GLOUCESTER — A bright blue sky arched over Rocky Neck earlier this week, crisp and spotless not a full day after an obscuring winter storm would have made downtown Gloucester, a short hop across the harbor, all but invisible. It’s the same vantage point captured almost 200 years ago by Fitz Henry Lane, one of this maritime town’s favorite artistic sons, in his 1844 piece “Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck.”
“Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck” showcases stacks of brooding clouds, tinged pink and dusky gray, that would be as familiar to folks around here as the backs of their own hands. Lane was among the first to be drawn to the moody skies and changeable, otherworldly light that Cape Ann reliably provides. Generations of Gloucester’s artistic progeny followed, from Lane to Winslow Homer to Edward Hopper to John Sloan and Stuart Davis. They rank among the country’s — and the world’s — best, making Gloucester, and Rocky Neck in particular, inexhaustible terrain for those looking to experience American art history.
Gloucester has changed plenty over the years, from hardscrabble fishing village to artist colony to the present version that knits both together with a youthful energy that has helped revitalize the city’s core as a culinary destination. But Gloucester’s rich history feels carved into the very stone that lines its harbors, and the Cape Ann Museum has done well to seize on all of those elements this winter to craft a series of walking tours that fix the town firmly with its cultural heritage.
While the museum has offered walking tours for a long time — you could run laps around Gloucester Harbor for days and not run out of new things to talk about or paintings to refer to — they’re typically a summer affair, with the harbor lively and the patios full. But the COVID era has meant a few adjustments, and so the winter wanders were born. The museum also remains open, but for three days a week and with limited capacity.
The tours will kick off this Saturday in the recently-redone Lane galleries — it holds the largest and best collection of the painter’s works in the country — and meander out to Lane’s home, a heap of blocky granite known colloquially as “the stone jug,” with commanding views of the harbor below. On Feb. 20, the walk meanders through the town’s spiritual history from its Congregational beginnings to the full gamut of difference that its rich fishing waters eventually brought ashore, from Universalists to Unitarians to Baptists to Muslims to Jews. Feb. 27 might be the marquee event, with an around-town stroll to the many houses and scenes painted by Edward Hopper on his five extended painting journeys here. They’re captivating, and in one case, crushing: The spectacular mansard-roofed captain’s house perched high on a Rocky Neck cliff that Hopper painted in 1924 now shares its view of Gloucester Harbor with a sprawling McMansion next door whose aesthetic might best be described as haute Florida strip mall.
The walks, the museum helpfully notes, are “rain or shine” — or whatever else this rough coast might throw at you in winter. Come prepared.
GLOUCESTER OUTDOOR WALKING TOURS
1 p.m. Saturdays through March 13. Advance registration required. $10-$20. 978-283-0455, www.capeannmuseum.org