Section 2: Women and White Mountain Art

April 7th, 2016 by Amanda

Female artists were path breakers. Not only were they some of the first women to sell art or publish poetry, but their work helped to introduce an interested public, especially the middle class, to the wonders of the White Mountains. These women had to step outside the norm to be noticed. They walked a very fine line between acclamation and denunciation.


In 1859, poet and former Lowell mill operative Lucy Larcom joined Whittier and his friends in the White Mountains where she fell promptly fell in love – with the mountains. To a friend, she wrote, “To me there is rest and strength, and aspiration and exultation, among the mountains… I will go, and get a glimpse and breathe of their glory, once a year, always…. But I must not go on about the mountains, or I shall never stop.” Her romantic poetry focused on people’s understanding of and reaction to nature, generally using the White Mountains as her literary canvas.

So lovingly the clouds caress his head,—
The mountain-monarch; he, severe and hard,
With white face set like flint horizon-ward;
They weaving softest fleece of gold and red,
And gossamer of airiest silver thread,
To wrap his form, wind-beaten, thunder-scarred.
They linger tenderly, and fain would stay,
Since he, earth-rooted, may not float away.
He upward looks, but moves not; wears their hues;
Draws them unto himself; their beauty shares;
And sometimes his own semblance seems to lose,
His grandeur and their grace so interfuse;
And when his angels leave him unawares,
A sullen rock, his brow to heaven he bares.

–Lucy Larcom, “Clouds on Whiteface,” 1868

Many women used flowers as their main inspiration, often ignoring the mountains behind them completely. Fidelia Bridges studied in Europe and established a respectable career painting primarily detailed botanical still lifes upon her return. Botany was immensely popular. Flowers and close-ups of nature sold. In many ways, her careful work highlights artwork done by women who never intended to exhibit their work.

Maria a’Becket’s artwork was widely known in her own time.  Born Maria Graves Becket, she changed her name to a’Becket while studying painting in France.  In 1884, she explained that she best liked to paint “old trees” that “bear the marks of long, hard struggles.” She was a path breaker. Art critic Sadakichi Hartmann recognized a’Becket as “a peculiar phenomenon in our art” with a “frail build” and “the vigorous touch of a man.”

A student of Benjamin Champney, Martha or Mary Safford’s art includes similarities of light and subject. MacIntyre notes “she signed her work with her initials or not at all, following a practice often used in the 19th Century to disquise women’s work, which did not sell as readily or at the same prices as men’s work.”

Elizabeth Jewell began her art career after her children were adults. She studied with professionals and went on painting trips throughout New England. Her work in the White Mountains was done in the early twentieth century.

“Emily Selinger (1848-1927) was an accomplished artist, author, poet, musician, writer of articles on art, monologues, and greeting cards…. From the mid-1880s until 1894 Emily and her husband Jean Paul Selinger (1850-1909) occupied a summer art studio at the Glen House, at the base of Mount Washington, in Pinkham Notch. Beginning in the 1894 summer tourist season they moved to the former art studio of Frank H. Shapleigh… at the famed Crawford House. Emily Selinger’s watercolor “Crawford Notch” and Jean Paul Selinger’s oil “Gateway of Crawford Notch, White Mountains, N. H. from Selinger’s Studio Grove” (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College) are nearly identical. We can almost visualize them sitting next to each with easel and paints. The scene, painted dozens of times by a variety of artists, is across Saco Lake… toward Elephant’s Head, the Gate of the Notch, with Mount Webster in the distance. Today this view remains unchanged. We can literally stand where the Selingers stood and enjoy the view they depicted.” Charles and Gloria Vogel, “Jean Paul and Emily Selinger,” Historical New Hampshire 34, No.2 (Summer 1979).

It is worth noting that Emily Selinger was the only female artist-in-residence at any of the grand hotels in the White Mountains. In August 1888, the White Mountain Echo reported that “Mr. and Mrs. Jean Paul Selinger’s beautiful studio at the Glen House still continues to be one of the chief attractions of that elegant hotel. Mrs. Selinger receives every afternoon, surrounded by her own beautiful pictures of roses and chrysanthemums, and great jars and vases of the gorgeous wild flowers that are now in bloom.”