, Salem, MA


December 3, 2012

McAllister: Salem and the art colony


A major figure in the Boston art world, Dwight Blaney, was often drawn to Salem by the presence of Ross Turner, his brother-in-law, and his close friend, Frank Benson. Blaney and Benson were members of the collegial Tavern Club in Boston along with mutual friend Bela Lyon Pratt. A noted sculptor, Pratt taught at the Museum School with Benson, and the two had neighboring farms on North Haven Island in Maine. Due largely to his Benson connections, Pratt was commissioned to sculpt the Nathaniel Hawthorne statue that today graces Hawthorne Boulevard.

Benson, Turner, and the noted illustrator and Salem resident Lewis Bridgman were also connected through their volunteer work at the Essex Institute. Benson and Bridgman served on the Art Committee, Turner as the volunteer curator. When Turner died in 1915, he was replaced by Benson’s former schoolmate, Philip Little.

Little lured other artists to Salem, including Philip Kappel. Through Little and Frank Benson, the Connecticut native learned the fine art of etching and carved out a successful career as a printmaker. For nearly two decades, starting in the early 1920s, he was given summer use of his mentor’s studio on the Salem waterfront. Little also lent his studio to the Danvers artist Richard Ellery when the latter and two friends were hired under the WPA Fine Arts Program to create historical murals for the Danvers Town Hall.

As 1940 approached, the vaunted Salem art scene was in its final days. Ross Turner was dead, Isaac Caliga was living in Provincetown, and Benson and Little were nearing the end of their illustrious careers. But there would be one last hurrah.

As part of the 1939 Chestnut Street Day celebration, an art exhibition featuring works by artists with local connections was held at Hamilton Hall. “Headlining” the show was the now-famous Chestnut Street resident, Frank Weston Benson, who was joined by his daughter Eleanor Benson Lawson and his brother, the marine painter John Benson. Also represented were Frank’s Museum School chums, Philip Little and John Redmond; George Elmer Browne, nearly 40 years removed from Salem; Dick Ellery and his WPA partner Sol Levinson; and the late Ross Turner. Works by three of Benson’s young neighbors, Festus Rousseau, Quentin Jones and Harry Sutton, hung alongside his own.

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