1° of separation

We visited an exhibition of works by Childe Hassam; it was pleasant enough. The lighting was soft and canvases were spaced widely about the gallery. There were Kennedy rockers; an audio track of gulls and of breaking waves played quietly. Forty works were on display; a few showed colorful sunsets and the balance rendered the rugged coast of Appledore Island, Maine.

I was disappointed by the exhibit for it failed to present the range of Hassam’s Appledore work and ignored his signature canvases (for example The South Ledges, Appledore). Moreover, not one of the gallery pieces showed either Hassam’s well known and accomplished patroness, Celia Thaxter, or her famous island garden (see Isles of Shoals Garden and In the Garden I).

Although disappointed, I was glad for the opportunity to have seen, for myself and at satisfyingly close range, the work of an artist I much admire. By close examination of several canvases I like to think I could see the artist at work; and by that I do not mean that I could see him, in my mind’s eye, sitting at an easel by the seashore. What I mean is that, if I looked closely at the medium, the very paint itself, I believe I could see evidence of Hassam’s own thoughts. Bristle traces told of forceful movements in some areas and of delicate strokes in others. Could thought and emotion be inferred in the varied topography of colored emulsion? I like to think so.

S. J. Gould once wrote The real and the replica are effectively alike in all but our abstract knowledge of authenticity, yet we feel awe in the presence of bone once truly clothed in dinosaur flesh and mere interest in fiberglass of identical appearance. Seeing Hassam’s work was, for me at least, bone once truly clothed in dinosaur flesh.


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