The Finnish Effect
While Cape Ann is well known for its tradition of land and seascape painting, artists who pursued a different kind of subject matter also flourished here during the early 20th century. And the region’s granite quarrying industry may have helped their cause in an unexpected way.
A number of the nation’s finest painters and sculptors of the human figure once called Cape Ann home, including Paul Manship, Ellen Day Hale, Charles Grafly, Gabrielle deVeux Clements, Walker Hancock, Leon Kroll and George Demetrios. Interestingly, many of these artists settled in the northern neighborhoods of Lanesville, Folly Cove and Pigeon Cove, drawn by the promise of a quiet studio at the outer extremity of Boston’s North Shore. But what else made these neighborhoods different? Interviewed in 1978, Leon Kroll’s wife Genevieve suggested that the local Finnish community, and their ideas around nudity, may have played a role.
Between 1890 and 1920, Finnish immigrants were drawn to these neighborhoods in great numbers. Finding work in the granite industry, Finns became an integral part of the community, bringing with them a number of cultural values which differed from typical “Yankee” sensibilities. One such difference was their perception of nudity, which didn’t carry the same taboo among Finns as it did for most early 20th century New Englanders. Saunas were a staple of Finnish culture and were commonly taken in the nude, as was swimming. At that time, studying the nude human form was important for artists who made sculptures and paintings of people (even clothed ones), and artists on the hunt for models may have benefitted from this lack of taboo, likely finding many willing sitters among the Finnish families living in these neighborhoods.
→ Learn more about Gloucester's Lanesville and Folly Cove neighborhoods here.
→ Listen to Genevieve Kroll’s 1978 Oral History Interview from the collection of the Sawyer Free Library here.
→ Listen to Walker Hancock's 1978 Oral History Interview from the collection of the Sawyer Free Library here.
→ View a 1911 Sketchbook kept by Leon Kroll in the collection of the Archives of American Art here.