What to do when you get hereAn insider’s guide to interests and attractions in the area surrounding The Cliff House Resort & Spa.

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Ogunquit Museum of American Art

1,000 Members, 1,600 pieces of art

I had driven past the sign for the Ogunquit Museum of American Art countless times. Sometimes I was hurrying to check in at The Cliff House, other times hurrying home. On a recent summer morning, I pulled in to satisfy my curiosity. It is a gem-like building surrounded by a landscaped sculpture garden. I stepped into the courtyard with an endless view of the sparkling ocean beyond. It was as if I had stepped into a piece of art.

Sculpture Garden

In the early 1900s Ogunquit was an artists’ summer enclave. On the Perkins Cove side Charles Woodbury’s Painting School attracted proper young ladies from Boston, who did proper landscapes and seascapes. On the opposite side, Narrow Cove, was Hamilton Easter Field’s Summer School of Graphic Arts, with nude models draped on the rocks. It was to this side of the cove that young Henry Strater came. He built a summer home on Shore Road and would swim from his house to Ogunquit Beach! Thirty years later Henry bought the Narrow Cove land from Woodbury and chose architect Charles S. Worley, Jr. to design the museum. Henry’s nudes are a major part of his art on display.

But, I am getting ahead of my story. Henry served in World War I and stayed on in Europe as part of the Lost Generation. Gertrude Stein, referring to expatriates, coined this term. “That’s what you all are… all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” Art was changing dramatically; Cezanne, Braque, Picasso were breaking all the rules in painting. Writing, too, was in the throes of change with F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Elliot, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. And it was all happening in Europe.

Hemingway Portrait

Strater met Hemingway in Italy at Ezra Pound’s house. They were both young artists at the time; Hemingway was writing short stories and Strater was an art student. The two men found that they had a lot in common and formed a friendship that included boxing and fishing. There are two portraits of Hemingway by Henry in the Strater Gallery. The text explains that Hemingway thought the first one made him look too much like an artist. So, Strater painted another portrait a few days later after boxing with him, while his face was still red and swollen. Now that one, Hemingway liked.

Henry was an avid collector of contemporary art. You will see Marsden Hartley, Charles Burchfield, Steve Hawley, George Luks, Charles Demuth, Isable Bishop and Jeff Fichera — to name a few. Whether or not you are familiar with these artists, you will have a delightful experience. The museum’s permanent collection contains more than 1,600 pieces and many of the artists have an Ogunquit connection.

Ron Crusan

In 2009 Ron Crusan became the Museum’s Executive Director. He plans exhibitions, educational programs, receptions and lectures — all very ambitious. The Museum is nationally recognized and will enlighten and dazzle all visitors. Check to see what will be on exhibit when you are in the area by first visiting the museum’s web site. Sign up for email, or better yet, become a member.

What I experienced will make it impossible for me to hurry by again. When you see the sign, pull in. Plenty of parking and plenty to see!