Cape Ann Museum Reopens

Tour with Director Ronda Faloon

By: - Aug 15, 2014

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There is a rich and complex history to the fishing communities of Cape Ann. From the time of America’s most renowned seascape painter Fitz Henry Lane (December 19, 1804 – August 14, 1865) there has been a thriving colony of artists. Many of the renowned artists who worked in the area are included in the permanent collection of the eclectic Cape Ann Museum.

Closed since October, 2013 we were given a tour of the renovated museum just prior to its recent reopening. We walked through galleries in the process of reinstallation. Now and then our guide, Ronda Faloon, was stopped by workers with questions about the work in progress.

Charles Giuliano How long have you been director of The Cape Ann Museum?

Ronda Faloon I’ve worked here for ten years and been director for eight years. When I came here I had just finished a master’s degree in library science with a concentration on art and archives. I thought I would work in a library in the arts department. When I applied here I was looking into the library and they needed an assistant director.

The museum did a strategic plan in 2009. We realized that we had an amazing collection and they public loved the intimate feeling of the space. We also learned that we needed to reach out by making the museum more welcoming. There was a need to invest in the facilities to bring them up to the same level as the collections.

Our buildings include an 1804 historic house, a 1930s addition, 1960s addition, 1980s addition then a new gallery in 2001. The 1980s and new gallery are fine but we needed to look at the systems in the older parts of the museum. There was a need to upgrade HVAC. Our lighting was sub par. We had no sprinklers in a number of the galleries. So we made those upgrades and in the process a lot of cosmetic work. That entailed new ceilings and flooring.

This also gave us the opportunity to rethink the collection which has been entirely reinstalled.

We started the capital campaign in 2011 and just finished this July. In all we raised $5 million with $3.5 million for the renovation. The remaining money is for a lot of projects we are doing. This included publishing a catalogue raisonné for the Gloucester artist Fitz Henry Lane. We added some staff and updated the website. We are trying to raise seed money for acquisitions.

CG How many Lane paintings are in the collection?

RF We have forty paintings and a hundred drawings. It’s the largest Lane collection anywhere.

CG Do you loan them?

RF The Lanes? No. It’s our primary collection and we often have them on exhibit. It’s one of the primary drawing cards for people visiting our museum.

CG Did you read Sebastian Smee’s article in yesterday’s Sunday Globe about the loans for cash by the MFA?

RF (laughing) Yes. He’s been after them for awhile.

CG So your position is not to lend.

RF We’re very protective of those paintings. We have loaned in the past but it’s very rare. It’s a board decision. We lend other things but we’re a lot more protective about Lane.

CG How did so many of this works come to the museum?

RF We had a number of gifts in the ‘30s and ’40s. Alfred Mansfield Brooks who was a Gloucester raised art historian and college professor returned to Gloucester and retired here. He became the president of the museum. During the ‘40s and ‘50s he realized that people in this community had Lanes. He felt that they should remain here. So he encouraged many people to give them to the museum when they were ready.

CG Let’s look around.

RF We’re in the new lobby where we took down some walls and expanded the entrance. We didn’t gain much in terms of footprint. The renovation wasn’t about adding space but rather a focus on upgrading what we had. We took down walls and made this lobby more welcoming and added the gift shop.

CG Who was the architect?

RF Design Lab from Boston. Robert Miklos is the principal. We have an 1804 house that people didn’t know was available to tour. It is set up to show a ship captain’s life in the 1800s. The museum purchased the building in the 1920s. The house is available to visit. They have to go with a guide. There are four rooms with materials either owned by Captain Elias Davis or his contemporaries and decorative arts. We made that a lot more welcoming and open to the public.

We now have a new rest room here. A contemporary artist, Diane KW, asked if she could do an installation in our vestibule and rest room. She collects shards from multiple ship wrecks around the world. She took archival material from our museum about Captain Edward Babson and his wife Amanda. The four panels of “Strong Breezes and Passing Clouds,” are a new permanent installation at the museum.

(The shards came from the wrecks of the Wanli off Mayalasia, circa 1625; Cau Mau off Vietnam, 1725; Geldermalsen off Indonesia, 1752; Tek Sing, 1822, and Desaru, 1840, both in the South China Sea; and the S.S. Republic off the coast of Georgia in the Atlantic, 1865.)

She took writings from one year of his ship log and writing from the diary of his wife. She made decals of the excerpts of text and fired them back onto the ceramic shards. The blue are from his log and the orange from her diary. It’s a wonderful use of archival materials telling a contemporary story.

CG (Looking about the lobby at a number of expressionist landscape paintings.) Do you own these (Bernard) Chaet’s (1924-2012)?

RF Yes. When he died we were given first choice from the estate.

CG Is this all of them?

RF No. We have fifty paintings. We have a number of Self Portraits.

(Chaet evolved as a Boston Expressionist and graduate of the Museum School. He was invited to teach at Yale by Joseph Albers who appointed him chair of the painting department when he left. It was a position he held for a number of years. There was a rift between them when Chaet introduced what Albers considered reactionary figure drawing courses.)

This is a new gallery which we created. We lined up three doors. They used to be jagged and you would have to walk your way around. We put up walls and enclosed what we are calling a central gallery. That becomes our orientation space.

We have a niche collecting and displaying everything inspired by Cape Ann. On this wall we will have a large map. Here is Folly Cove. If you go upstairs to the gallery that houses the Folly Cove textile collection you will understand where it is located. This orientation space also covers the major themes of the museum the people, the industries, the place and the art. Each of the walls provides an overview of what you will find beyond the central gallery.

(Moving into the adjacent gallery) This was previously a dark hole. We have been able to upgrade our lighting. It was from the 1930s and 1960s. It was mostly down lighting with very few cans. Now we have tracks every four feet and a lot more lighting. Work that people may be familiar with looks totally different now.

CG (Moving into another gallery) This look like (Marsden) Hartley’s (January 4, 1877 – September 2, 1943) from his Dogtown Common series.

RF It’s chronological starting here with Native American artifacts. We have Paul Revere silver. The pieces from this diorama were in the Chicago World’s Fair (World's Columbian Exposition of 1893). Gloucester had its own display. We have early portraits leading into the turn of the century when Cape Ann became an art colony. We hope that people will leave this space with more of a sense of what we collect.

CG (Entering the expansive Lane collection galleries.) I remember them being on the top floor.

RF That was a long time ago. This has been the gallery for them for quite awhile. It used to be a free for all. Now we have created a more chronological installation. You learn more about Lane the person and the artist as you walk through.

CG He was handicapped.

RF We know that he was possibly lame. We’re not really sure.

CG What I understood is that his house on a hill overlooking the harbor was relatively close to a dory which could take him out to boats. From there he could get around and paint seascapes and harbor views from Gloucester to views of Camden, Maine.

RF He had a very good friend who did take him around up and down the coast. We created three periods of his life and work.

CG This image of a storm at sea seems more romantic and less typical. Usually you see what has come to be known as Luminism and a pristine calm. What Barbara Novak has called the Glare Aesthetic.

RF There are the furniture and settings of Catalina Davis and an important Lane painting she gave us in the 1930s.

CG In this view of Gloucester harbor we can see Lane as a character. He seems to put himself in the pictures, like Alfred Hitchcock, as a character and observer.

RF They are always men in red shirts. Fishermen at that time wore red shirts perhaps to more readily locate you if you fell overboard. I know there’s one where they think it’s the artist but we’re not sure. There are plenty of people in red shirts but I think they are often fishermen.

This painting is signed by both Lane and his student Mary Blood Mellen. There is a lot of research being done about Lane and his students. Did he do the drawing and someone else the painting? Or vice versa? We are doing a catalogue raisonné which will start as an on line version of Lane’s work. It will eventually become a published piece. There will be a looking into attributions.

CG Who is the primary scholar for the project?

RF John Wilmerding is working on it as well as the MFA because they are doing a lot of the infra red photography. They are looking at the underdrawings of the paintings. We’re working with Cleveland Art Museum.

CG Would there ever be a traveling exhibition of this work? Is that a possibility?

RF I don’t really know. I imagine it is a possibility but not in the next year or two. We have to get through the opening but it is a possibility. We did a side by side show of his work and Mary Blood Mellen’s in 2007.

(In recent years Mellen (1819-1886) has emerged as one of the most talented women artists to work in the area in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. The Cape Ann Museum received its first work by her in 1932, a bequest of Miss Catalina Davis, one of the organization's early supporters. Davis left the Museum three oil paintings, each attributed at the time to Lane ; one has since been reattributed to Mellen, Lane's most prodigious student. In coming decades, three additional works by Mellen would be added to the Museum's holdings, including Field Beach, Stage Fort Park, providing a sizeable enough body of work to truly appreciate the depth of her skills.)

CG It’s a treat to see the Lane paintings. He was the foremost American seascape painter of his era.

RF We closed up some windows in this gallery so there is less natural lighting.

CG This is not typical.

RF It’s not his. It’s a view of Gloucester City Hall when it burned. I think it burned just a year after it was built and then replaced. This area presents him as a citizen of his time including participation in the Lyceum Movement.

(Before and after the Civil War hundreds of informal associations were established for the purpose of improving the social, intellectual, and moral fabric of society. The Lyceum Movement — with its lectures, dramatic performances, class instructions, and debates — contributed significantly to the education of adult Americans in the 19th century. Noted lecturers, entertainers and readers would travel the "lyceum circuit," going from town to town or state to state to entertain, speak, or debate in a variety of locations.)

Lane shared the belief that the general citizen should be well educated. Institutions sprung up to have speakers come to your community. They talked about science, literature and philosophy. Lane was president and served on the board of the Gloucester Lyceum for a number of years. Ralph Waldo Emerson came to speak. He was influenced by Transcendentalism and some of the philosophies of the time.

(Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement that was developed during the late 1820s and 1830s in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest against the general state of spirituality and, in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church taught at Harvard Divinity School. Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.)

The next section of more about Lane toward the end of his life.

CG It appears that he sold a lot of works locally.

RF Yes. He also gave gifts. We have newspaper articles where people say “You must visit Lane’s studio and see what’s on his easel now.” Here are some photographs of his home which look very different then from now. At one time there were other houses on that hill. Now it pretty much stands alone. The neighborhood was taken down during Urban Renewal during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

A year and a half ago we were approached by the Thatcher Island Association. The Coast Guard contacted them and there was an opportunity to acquire this Fresnel lens from one of the two lighthouses in Rockport. It could come back to Cape Ann but it had to be in a museum setting. There used to be a wall here and a terrace. We closed the terrace to create a gallery to put this lens in.

These are our maritime galleries which were used for storage during the renovation. We haven’t done anything there.

This gallery when we reopen will show 22 drawings from sketch books by Stuart Davis (December 7, 1892 – June 24, 1964).

This is our Folly Cove Designers collection. It used to be our granite gallery. That’s now downstairs in our auditorium. (Pointing to a work) That’s the diploma they received when their design was accepted by the jury. We closed some windows and created new cases for the work. There are 250 designs in the collection. There will be a computer in the gallery. Anything not on view you can scroll through and access.

Astrid Hiemer Other than cloth and wall paper did they also make clothing?

RF I’m not sure that they did. People made clothing out of their fabric. Their wall paper was sold at some major New York stores like Bonwit Teller and other department stores.

AH Are you allowed to touch the fabric?

RF No that’s why we have the computer. Virginia Lee Burton who wrote "Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel" and some other children’s books was one of the designers.

CG (Walking through the next gallery.) There’s a Milton Avery (March 7, 1885 – January 3, 1965).

RF We are showing works from the permanent collection that people always want to see.

CG How many square feet is there?

RF It’s about 42,000 square feet. We have collection storage areas. Here we have some of the (Marsden) Hartleys and (Milton) Averys. Here we have a (Edward) Hopper drawing. (Maurice) Prendergast watercolors over here. These are some of the “greatest hits” of the collection. There are a couple of Winslow Homers here. As I say the museum is all about Cape Ann. Here you see a view of City Hall and Gloucester harbor. After visiting the museum you walk outside and see the exact scenes that the artists represented in their paintings.

CG That looks like an Abraham Walkowitz (March 28, 1878 - January 27, 1965) of Isadora Duncan.

RF Yes those artists were all here. We have a couple of them. When we reopen one of the shows will honor the sculptor Walker Hancock (June 28, 1901, St. Louis, Missouri – December 30, 1998, Gloucester, Massachusetts). The city is doing a weekend honoring him as one of the WWII Monuments Men. We have our sculpture from him as well as some from his friends and contemporaries; Paul Manship (December 24, 1885 – January 28, 1966) and Katharine Lane Weems. (Born Katharine Ward Lane, February 22, 1899 – 1989, she was an American sculptor famous for her realistic portrayals of animals.) These plasters by her just came into the collection.

Here are some John Sloan paintings (August 2, 1871 – September 7, 1951). He was the reason that Stuart Davis came so we are showing some of his works.

We started out as Cape Ann Historical. In 2009 we changed our name to the Cape Ann Museum which better represents who we are. We also have a library and archive so a lot of research is done here. There are a lot of artists’ sketch books and files on the artists. The renovaton started in October of last year and now we are reopening.