The works of noted maritime artist and writer George S. Wasson (1855-1932) of Kittery Point will be exhibited in the Randall Gallery beginning Aug. 5.
The exhibit is being put together by a group of admirers of Wasson, including Proprietors Wendy Lull and Lauren Gallant, along with Dean Gallant. Dave Kaselauskas of Kittery Point, the chief curator of the exhibit, has been studying and collecting the works of Wasson for nearly 30 years.
Wasson — painter, author, carver, sailor — lived and worked in Kittery Point in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was well-known and admired for his work by some of the leading literary and artistic figures of his time. William Dean Howells promoted Wasson’s writing, helping introduce his short stories to the Atlantic Monthly, and encouraged him to produce his three novels: Captain Simeon’s Store, The Green Shay, and Home from Sea.
Howells also introduced Wasson to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who praised one of Wasson’s short stories (“Rusticators at the Cove”) as the funniest he had ever read.
A marine painter, Wasson’s works were exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Boston Art Club. He was well known to the Ogunquit group of painters — Marcia Oakes Woodbury was an illustrator for his novels. Famed author Henry James, visiting William Dean Howells, made a special visit to meet Wasson.
Wasson’s last book, Sailing Days on the Penobscot, is considered by many to be the authoritative book on the history of sail on the Maine coast. Today Wasson’s paintings and sketchbooks are in the permanent collections of the Peabody Essex Museum, the Farnsworth Museum, the Maine Maritime Museum, and the Mystic Seaport Museum.
George Wasson was the son of an independent-thinking minister and writer, David Atwood Wasson. Although he was born and raised in Massachusetts, Wasson learned his love of the sea and sailing during summers spent at the home of his grandfather, a shipbuilder in Brooksville, Maine.
David Wasson recognized that his son’s talents were more artistic than academic, so rather than send him to university, he took him to Stuttgart, Germany, for three years to study painting. When he returned from Europe, Wasson settled in Boston and joined the studio of J. Foxcroft Cole, a mentor to many “Boston school” artists.
Wasson was a member of the St. Botolph Club, where he would have mingled with artists such as John Singer Sargent and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He exhibited at the Boston Art Club along with Seacoast artists Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell. Wasson’s marine paintings were successful, especially with sailors, because they were informed by Wasson’s intimate knowledge of boats, rigging, and how boats looked and acted on the sea.
He continued to sail the New England coast, and in 1885 he met and married Amelia Webb at Isle au Haut, Maine. In 1888 Wasson moved to Kittery Point, where he and Amelia raised two sons, Lewis and David.
Wasson was fascinated by the lives and stories of the maritime characters of Kittery and spent time making notes of the distinctive maritime vocabulary that he published in short stories and three novels. His novels were well-received and reviewed, but were not commercially successful.
He spent some time at the carving studio of John Haley Bellamy, a neighbor, where he learned to carve and produced eagles, ship models, and frames and panels for his own paintings. Wasson lived, painted, carved, sailed, and wrote in Kittery Point until the tragic deaths of his sons (Lewis in 1912 and David in 1915).
In 1915, Wasson moved to Bangor with his wife and his daughter-in-law (David’s wife, Mildred), where he lived until his death in 1932.
Wasson’s wife and daughter-in-law later returned to Kittery to live. In 1943, Amelia christened the U.S. Navy Liberty ship, George S. Wasson. Mildred became a Proprietor of the Athenaeum in 1945.
Lauren and Dean Gallant’s interest in Wasson began when they bought the house that had been Wasson’s first home in the area. Kaselauskas also lives within sight of the Kittery Point home Wasson built for his family. He has contacted neighbors, fellow enthusiasts, and Wasson relatives who have allowed the Athenaeum to exhibit some of their treasures. Other contributors are Proprietor Elizabeth Aykroyd and the Athenaeum itself.
The exhibit will run through Nov. 5 and will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m.
Exhibit At A Glance
Friday August 5, 2022
5 – 8 p.m.
Randall Gallery, Third Floor, Portsmouth Athenaeum
November 5, 2022