Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rockport, Massachusetts

On our recent trip to New England, we drove from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine. On the way north, we decided to take a side trip to the scenic fishing village of Rockport, Massachusetts. This wasn’t our first visit to Rockport. Back in 1999, on a family road trip to Boston the see the Philadelphia Flyers play the Boston Bruins, we took a drive north of the city through Salem and Rockport, which shares the Cape Ann peninsula with the town of Gloucester.

Rockport Fishing Shack by Lou Ford

Historically, the area that is now Rockport was simply an uninhabited part of Gloucester for more than 100 years, and was primarily used as a source of timber -- especially pine for shipbuilding. The area around Cape Ann was also one of the best fishing grounds in New England. In 1743 a dock was built at Rockport harbor on Sandy Bay and was used for both timber and fishing. By the beginning of the 19th century, the first granite quarries were developed, and by the 1830s, Rockport granite was being shipped to cities and towns throughout the East Coast of the United States. Although the demand for granite decreased with the increasing use of concrete in construction during the Great Depression, Rockport still thrived as an artist colony -- which began years earlier due to its rocky, boulder-strewn ocean beaches, its quaint fishing shacks, a harbor filled with small, colorful fishing boats, and the fact that Cape Ann was made famous by Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous.

Rockport Motif Number 1 by Lou Ford

The most famous sight in Rockport, of course, is the red fishing shack sitting out on Bradley Wharf in the middle of the harbor. The fishing shack is well-known to students of art and art history as "the most often-painted building in America." Oddly enough, the shack actually has a name – Motif Number 1. Built in the 1840s as Rockport became home to a colony of artists and fishermen, the shack became a favorite subject of painters due to the composition and lighting of its location as well as being a symbol of New England maritime life. Painter Lester Hornby is believed to be the first to call the shack "Motif Number 1," a reference to its being the favorite subject of the town's painters, and the name achieved general acceptance. Battered and broken by the great winter storm of 1978, the original Motif Number 1 collapsed and was swept out of Rockport harbor. Within the year, a duplicate had been built and repainted to look as good as new. The Bearskin Neck area along the harbor, with its narrow streets and many quaint restaurants, art galleries, and shops, is also a favorite tourist area.

Rockport Motif Number 1 (2) by Lou Ford

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