George Daniell did what a lot of kids did after graduating from college in 1934. He moved to New York with dreams of becoming a painter. He took up photography to pay the bills.
In 1937, to escape the heat of the city, Daniell came north to Maine and the art colony at Ogunquit. After a few weeks, he continued up the coast, spending a month on Monhegan Island. Photos from that month ended up in Time and Life magazines, offering the outside world an uncluttered and unadorned view of island life.
Those photos are part of the latest photography exhibition at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, “George Daniell: Island Life,” on view through Aug. 9. In addition to Daniell’s Monhegan photos from 1937, the exhibition includes images from Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada, where Daniell spent the summer of ’38.
This is the third exhibition that Ogunquit has hosted this season in conjunction with the Maine Photo Project. Museum board member and former Portland gallery owner Andres Verzosa curated the shows.
Earlier this season, Ogunquit showed photographs by Rose Marasco and Verner Reed. After Daniell, Ogunquit will show photos by Todd Webb (Aug. 14-Sept. 27) and Michael Alpert (Oct 2-31).
Daniell arrived at Grand Manan at the height of the herring fishery, and his photos capture an important moment in the history of the North Atlantic, said Hugh French, director of Tides Institute in Eastport, who lectured on Daniell at Ogunquit last week.
“Through an extraordinary series of photographs, he captured an island in time and a unique and long-standing industry that has all but disappeared,” French said. “There are now no smoked herring houses on Grand Manan, where once there were hundreds. The herring weir fisheries is a mere faint shadow of its former self with hardly a weir operating now on Grand Manan, and only one sardine factory left on the continent. George Daniell’s photographs of Grand Manan hold up very well, they are as riveting today as when they were taken.”
Additionally, Daniell represented a lifestyle unique among artists during much of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century.
It was common for artists coming from New York to visit the coast of Maine and then go to Grand Manan in New Brunswick, then to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. “Just like it’s common to see a work of the Maine coast in major art museums across the U.S., it’s equally common to see a work of Grand Manan island in these same museums,” French said. “The demise of the steamship system that connected this coast and the tightening of the U.S.-Canada border has made this ebb and flow of artists much less common.”
Daniell moved to Trenton in 1960, and spent the final 42 years of his life in Maine. He died in 2002 at age 91.