GLOUCESTER, Mass. (AP) – Sitting on high atop the Capt. Solomon Jacobs Park hill, the old stone house built by famed Cape Ann painter Fitz Henry Lane more than 150 years ago commands some of the best views of Gloucester’s working harbor.
Over the years, it has sometimes fallen vacant and into decay. Even today, after years of hosting the offices of the nonprofit group working to revitalize the eponymous Gloucester schooner Adventure, its porches have served as an occasional refuge for the city’s homeless.
Gloucester Adventure Director Stefan Edick conceded Friday it’s still no surprise for staffers and others to find discarded hypodermic needles around the home – though “it’s gotten a lot better lately” since the city has stepped up cleanup efforts and police have been diligent about patrols.
Now, the three-story Gothic Revival stone house at 8 Harbor Loop, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, may be returned in part to its roots.
Interim Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, working with Edick and members of the city’s Committee for the Arts, is proposing that the house be opened as an artist-in-residence studio for a month or more at a time in an effort to provide the local arts community with more open and affordable working space.
“We’re certainly not going to throw out the Adventure,” Romeo Theken said. “That’s very much a part of our heritage and our culture, too. But what I would love to see is us clean up this (house and site) further and make a work space for an artist of the month, maybe an artist every two months, whatever can work.
“It wouldn’t be a true artist-in-residence,” she said. “No one would be living there, and we would not be having it open overnight. But, I know if I were an artist, how great would it be to be able to say that I’m painting or working in Fitz Henry Lane’s house? It’s inspirational.”
Romeo Theken, who joined her fellow candidates Thursday night in a debate centered on the city’s arts and cultural issues, has been meeting with representatives of the Committee on the Arts, headed by Judith Hoglander, and with Edick.
The nonprofit that restored and now operates the Adventure – anchored at Maritime Gloucester, directly below the house – has utilized the house for more than two decades. But Gloucester Adventure Inc. is privately held despite receiving a number of state grants, including a $30,000 boost from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for an on-board education and learning center granted earlier this year.
Romeo Theken says she doesn’t see that as an issue.
“The Adventure wouldn’t be leaving,” she said. “The idea is just for this cultural organization to work together with our arts committee and community. It’s a great opportunity.”
Edick says he endorses the idea.
“Ultimately, this building should be landmarked and used for the arts,” he said Friday. “That’s something I wholeheartedly support.”
The idea of breathing new life into the historic house while returning it to its artistic roots comes after the property has endured a difficult period. Edick noted that, at times in recent years, a growing population of homeless would seek shelter on the porches or grounds, especially during hours when the Action Inc. shelter, about five blocks away, is closed.
“We’ve seen cases of people living virtually full-time up here,” he said, “Look, we know homelessness is a problem, we know addiction is a problem. We recognize that.”
Edick, however, said the property has become less of a refuge since the city’s Department of Public Works this past spring removed a row of bushes below the house that shielded a number of activities from view from Rogers Street. He said he’s also seen a decline of “as much as 75 percent” in the number of needles found on the site since the June 1 launch of the Gloucester Police Department’s anti-opiate initiative that steers addicts into treatment and recovery programs rather than confronting them with arrest.
The house was built over a two-year period in 1848 and 1849 by Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) an artist, printmaker and primarily marine painter who gained world acclaim. The Cape Ann Museum’s collection of Lane’s work includes 40 paintings, a rare watercolor – his first known work, painted in 1830 – and 100 drawings.
Born in Gloucester, Nathaniel Rogers Lane would change his name, though no one has ever determined why, according to the Cape Ann Museum’s website; for years art historians referred to him as Fitz Hugh Lane. Then, in 2004, researchers found a 1831 letter he had sent to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requesting the name change, not to Fitz Hugh Lane, but to Fitz Henry Lane. The state granted his application, records show, but there again was no indication why, the museum’s history indicates.
At the age of 18 months, while playing in the yard or garden of his father, Lane ate some of the seeds of the apple-peru, also known as jimsonweed, and a reaction cost him the use of his lower limbs, according to the History of the Town of Gloucester, penned in 1860 by John J. Babson.
Yet Lane persevered, working in his studio on the top floor of his stone house on the harbor, and eventually dying in it in 1865.
“When you think of it, here is a house where this artist dragged himself up the stairs all those years to paint – and to paint Gloucester,” Romeo Theken marveled Friday. “I want to be able to have an artist be able to work in that space – to feel it, to sense it.
“This is something we want to make happen, and I don’t think we need to wait for a year to do that,” she said. “II want to see people come together and start doing this as soon as we can.”
By RAY LAMONT, Gloucester Daily Times
Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, http://www.gloucestertimes.com
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