My family history has spilled out in bits and pieces over time. In the last few years the stories have accelerated, due to making an effort but also the ease of being able to search multiple library holdings from a distance. A few years ago I was overwhelmed with technical data of birth, death and marriage certificates, but I felt I was missing their hearts and minds. Finding gems that speak more deeply on what any relative did and why is what keeps any genealogist looking more. Even before I knew for sure what some people did I used to feel a pull to certain places or people and think “they must have known them” or “they had to have known about this” or “what did they think of this view“, but the exact connection would be elusive. Recently I have found a gem connection and it involves the painter John Marin.
I have always been drawn to the watercolors of John Marin especially his pieces of the Maine Coast. This is understandable because I spent part of my childhood in Maine. Later, as an art student, I might spot a painting or two in a city bound museum and those coastal Maine paintings never failed to jump out at me. I knew the pictures would be by Marin, even across a gallery. I would see the same energy I felt as a child and the fragment of time held there and I would simply whisper out “Well Hello there!” to a patch of familiar life. Maybe others could casually walk by a Marin tree, rock or boat, but for me, at a glance, I knew them to be true and painterly interpretations of Maine. How someone could ever spend some time in Maine and not emerge an artist, I don’t know, maybe they are the same people that casually walk by museum paintings in the first place.
Marin of course painted more than Maine, that is just what first drew me in. His life is well documented too in multiple source books. But important to note is the fact that his mother died just a few days after his birth in New Jersey in 1870. He was subsequently rejected by his father and raised by his maternal relatives. In 1903 he was in New York City studying at the Art Student’s League after enduring an unhappy early career in architecture. While his father didn’t care for his painting he did have a fan in his stepmother. She followed his progress and made a scrapbook of his shows and reviews. This Mrs. Marin is the same Mrs. Marin that was reaching out to help my great grandmother make connections in the music world of New York City. Mrs. Marin and Miss. Schirmer, with whom Edith Vail Ross boarded, were close friends and both made dedicated efforts to assist young artists and musicians to get their starts. Edith’s own mother, Helen Beals Ross, had also made an acquaintance of Mrs. Marin. Additionally, in the summer of 1903 the young art student Margaret McKay had come to live with Miss Schirmer and Edith at Mrs. Marin’s direction, as detailed in my previous posts. Margaret McKay’s mother had been such close friends with Mrs. Marin that the McKay family had been raised to consider her an Aunt and when she placed Margaret at Miss Schirmer’s home Edith wrote home “that Miss McKay is kin” to Mrs. Marin.
Edith Vail Ross provided an update to her parents in Rutland, Vermont on her latest collaboration with Mrs. Marin in a letter home on June 25, 1903 “Yesterday Mrs. Marin came down in the AM, stayed to lunch and spent part of the PM. She played over a number of accompaniments to my simple canto. Which are suitable to a parlor which she will play for me tonight. We are invited to dine up there tonight at six. She has asked ?aurney?(handwriting difficult) and there’s a Mr. & Mrs.Hatfield (not the CV) and he is a Bass and she thought we could sing some duets. They are rich people and Mrs. Marin hopes he will take an interest in me. She has known of his helping a young man with things to study and doesn’t see why he won’t be interested in me. Then she has asked Mr. & Mrs. Dâake who are also interested in music and helped Miss Harris to the fine church position. Mrs. Marin thinks I have a lovely voice, is very altruistic and wants awfully to help me, which is very sweet of her isn’t it? Little Miss McKay is charming and we are enjoying her very much (when we have any time).”
Did one of my favorite painters attend the musical dinner party that his stepmother was arranging for my great grandmother to sing at? Just the possibility makes me smile.
After his 1903 time at the Art Student League in New York City Marin spent several years in Europe during which he developed a refined abstract landscape style. Upon his return he ventured north to the Coast of Maine and began his long painterly association with the coast line. He died there in 1953 at his home in Addison. Here are just two of my favorite Marin paintings
More Info: The Art Institute of Chicago has shared an informative video of Marin’s work and process AND View the Wall Street Journal article on Marin from 2011, How a Great American Artist Vanished From the Critical Scope