So last time I had us on the way to Rockport, MA. Well, actually, you’ll recall that I spent most of my time talking about Cape Ann and John Smith...which sounds like a joke involving a sleazy hotel (your name is what? John Smith? And her name is supposed to be “Tragabigzanda?” Dude...you gotta do better than that. I mean, really.)
But, anyway, Cape Ann is a chunk of Massachusetts that happens to stick out into the Atlantic just about forty-five miles from where the state borders New Hampshire. It has a colorful and complex history, part of which I related last time, and is the site of several rather charming towns and little cities -- for example, Gloucester, Essex, and...
Rockport is a town with its face to the sea. It is a harbor, and traditionally its citizens have made their livings from fishing, shipping, boat building, and providing the materials for ship-building--notably timber.(1) The town also made money exporting granite -- this is, indeed, a rocky coast -- and that (or so I’m told) is how Rockport got its name. It was the port where granite and other stone was loaded on ships for export. It was, that is, literally a port for rocks. So, Rockport. (2)
Originally, Rockport was part of Gloucester, but it gradually shifted away from that other community, and by 1840 was a town in its own right. Its independence was marked by a series of adventures, some rather remarkable. For instance, Rockport was the scene of much anti-liquor activism. In 1856 “a gang of 200 women led Hannah Jumper [a militant temperance activist] swept through the town and destroyed anything containing alcohol in what is called ‘Rockport's revolt against rum’ and banned alcohol from the town.” The town stayed dry, pretty much, until 2005. (3)
Rockport was also famed for its labor activism--particularly in the granite quarries. Immigrant workers, chiefly Swedes and Finns, banded together and fought the police and the Rockport Granite Company in the 1890s. It got a bit bloody, in fact, and there were pitched battles between the union members and strikebreakers brought in from Boston and other communities.
Another view of Rockport’s charming harbor.
The workers finally won--gaining a nine hour work day and the right to overtime pay--though the Rockport Granite Company shut its doors during the Depression. Whether it did so because of economic hardship, or just to get away from the union remains controversial to this day.
However, also during the 1930s, Rockport became an artist colony. For a number of reasons (chief of them, surly, being that rents were low), painters, sculptors, writers and so on moved to the area in droves. And a surprising large number of works of art can be found around the world which reference the town, or bits of it.
For example, there’s Motif Number 1. This is a cherry red fishing shack which was build in 1840 on the water’s edge. However, “due to the composition and lighting of its location” it became a favorite of painters living in the area.(2) It has been painted, and painted, and re-painted on a thousand different canvases. It has become such an emblem of the town that when it was washed away in the Blizzard of 1978, the community leaped into action and rebuilt it, board by board, and today it exists again, apparently unchanged, at its original location. And, yes, you can still see painters at their easels, busily portraying it anew. (4)\\
Motif #1: You can see why it remains a fav of visual artists and everybody else with a camera.
But, I still haven’t explained how Martha and I came to be Rockport regulars. To do that, though, I have to explain that artists’ colonies tend to either die horrible lingering deaths...that is, people stop going there for some reason, and they dry up and float away like dust...or they get trendy. If it is the latter, then pretty soon tourists start showing up there. And tourists want shops and restaurants and inns and B&Bs and cool stuff like that.
Which is exactly what happened to Rockport. At some point in the middle of the twentieth century, the town abruptly realized that it was part of the great, world-wide tourist economy.
And for better, or worse, or both at the same time...
It had to get used to that.
More to come.
And, last but not least, here is a photo that has nothing to do with the story but I happen to like the look of it. This is Martha, our son David, and our daughter-in-law Emily posing at Monticello, the home of good old Thomas Jefferson, founding father and major league controversial figure to this day. This picture dates back to 2015. At the time, Emily was working at Monticello and David was just about to graduate from the University of Virginia.
1. For details of Rockport’s history, I depend on the town’s Wikpedia entry, which is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockport,_Massachusetts
2. Again, my source of Rockport being literally a “rock port” is Wikipedia, specifically the section on the Bearskin Neck area, which is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bearskin_Neck. I assume it to be true, but can’t say for certain.
3. Hannah Jumper seems to have been an extraordinary figure. Her crusade against “demon rum” was not mere killjoy-ism but a conscious reaction to the fact that alcoholism was killing off a significant fraction of her town’s population. Her Wikipedia entry is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Jumper
4. Motif Number 1 has its own Wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motif_Number_1. If you wish to see some of the works of art based on it, simply do an image search for “Motif No. 1”
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