspired by, some of whom were close friends. Writers such as Sarah Orne Jewett, Kenneth Roberts, Rachel Lyman Field, Mary Ellen Chase, Robert Peter Tristram Coffin, and Edwin Arlington Robinson were all important literary figures in Hartley’s day.

Cover page of Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods. Thoreau was a writer whose work Hartley admired.

The third case, “Hartley’s Geography,” examined some of the locations in Maine that were important to Hartley, and that appeared frequently in his work as he sought to establish himself as “the painter from Maine.” Hartley repeatedly returned to scenes of Mount Katahdin and a variety of Maine’s woods and waters in his painting. His work was contrasted with that of Marguerite Zorach and William Zorach, two talented artists with Maine connections and ties to the community of artists and writers who surrounded Alfred Stieglitz in New York—of which Hartley was also a part. Toward the end of his life, Hartley settled on the Gouldsboro Peninsula in Corea, Maine, where he continued to write and paint and where he was cared for by a local couple.


Installation photograph featuring a display relating Hartley’s work to that of Marguerite and William Zorach.

Cover image of Marilyn Hoffman Friedman’s Marguerite and William Zorach: The Cubist Years, 1915-1918.