Pack up your easel, watercolors, and brushes, and seek out these 10 summer spots that speak to painters — whether you’re a Matisse, think you’re a Matisse, or are nowhere near a Matisse (and are OK with that).
This picturesque mountain community has inspired and hosted artists for more than a century. “As far back as we can trace, bands of artists would travel here for workshops, particularly in plein air painting, or simply for the camaraderie of painting with their fellow artists,” says Mickey Myers, executive director of the Bryan Memorial Gallery, a nonprofit resource for visiting artists here. “Local inns and hotels, including Smugglers’ Notch Resort, designed their rates for painters, even accepting paintings and murals in exchange for room and board.”
Artists are still drawn to the region. “Just driving to the store, the post office, the bank, anywhere you have to go around here, there are scenes that capture an artist’s eye,” says Andrew Orr, one of the gallery’s leading artists.
You’ll find working farms and preserved land off of Route 15 on Junction Hill Road, the very spot where artists Alden and Mary Bryan settled in the late 1930s. Their land is still a working farm, and painters still come here to paint. The picturesque sweep of land off Upper Pleasant Valley Road is also a sought-out spot. “It is so popular that the farmers have gotten concerned about the liability of having artists on their land,” says Myers.
It’s always advised to ask before setting up your easel, and don’t be surprised to find a cow licking your painting. www.bryanmemorialgallery.org
The photogenic Pink House sits pretty in pink overlooking the salt marshes on the Plum Island Turnpike. The house is a popular plein air subject. Year-round you’ll find artists trying to capture the mystique of the weathered, abandoned house. The site is owned by the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, and trespassing on the immediate property is forbidden, but you’ll find plenty of nearby vantage points to capture the Pink House’s allure.
Weir Farm National Historic Site, Ridgefield, Conn.
Weir Farm on the Wilton/Branchville line in Ridgefield, Conn., is the only National Historic Site in the country dedicated to painting. “Many art historians regard Weir Farm as the American equivalent of Monet’s Giverny because it preserves the summer home and workplace of Julian Alden Weir, a leading figure in the development of American impressionism, which has roots in Connecticut,” says Janet L. Serra, executive director, Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This 60-acre complex preserves 16 historic buildings and is a landscape of rolling hills, stone walls, pastures, and a pond — inspiring subject matter for Weir, as well as many of his visiting artist friends, including John Singer Sargent. Tour Weir’s studio and home, and you’ll be inspired to paint the identical landscapes captured by the artist once upon a time. nps.gov/wefa/index.htm
The region is an open canvas of country roads and rolling hills dotted with wildflowers and streams. Landscape painters including Thomas Cole and George Inness painted here, as well as Norman Rockwell. Artists can set up easels on the grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Other popular plein air vistas include Tanglewood (looking out at Lake Mahkeenac) and Olivia’s Overlook, between West Stockbridge Mountain and Lenox Mountain, with views of the Shadowbrook Reservoir. Bonus: The Clark Institute and the Rockwell museum both offer painting classes and lectures, as does the IS183 Art School of the Berkshires at Naumkeag, a historic Gilded Age home with stunning gardens. www.berkshires.org
Chebeague Island, Maine
Accessible only by ferry, petite Chebeague Island is home to only 400 year-round residents, one main road and the 21-room Chebeague Island Inn, 10 miles off the coast of Portland in Casco Bay. You don’t need to be an inn guest to enjoy a cocktail and a bite on the porch — or to paint. Sip a Chebang-Ade cocktail (Double Cross Vodka, pomegranate juice, and lemon) and paint Casco Bay from the wrap-around porch. The inn is open May to October. www.chebeagueislandinn.com
The connection that the Outer Cape has to the art world is rich and significant. Edward Hopper was especially inspired by the unique light. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (www.paam.com), founded in 1914, is lively year-round, with workshops, lectures, and exhibits, and a good resource for plein air artists. The Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill is also a supportive resource for the local art community (www.castlehill.org). Stay at the 14-room Eben House in Provincetown. The inn commissioned local artist Michael Gredler to create 14 original oil paintings, depicting the extended family of Captain Eben Snow, the original owner of the building, in the style of 18th-century primitive portraiture. The paintings are hung in each of the guestrooms. www.ebenhouse.com
Rockport is where you’ll find Rockport Motif No. 1 — a red fishing shack that is renowned as the most painted building in the world. Early in the morning, you’ll see plein air painters on the corners of Donovan’s and Tuna Way, painting the weathered-shingled shops. Landscape plein air painters also enjoy Essex’s marsh scenes. And in Manchester Harbor, you’ll capture some nice views of lobster boats and the water. In Gloucester, to the left of the Gloucester House Restaurant, is access to views of the harbor and fish piers, and the oft-painted old copper paint factory. www.capeannchamber.com
Plein air painting thrives at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch, N.H. Frank Henry Shapleigh, famed White Mountain School of Art landscape painter, was the artist in residence of the former Crawford House grand hotel here, where Highland Center Lodge now stands. The original Shapleigh Studio, built in 1880 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was restored by the AMC, and you can stay in a bunkhouse or rent a private or shared room in the lodge. But don’t forget your easel. The lodge also hosts artist-in-residence painting workshops in summer and fall. www.outdoors.org
The moody Atlantic and captivating light in this coastal town woos plein air artists especially along Ocean Avenue. Home to a thriving artists’ colony, many of the artist’s works are exhibited in Kennebunkport’s art galleries, as well as in neighboring Kennebunk, Cape Porpoise, and Arundel (www.gokennebunks.com). Hidden Pond, a seasonal 60-acre resort with cottages and bungalows nestled in balsam and birch groves, has an artist-in-residence and offers watercolor lessons. www.hiddenpondmaine.com
Monhegan Island, Maine
Take the ferry to this tiny island and discover paint-worthy vistas at every twist and turn. The Island Inn, which sits on a bluff looking over Monhegan Harbor, just opened Zimmie’s Artist Cottage this summer. Located in the middle of town with views of Monhegan Lighthouse, the cottage is a self-sufficient weekly rental, with four bedrooms, two baths, and common spaces, including a dining room and kitchen. The three-season porch is where you’ll take art lessons and is perfect for rainy day painting. Note: To stay here, you must be a working artist or workshop student, whose main purpose is to create visual art. Call 207-596-0371 for info and reservations. www.islandinnmonhegan.comLaurie Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.