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By the Sea: Folk Paintings by Janet Munro

 

(above: Janet Munro, Winter on Main Street, Hyannis, mixed media on masonite, 25 x 37 inches)

After vacationing on Cape Cod for much of her life, nationally acclaimed folk artist Janet Munro moved to Hyannis two years ago to be near the ocean year-round. Painting water is also near and dear to her heart. Always an important theme in her work, it shows up in virtually every piece in her one-person exhibition, "By the Sea: Folk Paintings by Janet Munro," which will open November 16, 2004 and run through December 31, 2004 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art. (right: Janet Munro, Cape Cod Cats)

Munro's paintings often tell a story -- sometimes based on her own historical research. "Cape Cod Thanksgiving," her interpretation of the first fall feast the early settlers held in Sandwich, shows tables laden with food and friendly interactions between the European newcomers and the Wampanoags. Munro also found inspiration in the 18th-century romance between pirate "Black" Sam Bellamy and the Eastham "witch" Maria Hallet; the lighthouse that once stood on the lost island of Billingsgate, off Wellfleet; the life-saving station in Truro; and the activities of shell-fishing on the flats and harvesting cranberries. Occasionally, Munro enters the realm of whimsy, painting cats dressed up and acting like people.

The figures that populate her paintings engage in honorable work and wholesome fun, all in a spirit of harmonious cooperation. While her scenes usually have an old-fashioned flavor, the specific time period can be nebulous -- sometimes even to Munro. Sometimes she finds herself asking her husband, fellow folk artist Charles Munro, "Should I put a truck in here or a horse?"

Munro typically mixes a variety of media in her works, including oils, latex house paint, graphite, inks, oil pastels, and varnishes and glazes. When working on a piece, she keeps adding the charming, intricate details for which she's famous -- at least until she runs out of room or the story is completely told, she says. (right: Janet Munro, Cape Cod Thanksgiving)

Born in Woburn, MA, in 1949, the artist lived in Greenwich Village during her early childhood, then spent her high school years in rural New Jersey. Her parents, both actors, encouraged her interest in art, as did the grandmother with whom she spent summers in North Reading, Mass. Her grandmother not only provided plenty of art supplies and abundant praise, but told wonderful stories. By the time Janet was in the eighth grade, she was painting her school's windows at Christmas time. During high school, she won a number of state and national art competitions.

She made a definite decision to become an artist in 1967, when, at age 17, she saw a major exhibition of Andrew Wyeth paintings at the Whitney Museum. She greatly admired his sensitivity and skill, though she found his paintings rather too empty and lonely. So she also looked to Grandma Moses as her inspiration for painting pictures with lots of life and cheerful activity.

She married Charles Munro soon after high school, lived on a dairy farm, began her family of three children, worked odd jobs during the day and started painting farm scenes at night. In 1978, prominent New York art dealer Jay Johnson discovered her work on exhibit in a Long Island show and offered to put her under contract. By the late 1980s, she had had ten one-person shows around the country. With him handling all her business dealings, Munro was finally free to paint full time. She painted and sold more than 2,000 canvases before Johnson's death in 1989.

Today, her husband acts as her business advisor. Although both of them have only a high school education, they taught a museum painting course for beginners for more than ten years. It rather amuses them that their students could earn college credit for it.

Janet Munro's work is represented in the collections of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the American Folk Art Museum in New York; and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Private collectors who have purchased her paintings include Sen. Edward Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith, Ethel Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo, Barbara Bush, Art Garfunkle, Arlo Guthrie, Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony Hopkins, Penny Marshall, Ali McGraw and the late Dr. Benjamin Spock. (right: Janet Munro, Quilting in the Parlor)

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19. Gloria Lariviere will provide live music on piano, and refreshments will be served. Janet Munro will give gallery talks at 11 a.m. November 30 and December 14.

 

Wall panel text from the exhibition:

In the world of American folk art, the name "Janet Munro" is familiar from sea to shining sea. So we feel very privileged at the Cahoon Museum of American Art to be giving this exceptional artist her first one-person show on Cape Cod.
 
After vacationing here for much of her life, Janet Munro moved to Hyannis two years ago to be near the ocean year-round. Among all the villages on the Cape, she preferred Hyannis because it offers such a diverse cross-section of humanity, has a Main Street bustling with mom-and-pop businesses and is associated with the Kennedy family. But "By the Sea," an exhibition of works painted over the past year, reflects Munro's enchantment with the entire Cape, ranging from Buzzards Bay to Wellfleet and from Sandy Neck to Nantucket. Water has always been an important element in her work. But now that she lives on an arm of land surrounded by sea, it shows up in virtually every painting.
 
Munro's paintings often tell a story ­ sometimes based on her own historical research. "Cape Cod Thanksgiving," her interpretation of the first fall feast the early settlers held in Sandwich, shows tables laden with food and friendly interactions between the European newcomers and the Wampanoags. Munro also found inspiration in the 18th-century romance between pirate "Black" Sam Bellamy and the Eastham "witch" Maria Hallet; the lighthouse that once stood on the lost island of Billingsgate, off Wellfleet; the life-saving station in Truro; and the activities of shell-fishing on the flats and harvesting cranberries. Occasionally, Munro enters the realm of whimsy, painting anthropomorphic cats.
 
The figures that populate her paintings engage in honorable work and wholesome fun, all in a spirit of harmonious cooperation. While her scenes usually have an old-fashioned flavor, the specific time period can be nebulous ­ sometimes even to Munro. Sometimes, pondering a farm scene, she finds herself asking her husband, fellow folk artist Charles Munro, "Should I put a truck in here or a horse?"
 
Munro typically mixes a variety of media in her works, including oils, latex house paint, graphite, inks, oil pastels, and varnishes and glazes. When working on a piece, she keeps adding the delightful details for which she's famous ­ at least until she runs out of room or the story is completely told. Impeccably composed, her paintings are also distinguished by a gently glowing clarity and tranquil mood.
 
Born in Woburn, Mass., in 1949, the artist lived in Greenwich Village during her early childhood, then spent her high school years in rural New Jersey. Her parents, both actors, encouraged her interest in art, as did her paternal grandmother, with whom she spent summers in North Reading, Mass. Her grandmother told stories that fostered her imagination. She also provided plenty of art supplies and abundant praise. "Every potholder my sister and I made was the best potholder she ever saw," Munro recalls. By the time Janet was in the eighth grade, she was painting her school's windows at Christmas time. During high school, she won a number of state and national art competitions.
 
She made a definite decision to become an artist in 1967, when, at age 17, she saw a major exhibition of Andrew Wyeth paintings at the Whitney Museum. She admired Wyeth's sensitivity and skill, though she found his paintings too empty and lonely. So she also looked to Grandma Moses as her inspiration for painting pictures with lots of life and cheerful activity. "Those are my two heroes," Munro says.
 
She married Charles Munro soon after high school, lived on a dairy farm, began her family of three children, worked odd jobs by day and started painting farm scenes at night. In the summer, she'd take her work to local sidewalk shows and sell everything. "When I first started taking things to galleries, I thought I was really good," Munro says. "They'd call them 'primitive,' and I'd be insulted."
 
In 1978, prominent New York art dealer Jay Johnson discovered her work on exhibit at the Country Art Gallery on Long Island (the same gallery showed Ralph and Martha Cahoons' work for about 25 years) and offered to put her under contract. With him handling her business dealings, Munro was free to paint full time. By the late 1980s, she'd had 10 one-person shows around the country. She painted and sold more than 2,000 canvases before Johnson's death in 1989.
 
Today, her husband acts as her business manager. And although she studies books on art and art history ­ and tries to paint as realistically as possible ­ her scenes continue to turn out "primitive." Munro has long since accepted this as a good thing ­ as well she might, considering her reputation. Her work is represented in the collections of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the American Folk Art Museum in New York; and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Private collectors have included Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush, Mario Cuomo, Ethel Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith, Anthony Hopkins, Whoopi Goldberg, Art Garfunkle, Arlo Guthrie and the late Dr. Benjamin Spock.
 
 


(above: Janet Munro, Clambake at Billingsgate Light, Circa 1868, mixed media on board, 22 x 38 inches)

 

Label text from the exhibition:

Autumn on Cape Cod
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
This painting was inspired by hazy skies, warm breezes and dreamy Cape Cod memories.
 
The Blue Quilt
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
As an artist I am always interested in depicting and documenting everyday life. This holds true for the interiors that I paint. I enjoy adding all of the little details, all of the common objects found in the home.
 
Cape Cod Quilters
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
Cape Cod Sheep Farm
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
In 1837, there were 63 ships sailing out of Truro, fishing for cod and mackerel. The number of hands employed was 512. More surprisingly, the community was simultaneously producing a great deal of wool. In 1837, the farmers of Truro sheared 400 sheep from their own herds.
 
Cape Cod Thanksgiving
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
This peaceful scene depicts the first harvest celebration in Sandwich, the Cape's oldest town. Historical records show that there was a Thanksgiving-like feast there in 1640. The native Wampanoags share their land and harvest with the recently arrived Pilgrims. I think of the event as a kind of "Peaceable Kingdom."
 
Clambake at Billingsgate Light, Circa 1868
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
Before the Europeans arrived, Native Americans fished from Billingsgate Island for centuries. In December 1620, Pilgrim William Bradford spotted Billingsgate off the coast of what is now Wellfleet. Mayflower passenger Constance Hopkins and her husband, Nicholas Snow, were the first know European owners of the island, with the deed recorded by 1640. In 1822, the first lighthouse was built on Billingsgate. It was only the third one on Cape Cod, preceded by one in Truro and one in Provincetown.
 
Many generations lived on the island. They built houses, a school, oyster shacks and wharves and made a good living from the sea. But the sea eventually swallowed up Billingsgate. The island started out as 50 acres, but by the 1920s had washed away to less than five acres. It was exactly 100 years from the time the lighthouse was built to the time the last bricks were hauled away from the ruins in 1922. Today, nothing is left, only stories and the photographs of the lost island.
 
Cranberry Fields in Winter
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
Around 1816 in Dennis, the high tide from a storm spread sand over a peat bog where wild cranberries were growing. By luck or happenstance, Captain Henry Hall noticed that the vines on this particular bog seemed to grow better and have more berries than those in his other bogs. So began the farming of cranberries on Cape Cod.
 
Commercial growing began in Harwich between 1840 and 1845. Many of the early commercial growers were sea captains as they had the financial resources as well as a crew of laborers. Capt. Alvin Cahoon, Capt. Zebina H. Small and Capt. Nathaniel Robbins were among the first cranberry farmers on Cape Cod.
 
Evening on Buzzards Bay
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
There is nothing as beautiful as a full moon on the ocean. Buzzards Bay lies west of Cape Cod and is about 30 miles long and approximately 7 miles wide.
 
Fourth of July in Wellfleet
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
Hannah of Sandwich
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
This is a portrait of one of Sandwich's most famous women, Hannah Rebecca Burgess, who navigated a large clipper ship across the Pacific Ocean when she was 22 years old. Hannah had learned navigation from her husband, Capt. William Howes Burgess, and so was able to bring his ship Challenger safely to port in Valparaiso, Chile, when he took ill.
 
The Ice Harvest, Barnstable
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
This is a view of the Coggins Pond Ice House, which was built in 1865 and operated till the 1930s. Barney Hinckley, Albert Jones and Chester Jones cut and delivered ice from here. The painting shows large blocks of ice being cut and harvested. Ice was delivered to customers by horse and wagon and cut to size at each address.
 
Island Home
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
In 1855, the Nantucket Steamboat Co. became the Nantucket and Cape Cod Steamboat Co. when the new railroad terminus wharf was built in Hyannis. The new company's first purchase was the steamer Island Home, delivered to Nantucket on Sept. 5, 1855. It was 184 feet long and weighed 536 tons. It sailed the waters between Cape Cod and Nantucket until 1896, when it was sold and turned into a barge. For the next six years, the old Island Home worked for R.B. Little Co. of Providence. In 1902, it was damaged by an ice floe off New Jersey and sank.
 
Nantucket Ferry
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
"Nantucket Ferry" illustrates a lazy summer afternoon on Nantucket Sound.
 
Nantucket Waterfront
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
A peaceful sunset on Nantucket Harbor inspired this landscape. The harbor is one of my favorite places to be.
 
Sailing by the Lighthouse
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
In 1717, as the story goes, more than 140 pirates died in the famous shipwreck of the Whydah off the shores of Wellfleet. Legend says Sam Bellamy sailed his pirate ship full of gold to Wellfleet to visit his lover, Maria Hallett, and take her away to the tropical West Indies.
 
The true story of Sam Bellamy starts in the West Indies, where he and fellow pirates Captain Hornygold and Captain Lebous attacked ships and forced sailors into piracy. In February 1717, Bellamy captured the Whydah, a London-built ship that was sailing between Cuba and Puerto Rico. The Whydah had 18 guns and 50 sailors.
 
Sam Bellamy's ships flew a large black flag with a scary skull and crossbones as he traveled through the Bahamas and up the coast of Virginia. On the way, he captured many ships, including the Mary Anne of Dublin, which carried a cargo of Madeira wine taken not far from Nantucket. The Whydah and other captured ships continued sailing along the treacherous backshore of the Cape. The combination of the Madeira wine and a violent gale resulted in the wreck of the pirate fleet.
 
Sandy Neck Light
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
This painting of summer days at Sandy Neck Light was inspired by some of my research of Cape Cod history. The 45-foot tower was built in 1857. The lighthouse keeper's quarters were added in the 1880s.
 
School Days
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
This is a portrait of the old West Barnstable School. According to town records of 1876, there were a total of 17 schools with a budget of $9,940 a year. (That is less than $600 per school per year!) Teachers' monthly salaries averaged from $50 to $100 for men and $22.50 to $42.50 for women.
 
Seaman Hatch, Lifesaver
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
This painting was inspired by Cape Cod history ­ and by the fact that we purchased our house in Hyannis from the estate of a Captain H. Hatch.
 
The painting is of Hiram R. Hatch, who was the No. 2 surfman at the Highland Lifesaving Station. Born in Truro, he went to sea until he was 23 years old and then joined the station. Surfmen were assigned numbers according to merit, with No. 1 being the most trusted and competent.
 
Skating on the Pond
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
Skating Party
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on board
 
Winter nights were always great fun for me when I was a teenager. I especially enjoyed ice skating and sleigh rides, and I loved the warm bonfires and the excitement of being out with friends.
 
Spring in the Garden
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
Spring Scooming
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
This painting depicts Cape Codders engaged in the activity known as "scooming" ­ that is, searching for any and all kinds of shellfish. Preferably, scooming took place on a warm spring day with no wind to blot out the many natural sounds of the tidal flats. The end result was usually a full basket of shellfish.
 
Winter at the Boathouse
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on
 
When I was about 6 years old, my grandmother gave me a kitten we named Sandy. He was a sweet and gentle cat who enjoyed napping in my doll's carriage. I loved to dress him up in my doll's clothes and cuddled him in a blanket. I always think about Sandy when I create my whimsical "cat-people" paintings.
 
Winter on Main Street, Hyannis
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on masonite
 
This is a view of the Hyannis train depot and Main Street in 1897, when local residents greatly enjoyed sleighing on winter afternoons. This painting was inspired by researching Cape Cod's history.
 
Woods Hole
 
Janet Munro
Mixed media on rag paper
 
After reading about Cape Cod history in the 1870s, I painted this view of historic Woods Hole, including factories, docks, Nobska Light and the busy harbor.
 
 
 


(above: Janet Munro, Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallet, mixed media on board, 24 x 40 inches)

 

(above: Janet Munro, Nantucket Ferry, mixed media on board, 18 x 24 inches)

rev. 11/15/04


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