Tiny Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been. There’s a quality to it that I can’t put my finger on—isolated, disconnected, lonely but not lonely. With drama and beauty to spare, the island is, understandably, a big draw for artists.
Monhegan has been an artists’ colony since the mid-1800s. About two miles long and one wide, 10 miles off of Maine’s rocky coast, the island offers up good light, wildflower meadows, high cliffs over crashing surf, a fishing village, hiking trails, woodlands and dramatic weather.
Beauty, light, drama. With that, the island has fed the creativity of some of America’s most important artists, including George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and three Wyeths (N.C., Andrew and Jamie).
“All the major American artists were here at one time,” Monhegan Museum Director Ed Deci told the Boston Globe in a 2012 interview. “You can actually study American art by studying Monhegan art.”
There’s a feeling that you’re at the end of the world, or disconnected completely somehow, or thrown back in time or something. But in a freeing way. You feel like you’ve dropped out, especially with the unspoiled views all over the place.
“Everywhere you look, there’s a painting,” Monhegan artist Alison Hill told the Globe. “It’s very inspirational to be here.”
No doubt. The island offers up inspirational views at every turn.
“It’s a very rich environment,” artist Amy Williams told the Globe. “There’s magic here. The island is still rustic, not marred yet by an overload of technology.”
(Technology such as cars, although some of the locals have them.)
The hiking trails that crisscross the island and follow the waterline are amazing. Especially in the summer.
Inland, most of the island is thick with spruce and fir balsam or else spotted with meadows of high grass and wildflower. In Cathedral Woods, the pines grow tall and slender and bridge together in arches overhead, shading the soft pine-needle path. The undergrowth is deep mosses and ferns, flowers and reed-thin new trees.
Along the trails that follow the waterline are sea-level coves and 100-foot cliffs. On rocky outcroppings, harbor seals sun themselves—barking out once in a while, their calls carrying over the wind. In the distance are other islands: Criehaven, Isle au Haut, Matinicus and Matinicus Rock. Then the deep Atlantic.
I mean, if you’re an artist…that’s not too shabby.
About Charlie Smith