I am often led to arts enclaves by the artists who live and work there. Such was my introduction to Rockport, Massachusetts last summer, and so deep was my infatuation, that I have already booked a week there this summer.
Rockport, Mass sits on the northern coast of the state, just past Gloucester, on the very tip of Cape Ann. The artist who led me there was a wonderful contemporary architectural landscape painter named David Arsenault, whose work I have followed for several years. His aesthetic is to paint clean, crisp visions of the simple elegance of these landscapes. His website invites you to visit both the town he loves to paint (complete with lodging information and local events), and the gallery he now occupies on Dock Square (a move from his previous location on Bearskin Neck).
What is it about this place?
Take a look at the location and you’ll see why the fascination with Rockport. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Boston—but it couldn’t be further from the city. The energy here is slow and easy during the day, warm and bubbling at night.
The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Map (full map available at http://www.mass.gov)
Yes, this is Yankee country—where “ahhhhr’s” float on the wind. You can walk Bearskin neck to the tip of Cape Ann in Rockport and from that vantage point, the Altantic surrounds you on three sides. It’s a picturesque place that has inspired artists for centuries, as well as photographers, and even filmmakers.
In nearby Gloucester, the famous fisherman statue leans into the wind It’s the oldest seaport in America, home of Gorton’s, the originators of the fish stick, and the port where the families of the Andrea Gail crew waited for the six fishermen who never returned from The Perfect Storm. But you can relax there, with a nice meal harborside.
Just west of Rockport is Manchester-by-the-Sea, now best known as the site of the Oscar-nominated film from 2016. (Much of that film was also shot in Rockport.)
And the next time you watch Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, you’ll realize she didn’t go all the way to Sitka Alaska, but to Rockport (and other surrounding areas). You’ll recognize the iconic replica of a fishing shack called “Motif #1” (pronounced Mow-tiv, ask the locals why), which Wikipedia refers to as “the most often painted building in America.”
Rockport was designated one of the 10 Prettiest Coastal Towns in New England by Yankee Magazine—and it’s well deserved. This tourist haven blooms primarily in the warm breezes of the summer (although there are activities year-round, particularly at Christmas), with an easy pedestrian shopping district filled with crafty shops with stories and interesting items from around the world—handmade ponchos from South America and French linens and drums and perfumed oils—not to mention the pewter and woodwork and ART everywhere. You actually can get something here that won’t be in every tourist town in America.
Okay, it’s everywhere. Rockport is really more like a peninsula jutting out into the ocean, so it’s easy to find a bit of public sand or a bench to sit and enjoy the views, or can take a nice dip (and you don’t even need hotel access). There’s also other stuff, like kayaking, whale watches, fishing excursions and boat tours (check www.rockportusa.com). My personal recommendation is to just hop on the water taxi in Gloucester at any stop.
The Rockport Arts Colony
The village wakes up in summer like the opening of a Disney movie. Last summer, my friend and I came of out breakfast in the main square and stepped right into a little parade, complete with a marching band. Music can be heard frequently on the streets, but the real deal is the spectacular Shalin Liu Performance Center, with its amazing backdrop of the coastline behind an impressive showcase of performers of all styles (classical, jazz, pop, folk, orchestral and choral). It’s a focal point of the village, a nice stroll from many of the hotels and inns and nestled between a number of restaurants and art galleries.
And, don’t forget the ART. Rockport is home to 30 galleries that show the works of hundreds of local artists. Visiting artists of all kinds are encouraged to set up easels and can easily by guided to many local spots for painting by the gallery owners in town. The Rockport Art Association also hosts a number of art exhibits and painting workshops where you learn the best of what these artists have to teach.
Two art-related events worth noting are:
- Motif No. 1 Day – Saturday, May 20, organized by the Rockport Exchange
- Cape Ann Plein Air (CAPA) – October 8-16th
Head to Gloucester for the small galleries, restaurants and shops of Rocky Neck and the Cape Ann Museum where you can explore the gloriously rich maritime and granite-quarrying history of this tiny New England region through centuries of fine art and sculpture.
Just so you know, there are many things that I’ve missed, so you’ll just have to go and explore it yourself (and share what you learn in the comments).
David Arsenault in his studio, August 2016
Make sure to say hi to David and talk to the locals—they love Rockport and Gloucester and will be very happy to tell you so much more about it!
In Rockport, artists kept the Depression at bay (Boston Globe, 2010)
Artists of Cape Ann – A 150-Year Tradition – by Kristian Davies, 2001
© Copyright 2017– Arts Enclave.