The Historical Society of Sandwich, New Hampshire is celebrating its Opening Day on July 3, 2021. A group of five artists will demonstrate traditional skills. Demonstrations include spoon carving, wood turning, wheel thrown pottery, and blacksmithing, and I was asked to demonstrate plein air painting.
For a while now I’ve been interested in the White Mountain School of Art, and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find any information about this group of artists painting in or around the town of Sandwich. For anyone not familiar, the White Mountain group came about in the 19th century as artists brought the painting style and approach of the Hudson River Painters to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Wide publicity of the Willey Family tragedy of 1826, in which an entire family settled in the Whites perished in a landslide, is thought to have sparked interest in the region.
Plein air (“outdoors”) painting became an important part of the education and development of American artists in the 19th century, with idealized depictions of the landscape gradually giving way to more literal, realistic renderings as the value of direct observation became recognized. These sketches also served as mementos for tourists before photography became available.
Over 400 artists are known to have painted in this region. Many were from the Boston area, and travelled to New Hampshire in the summer months to sketch and paint, returning to their studios in the city to create larger paintings based on their plein air sketches. One of the earliest and best known paintings was of Crawford Notch, completed by Thomas Cole in 1838. Another well-known artist, Benjamin Champney, painted extensively in the Conway area, and plein air painting became popular there due to his influence.
Artists who chose to paint outdoors faced some unique challenges. Before the invention of the paint tube in 1842, artists brought their paints into the field in pigskin bladders which had to be pierced with a pin to release the paint, and had the unfortunate tendency to burst at inconvenient times. Mosquitos and black flies are attracted to wet paint as well as the painter, and end up immortalized in the painted surface. Transporting completed but still wet sketches was also difficult, and many an artist was dismayed to find his precious sketches, not quite dry, had become stuck together during transport.
I was able to find several White Mountain School artists who painted in the Sandwich area; below is a list of their names and a painting completed in or around Sandwich:
John W. A. Scott – “Mount Israel,” “Mount Israel from the Bearcamp River” (above)
John W. Casilear – “Passing Storm, Mount Chocorua from Tamworth”
William G. Boardman – “Squam Lake”
Bradford Freeman – “Mount Chocorua and Squam Lake from East Holderness”
William Trost Richards – “Squam Lake from Red Hill”
Edward Seager – “Squam Lake and Sandwich Hills”
The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature, 1830-1880 by Eleanor Jones Harvey
Consuming Views: Art and Tourism in the White Mountains, 1850-1900 by The New Hampshire Historical Society