Monhegan Island Column

Artists capture winter in Monhegan

Mon, 03/04/2013 - 9:30am

Vast expanses of bright blue skies, wispy clouds, flat calm seas, bright greens, and rainbows of color. These are the images most captured by the vast number of artists who flock to Monhegan during the placid, warm spring, summer and fall. 

For me, the magic of Monhegan lives in its winter of grays, purples, peaches, subtle hues and barren spaces. I am so grateful to have so many wonderful artists who make Monhegan their home whom capture this incredible time of year. 

For an artist who makes Monhegan their home, winter is a breath of fresh air. When the tourist season winds down and the noise and distraction of many and the vibrancy of color has been tepid, the island breathes a great sigh. The island lifts a little and all are buoyed by the lightness.

Often the summer months are full of hustle and bustle. Making money to last through the winter, entertaining, interacting with tourists and keeping up with the busy flow of the season leaves less time for working on art. Summer brings a different more frenetic pace and emotion to the artists work. 

With less distractions and time and space to focus, a more clear and complex art is formed. Donna Cundy is one of these artists; she says that the sounds of crashing waves and howling winds calm her and release her from the demands of schedules and tourist interactions. She is more free and content to be herself and get in touch with the earthy yarns, fabrics and drawings that are her medium. 

Not only does the change of light and shadow create subtle color, the slower pace provides depth and beauty. The artist is able to open themselves up to their work in a more relaxed and complete way.

When I asked artists how winter influences their art, I received poetry in response. 

“If the sun comes out after a snowstorm, white reflects prisms of color and blue shadows from the sky,”  Susan Gilbert said.  

“I am always trying to capture that unnamed thing that expresses Monhegan as more than just a beautiful place with amazing light. It’s home. And it’s home because we choose it, because we can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Cundy said.  

“I am blessed, everywhere I look I am inspired by the beauty and light,” Susan Hitchcox said.

“Winter light is richer; the Island feels more remote, more a part of the sea and sky and wind,” Richard Farrell said.

Of course Monhegan is not for the faint of heart. Extreme low temperatures, strong winds, sleet and snow can be a hindrance to plein-air painting. Gilbert and Alison Hill both brave the outdoors to capture their muse.  

Gilbert said she checks the harbor upon rising to see what the wind is doing that day, keeps a tide chart handy and pays attention to wind direction and speed before bundling up in layers to go out for a stint of painting. 

Gilbert packs a snack and some hot coffee to aid in keeping her out longer in the cold. Despite her planning and organization, she is lucky to last a few hours outside and brings her tools back to her studio to work from pictures and studies. 

Farrell ventures out on the sometimes dangerous cliffs to capture beautiful photographs. He says it is easier (in winter) to connect through a camera to the spirit that draws people here.

Many others, including Alice Boynton, Cundy and Hitchcox, prefer to hunker down in their studios staying warm while they work. The influence of the weather is still clear in their paintings, drawings, and photography.

Monhegan will forever draw artists during those lovely summer days and the art they produce is wonderful. For me, someone who lives on Monhegan, the winter scenes are what capture the beauty beyond the obvious, the strength and grace of nature reveal themselves under the harshest conditions.

For more information about the art created on Monhegan during the winter months, you can contact the Lupine Gallery at