The first lighthouse I ever saw was on the Chesapeake Bay. As a little kid our family would on a rare occasion visit my great Uncle Ray at his estate in Shady Side, MD (my middle name Raymond is after him). On one such occasion he took my dad, brother and me out in his sporty, mahogany Chris Craft motorboat for a day of fishing. There it was Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, a house on stilts (called screwpiles) out in the middle of the water. Who lives there and why, I wondered?
When my wife and I moved to Maine in order for me to pursue my art career, one of my passions became visiting, photographing and painting as many of the Maine lighthouses as I could. There was something about them that guided me artistically and spiritually. I don’t know if it is from being nostalgic about my time as a kid with my great uncle Ray, whether it has something to do with my ancestral shipbuilding heritage or whether it’s something more immediate and simply explained. Maybe it’s that I see the lighthouses as a guiding force for saving lives, directing sailors and ships to safety. Maybe it’s the aesthetic beauty of the dramatic locations the lighthouses are built on. Maybe it’s the solitary existence of the lighthouse keepers, the sound of waves crashing on the rocks, the cries of gulls in the air or the beauty of the passing boats and ships. Maybe it’s all of the above!
The combination of unique architectural elements and the history of each lighthouse allowed me to find new inspiration with each painting. Most have stories of lonely lighthouse keepers that lived for decades fighting the elements to serve and protect others. Many have lore of ghosts haunting the light, accompanying the keepers and scaring the visitors. All have stories of the sea, of violent storms, and of close calls and tragic endings for ships and sailors lost at sea.
Here are some of the many lighthouse paintings I painted while living along the coast of Maine accompanied by a brief mention of their history and/or a personal experience.
Portland Head Light - Maine’s oldest light built at the direction of George Washington in 1791. It overlooks Casco Bay and helps to protect ships from the treacherous rocky coastline.
Marshall Point Light - Originally built in 1832 it marks the point entering Port Clyde Harbor. It is one of our favorite lighthouse destinations.
Owls Head Light - Built in 1826 in Owls Head, protecting the southern entrance to Rockland Harbor. In the 1930’s the keeper’s dog Spot used to ring the bell when ships would pass by tugging on the bell’s rope. Spot was credited with saving the Matinicus mailboat in a blizzard when the fogbell was buried in a snowdrift. Since he couldn’t ring the bell his incessant barking guided the boat safely to shore! *See footnote.
Rockland Breakwater Light - Built on a mile long jetty out into Rockland Harbor in 1888. It is a short distance from Owls Head Light. The huge granite blocks help make Rockland a safe harbor. My wife and I loved walking out to the light on the jetty, listening to the waves hitting the rocks, smelling the salt air and watching the activity on the water.
Bass Harbor Light - Built in 1858 at the southwest point of Mount Desert Island. It marks the entrance to Blue Hill Bay and Bass Harbor. It is one of the most dramatic of lighthouse settings and one of the most photographed.
Curtis Island Light - Built in 1836, it guides boats large and small into Camden Harbor where we once lived. With Camden Hills in the background, sailing toward Curtis Island Light is one of the prettiest entrances to a harbor anywhere. This commissioned painting focuses on the Victory Chimes Schooner and Curtis Island Light.
Pemaquid Point Light - Built in 1827. The striated rock formation leading from the lighthouse to the water is a dramatic setting. In September 1903 a storm so violent hit that even the lighthouse beacon could not guide the schooner George F. Edmunds to safety. Captain Poole and thirteen of his crew were lost in the storm.
Prospect Harbor Light - Built in 1850. When we drove around the winding coastal road and came upon Prospect Harbor Light I was taken with the setting and immediately wondered why it isn’t painted or photographed more often.
Bear Island Light - Built in 1839, it marks the entrance of Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island. Our good friends commissioned this painting after we were all out on the water together admiring Bear Island Light. High on a hilltop, with a sheer drop to the crashing waves below, this lighthouse to me is one of the most dramatic but rarely seen ones. Most likely because it is hard to photograph unless you are on the water or in the air!
I’ve painted numerous other lighthouse paintings but wanted to share these with you to hopefully inspire you to discover them for yourselves. Most are easily accessible by car or on foot and well worth a visit. Mix in a lobster roll or a seafood platter and you’ll have memorable afternoon!
*An excellent resource for lighthouses along the coast of Maine is “The Lighthouses of Maine” by Wally Welch from which I learned the story of Spot, the Owl’s Head Light keeper’s dog.