Exhibition: Five Days on Monhegan

Living in East Boothbay, we see Monhegan Island each day from a distance while walking around Ocean Point. This summer, we finally decided to take a five-day holiday on the island for the first time in 15 years.

Our trip was inspired by a cartoon by CJ Taylor from 1903, which depicted several artists, including Robert Henri, standing on the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.  Footbridge-sketch_web

A friend of mine showed me the sketch, and introduced me to Robert Henri and other great painters who once traveled to Boothbay and on to Monhegan. Suddenly my world was opened up to their paintings of the area and I became inspired.  Like them, I wanted to visit Monhegan as a painter for the first time, rather than as a vacationer or visitor.  As Henri suggests in his book, The Art Spirit, my goal on this trip was not to create paintings, but to capture the fleeting moments, the spirit of our experiences on Monhegan. Those fleeting moments are what you take home from a trip; they are what you remember later on.  Like a writer adding an entry to a journal, I wanted to simply sketch what I was seeing, and develop the paintings later on in the studio if necessary.

Day 1

The first plein air painting completed on our trip was inspired by the view from the back porch of the Shumaker Studio where we were staying. Once the studio of Philip Shumaker, Don Stone and Fred Wiley, I was surrounded by beautiful paintings and felt lucky to be sharing this space with great artists from the past.

Lilies and Shed, 8×6, oil on linen

Day 2

Our second day on Monhegan began with a sunrise painting on Horn Hill, looking out over the cove between Monhegan and Manana Island.

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Sunrise from Horn Hill, 8×10, oil on linen


We picked up the coastal trail (#1) where we had left off the day before, and made it to Whitehead and Gull Cove by late morning.

Gull Cove, 6×8, oil on linen



After lunch, we relaxed in the sun on Swim Beach.  I was inspired by the colorful small skiffs pulled up on the sand, set against the backdrop of wild rosa rugosa.

Skiffs on Swim Beach, 8×10, oil on linen

By late afternoon, we were ready to move again, so we headed back out to the headlands to capture the late afternoon light.  We stepped out of the forest and into the cool southwest breeze, with gulls hovering on the winds around the cliffs, below our feet. For the first time, I felt like an intruder among the gulls. They were nesting and wanted us to leave.  While I am more used to gulls invading my space and scavenging for my food, suddenly I was in their space, too close to their nesting grounds for comfort.  I was inspired as much by the gulls in their natural nesting habitat as I was by the sheer magnitude of the cliffs, and the crashing waves below.

Where the Gulls Live, 12×16, oil on linen


We walked back into town just as the provisioning store was starting to close. We had planned to make a light dinner, but the shelves were now empty of vegetables and fruit.  This was the moment we realized we couldn’t live on the island exactly as we do at home. Life here requires more planning and preparedness.

Day 3

On day 3, we woke to fog and left early for Lobster Cove.  We traveled this route often during our stay, but on this foggy day, the pink roses against the old white picket fence were glowing against the hazy backdrop.

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Roses on the Picket Fence, 14×11, oil on linen


At Lobster Cove, there was zero visibility looking out over the water, but the colors of the meadow flowers stood out against the foggy spruce.

Fog on Lobster Cove Meadow, 9×12, oil on linen

We had hoped to catch a skiff to Manana but fog and seas kept us on the island.  We headed north along the gravel roads lined with old cottages. Thanks to the Island Farm Project, community vegetable gardens are tucked into every available space and island residents deliver the fresh veggies to lucky neighbors and restaurants.

Island Gardener, 10×8, oil on linen


As we walked, the fog lifted and we arrived at Pebble Beach to enjoy a beautiful afternoon by the water.

Ledges off Pebble Beach, 6×8, oil on linen

Day 4

Day 4 was bright, sunny and calm and we woke knowing this was the perfect day for a trip to Manana.  We packed a lunch and by 9 am, we were at Rusty’s orange box.  It was empty.  Not wanting to miss our chance, we slowed to island time, sat down on the side of the gravel road, and waited.


The guest in the cottage across the road, who we had met the night before during dinner at the Island Inn, left his bags on the roadside for pickup.  The owner of the cottage arrived, two women who seemed to know their guest well, and they laughed and talked about next year.  In moments like this, you can feel the transient nature of the island, and though we didn’t want to feel the pressure of his last day, it was clearly a ritual this guest and his host were used to experiencing.

As the morning boat from New Harbor arrived, new visitors started walking the road.  From the opposite direction, a man approached in wading boots, blue jeans, and a bright orange t-shirt with two walkie talkies in his hand.  Before he reached the orange box, we asked if he was Rusty and if he would take us to Manana.  Thirty minutes later, we were in his peapod, sharing stories of another Rusty, the one from East Boothbay who used to live on Monhegan, and who also named his son Eben.

Rusty, Manana’s Tender, 14×11, oil on linen


Before we reached Manana, Rusty told us the simple rules that apparently so many visitors seem eager to break: do not pet the goats, feed the goats, milk the goats, or ride the goats. Ignore the goats.

We quickly learned the goats did not follow the rules.

Sam Betts, photographing one of Manana’s goats.

We climbed to the highest peak of Manana and before we knew it, the goats were behind us, chewing on our backpack straps and nudging us for attention.  They made it clear this was their island, and we were just an exciting mid-day distraction.  Wherever we went, they went. We followed their paths through the trailing yew; they led us to the abandoned coast guard station which was clearly their domain.

Photograph by Sam Betts


Queen of Manana, 11x14, oil on linen
“Queen of Manana”, 11×14, oil on linen

Day 5

We woke to fog and a light rain on our last day on Monhegan, an invitation to relax and soak up our final moments there.  But by 9:30, we had to put our packed bags on the roadside, now our time to carry the weight of the ferry schedule.

Having walked nearly every trail, we headed back out to ‘connect the dots’, catching a link of trail between two headlands that we had missed on our first day of hiking.trail-map

The fog cleared and we found a sun-bathed rock at Squeaker Cove to enjoy our lunch, sharing the spot with a small group of seals trapping fish in the cove.

Surf at Squeaker Cove, 6×8, oil on linen


Being only 10 nautical miles away, we were worried that Monhegan would be too much like East Boothbay.  But it is not… it is like a different country.  The people on Monhegan have a way about them, no doubt influenced by life on a remote island that is dictated by the comings and goings of strangers on a ferry schedule.  It took us a full five days to stop being one of those strangers, to slow down our pace, get to know the locals, and start flowing with the rhythm of the island.

We left knowing five days on Monhegan was not enough.

Monhegan Arrival, 16×20, oil on canvas


 View the “Five Days on Monhegan” Exhibition:

The exhibition is on view at Down East Gallery until October 2 2016.