‘Art of Acadia’: Book paints vivid picture of MDI’s artistic heritage

The celebration of the Centennial of Acadia National Park has provided hundreds of opportunities to learn more about what connects people to this special, some say magical, place. Through performances, events, lectures, naturalist talks and presentations by noted historians, the immensity of the endeavor to preserve and protect Acadia over the past 100 years has slowly come into sharper view.

No single thread of the centennial observances can tell the entire tale. Rather, it is in stepping back to admire the full tapestry that the robust story of Mount Desert Island and Acadia’s heritage can be understood fully. While many people know the names of some artists, such as Frederic Church, Thomas Cole or David Maitland Armstrong, who helped share the wonders of what is now Acadia with the masses, the sum total artistic tradition here runs much, much deeper. And it is that depth – and the remarkable breadth as well – that authors and brothers David and Carl Little illustrate so vividly in their latest book, “Art of Acadia.”

The Littles were uniquely positioned to craft this book not only because of their scholarly expertise but also because when it comes to art history, particularly in the hotbed of creative energy and talent that is the Cranberry Isles, they’ve lived it as well. As explained in the introduction, their Uncle Bill’s attraction to the area and his friendship with Cranberry Isles artists John Heliker and Robert LaHotan began the family’s long love affair with MDI.

“Art of Acadia,” the latest expression of that deep affection, is a stunning accomplishment, both in its ambition and in its execution. From its incorporation of the geographical drawings of early mariners, to maps, sketches, studies and paintings from hundreds of artists, the full story of the island’s artistic heritage is laid out in vivid detail.

And “Art of Acadia” does not focus just on the classical and familiar. It incorporates works in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors, engravings, rugs, photography, sculpture, baskets, stained glass and even the carvings of Wendell Gilley.

Ansel Adams wasn’t well known for his work in Maine. Most of his pictures here were overshadowed by his images of New Mexico and Yosemite. Still, the Littles’ inclusion of his image of the Atlantic at Schoodic Point, shot in 1949, helps illustrate the true range of talent that always has been drawn to these shores and hills.

Especially illuminating is the inclusion of the works of Carroll Sargent Tyson (paintings and bird prints) and, to a lesser extent, Augustus Phillips (paintings and maps), talents who are giants of their own right and who have been overlooked in less insightful accounts of local artistic heritage.

Part 1 of the book covers the 17th-19th centuries, Part 2, the first 50 years of the 20th Century, and Part 3, the contemporary era. Catherine Brees’ design for the Acadia Centennial Logo is, appropriately enough, the final image in the book.

As always, the 280-page book is meticulously researched and artfully designed, with hundreds of color plates. It shares a new delight with the turn of every page. Granted, no such effort can be expected to include each and every artist in each and every medium.

Critics and artists themselves undoubtedly will disagree about who and what was included. But it’s no exaggeration to say that no more comprehensive look exists.

When folks think of history, they often focus on when something happened. Sometimes a view astern at a fixed period in time or cultural phenomenon seeks to the plumb the motivations, emotions and societal forces that helped shape the past. “Art of Acadia,” however, goes much deeper. In sharing the history of art in Acadia, the book does what no other source has done – or perhaps can do – convey the true heart and soul of this very special place.

Art of Acadia

280 pages

2016 Down East Books

Lanham, MD


Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.

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