En plein air – painters in paradise

Plein air painter at Mystic Seaport

Plein air artist Steven Kennedy of Wellfleet , Massachusetts at Mystic Seaport

Since the era of French Impressionists who managed to catch light and move it onto their canvases, artists everywhere have tried to make their paintings dance. Interest in this genre has exploded in the United States in the past two decades with galleries and museums enjoying the increased patronage.

Workshops have also cropped up worldwide, with New England having its share of hands-on experience for the accomplished and would-be plein air artist. What better way to free your creative self than to jump right in, join a group and let the brush take you where it will. If you want criticism (a good way to learn) it’s available. If you want to experiment alone, you can, but steel yourself for comments. Ultimately, you will be the winner.

The Mystic Seaport Maritime Gallery recently sponsored a workshop on site. Rockport, Massachusetts has its famous Motif #1, a quintessential faded red barn cum dock that has drawn artists for years, but nothing can compare with the bounty of motifs at Mystic. At every turn you spot a sight crying “Catch me if you can!”


Steve Kennedy sets up his easel astern the whaleship C.W.Morgan

And that is just what this select band of plein air oil painters has done. At the workshop by invitation of the Gallery, these acknowledged marine artists have spent a few days dipping their hands in the candy jar of historic boats; from whalers, to tugs, to schooners, to rowboats – and have preserved their impressions on the small panels specified by the committee.

It is Saturday morning:

Sunny, in the low seventies and glorious! Time to drive the few miles to Exit 90 on I-95 in Connecticut to visit the Plein Air Workshop at the Mystic Seaport. This day, we bypass the Olde Mystic Village, on the left at the exit. There’s always time to visit the Aquarium, as well as the many other worthwhile exhibits. Rather, we follow the brown “Historic” signs several more yards and turn left into the main parking lot for the Museum. (Handicap note below)

The Workshop is not concentrated in a particular area where a teacher demonstrates a technique and critiques an artist’s work. These are all accomplished plein air painters who attend for the fellowship of their compatriots who gain insight and emotional strength from expressing their love of nature outdoors, where the light lures them onward.

All good things come to an end.

David Monteiro

David Monteiro's rowboat in sparkling water

They were wrapping up around noon, when we talked with a few. They will pack their easels, paints and canvas to take back to their studios, then gather again this evening for a reception before saying their goodbyes and “until next year’s” to friends old and new.

Left: David Monteiro shows us his morning’s work, an almost touchable rowboat and its reflection in the surrounding seawater. With a trained brush, David is able to give life to the boat. You can feel the water moving steadily beneath the sturdy hull. David has a studio in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he lives. He gives lessons, runs workshops and often wins awards both here and internationally.

Jane and Eileen

Friends from Long Island, NY - Jane and Eileen

Right: Jane McGraw-Teubner and Eileen Sanger have attended several plein air workshops together. Here, they cast an approving eye at each other’s oeuvre. The spontaneity resulting from this type of painting often produces surprisingly lively work. Jane and Eileen have had a successful week!

Meanwhile, the Museum is displaying its Annual International Marine Art Exhibition, as well as its permanent collection of some of the finest marine paintings in the world. The collection of Rosenfeld’s marine photography is without parallel. Anything maritime; research, sculpture, crafts, recipes, tattoos, scrimshaw, knots, books – it’s all here. You can even take a crack at building a small boat with your kids.

Before you swagger back to your car, consider dropping into Latitude 41 for a delicious dinner before leaving Mystic. Perhaps you had a sandwich at the café/bakery this noon as you entered the Seaport.

Steven, David, Eileen and Jane:

Steven’s art: Steven Kennedy at Left Bank Gallery

David’s website: David Monteiro – Fine Art Paintings

Eileen lives in Miller Place, Long Island, N.Y. where she has her studio and gives lessons in oil painting and drawing. Her website, Eileen Sanger Fine Art, is where you can see her work and learn how to contact her.

Jane lives in East Northport, Long Island, N.Y. and maintains her studio there. She has won many awards and is a Master Pastelist – see her website, Jane McGraw-Teubner Fine Art, for an example of her pastel work.


Hugh Busey

ASK ME - Hugh Busey volunteers information for Seaport visitors.

The Mystic Seaport is highly regarded by many sources as a great place to visit with children (not to be confused with Old Mystic Village). There are many interactive displays and workshops for kids and parents. Don’t worry about finding all the activities and displays. Look for someone wearing a large white sign saying “ASK ME”. This guide is Hugh Busey, one of the Seaport’s many loyal volunteers, without whom the programs would not be possible.

Handicap Note: Although there is plenty of handicap parking, it is still quite a haul to cover the property. If an hour of using a walker is difficult, I would plan on a wheelchair or motorized cart. Within the grounds, there are ramps available, but to avoid four steps up, you must walk nearly forty feet on an incline. This can be mighty tiring.

Related websites:

Mystic Seaport: General informationPlanning your visitRosenfeld photo collection

Mystic Seaport Plein Air Painters of the Maritime Gallery

Plein air, Painting the American Landscape, a PBS series

Plein air painters of America

Google Map to the Seaport

More Striped Pot articles by Gail Hunter

All photos: © 2011, Gail Hunter


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