new england literary | jan gardner

Impressions of island life from Childe Hassam

Artist Childe Hassam.
Isles of Shoals Photograph Collection
Artist Childe Hassam.

Impressions of island life

The Dorchester-born Impressionist painter Childe Hassam, known for his Boston and Paris street scenes, reveled in island life. For more than 30 years, he spent almost every summer on Appledore, about six miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire.

His visits to the largest island in the Isles of Shoals started about 1886, the year he finished one of his best-loved paintings, “At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight),” now in the Museum of Fine Arts collection. On Appledore, he became friends with writer Celia Thaxter, who hosted a literary and art salon. He illustrated her book, “An Island Garden,” published in 1894 by Houghton Mifflin. The Bibliography of American Literature describes it as “one of the most elaborate pieces of bookmaking of the period.”

On July 16 through Nov. 6, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem will present “American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals,” an exhibit of more than 40 of his watercolors and oil paintings, selected from among more than 250 inspired by his time on the island. The exhibit will arrive from the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. That museum and the Peabody Essex have jointly published a book with the same title as the exhibit. It is edited by curators Austen Barron Bailly and John W. Coffey. Among the book’s highlights is a portfolio that pairs each of 30 photographs by marine biologist Hal Weeks of island locales with a Hassam painting of the same place. In Hassam’s time, a grand hotel attracted droves of visitors to the island, but he preferred to go off by himself to paint the surrounding sea and the island’s rugged beauty.


The Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore offers walking tours of the island and visits to Thaxter’s garden, which has been restored.

Time for herself

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Marblehead native Meghann Foye’s satirical novel,
(Mira), tells the story of a woman who fakes a pregnancy in order to get some “me” time. Foye based the book on her own life; she decided to take an unpaid sabbatical after three friends announced they were taking maternity leave. This spring Foye told the New York Post in an interview that what she learned from her own “meternity” leave is to take responsibility for achieving work-life balance. When she routinely worked long hours, it wasn’t because of coworkers who were out on maternity leave, she said, it was because of her own drive.

Foye is one of two featured authors at a breakfast talk and discussion July 13 at Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel, Cambridge. Nora Zelevansky will talk about her novel “Will You Won’t You Want Me?” (St. Martin’s). It’s a lighthearted tale of a young woman, 10 years out of high school, trying to figure out who she wants to be.

Tickets for the family-style breakfast and event from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. are $25 and available through Eventbrite.

Coming out

 “The Devil’s Evidence” by Simon Kurt Unsworth (Doubleday)


 “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything”by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (Simon and Schuster)

 “Magic” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

Pick of the week

William Carl of Wellesley Books in Wellesley recommends “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay (Morrow): “When a young boy goes missing, his mother and sister begin finding pages from his diary revealing secrets they had never suspected. Where did he go, and why won’t his friends tell anyone the truth? Tremblay peels back the layers of a quaint New England town to expose the ugly underbelly of family life in the United States. This disturbing read solidifies Tremblay’s reputation as a master of psychological suspense.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at