I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t deeply in love with the state of Maine. There is something in the wild, coastal waters and thick, old-growth woods that instantly casts away the urbanite in me and calls forth my rural roots. For someone working in the field of 19th and 20th century arts, this is probably a good thing, for countless painters have traveled to our easternmost state to paint and take in the area’s plethora of natural beauty.
These works are, for the most part, easy to recognize—sometimes almost down to the exact location. There are others, however, that represent the state in a less literal manner. One such painting is Moonlight—Maine by Betty Parsons. Intrigued by this dramatic painting, we recently decided to see what more there was to know about Betty Parsons and my favorite state.
Although it is well-known Parsons traveled widely, we didn’t know if she had spent extensive time in Maine or merely passed through. What first clued us in that she might have spent extensive time there was a very brief quote from a 1975 New Yorker profile written by Calvin Tompkins in which Parsons states:
After Europe, I went out to Wyoming for three weeks and stayed with my friend Hope Williams, who has a ranch near Cody. I did a lot of painting there. And then I was at my cottage in Maine for two weeks.
That she owned a cottage in Maine certainly suggested she spent more than passing time in the state! We poured back over monographs on the artist, countless articles and interviews, determined to find more on this “cottage in Maine.” And yet all we found were two small connections to Maine: a review from 1957 which mentions the artist’s images of “The Maine woods,” and a photograph in Lee Hall’s Betty Parsons: Artists, Dealer, Collector with the caption: Calvert Coggeshall, Betty Parsons, and Jack Tilton, Newcastle, Maine, 1977 (pictured here).
After perusing even more documentation, we became worried we would never find more on this mysterious “cottage in Maine.” It wasn’t until weeks later we finally thought to contact Gwyn Metz, a close friend of Parsons’s who had helped us in the past. Gwyn has always been a generous resource on the artist, and this time was no different—she was full of answers: not only had Parsons visited Maine, but she had in fact owned a cottage in Sheepscot, which is located a short distance from Newcastle, where two of Parsons’s good friends also had residences—Calvert Coggeshall and Pauline Fenno. Coggeshall, it turns out, was one of the reasons Parsons first began to visit the state sometime in the late 1950s, and Fenno was the one to sell Parsons a “cute little house” in need of renovation sometime after. Although Gwyn remembers Parsons using her Maine home primarily as a rental property, she assured us the artist made frequent visits to the state, visits which continued until the very last decade of her life.