This excerpt is from A Village at Lane's Cove by Barbara H Erkkila recently reprinted and available through Ten Pound Island Book Company. Barbara was the best chronicler of Lanesville and also authored the book Hammers on Stone-The History of Cape Ann Granite available in bookshops around Rockport and Gloucester, and The Cape Ann Museum giftshop.
While most artists pack up their easels and paints and travel to sunny shores during the winter, Morris Hall Pancoast (1877-1963) was tucked into a little cottage on Andrews Street overlooking Lane’s Cove, painting snow scenes of Lanesville and Mr. Pancoast, a Quaker, never had financial backing for his art education. He was born in Salem, New Jersey on April 27, 1877. His father was a partner in the Salem Glassworks of Hall, Pancoast and Craven. Some years later, Mrs. Pancoast, then a widow, watched her son continually sketching in his free time, convinced he should be an architect. When he was sixteen, he worked odd jobs in Philadelphia, at the same time encouraged by a newspaper artist to study art seriously.
While the young student worked as a bookkeeper by day, he attended classes at Drexel Institute. Then he began night courses in 1897 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There he came under the influence of kindly Thomas Anshutz. At Fort Washington, where both lived, the two spent much time together until the teacher’s death in 1912.
Convinced at one point that he must study in Europe, the young Pancoast withdrew every cent from his bank account and sailed to Europe in 1902. By illustrating and writing he earned enough to stay three years, including study in Paris with Jean Paul Laurens the Julian School. Then he investigated all the art treasures and painters’ locations throughout France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and England. To return home, he had to borrow enough for his passage, but he quickly paid it back.
Mr. Pancoast and his wife, Minnie Laehy Baer, a concert singer, came to Lane’s Cove for the first time in 1920, and stayed at the Andrews Street cottage. They could view the entire Cove before them, including the Gap and granite breakwater. Mr. Pancoast was in fine spirits, for his first painting had been recognized and “The Pennsy Train Shed” had been purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts the season before.
Some years later, Mr. Pancoast had at least thirty-two paintings to his credit, twenty-eight were of Cape Ann and fifteen of those were of Lanesville and Lane’s Cove in particular. Once asked if he thought he had been influenced by French Impressionists, he said he doubted it for what he painted was probably “Pancoast Impressionism.”
In 1923 the artist told a friend, “It isn’t the thing you paint that makes your work poetic, it is the man who creates the thing. Twachtman could make poetry of a barn…”
Mr. Pancoast was painting from their next home on Beach Street, Rockport and Minnie was running the Studio Gallery by the Sea at the time of the stock market crash in 1929. Over a period of years, they kept selling their antiques, finally returning to Lane’s Cove as Minnie’s health worsened. She died in 1953. Mr. Pancoast’s last exhibit was in Concord, Massachusetts in 1957. He died on July 30, 1963, and his ashes were scattered to the winds and the sea from atop Lane’s Cove breakwater as he had wished.
Mr. Pancoast once said, “A painter need have no knowledge or love of nature in order to fake a snow scene or a vivid fall coloring. It is the painter who puts into his work the delicate truth which he has discovered through actual contact with the out-of-doors…”
Morris Hall Pancoast, American, (1877-1963).
The paintings of Impressionist Morris Hall Pancoast are almost all peaceful New England shore scenes and winter landscapes, and they often have an expressionist freedom of brushwork, and an intensity of color. Cape Ann and Rockport, Massachusetts were his favorite locations, where this painting was likely executed.
Pancoast was born in Salem, New Jersey in 1877. His father was a partner in a Salem glassworks. Morris attended the Salem Friends' School and the Salem Public Schools, and for two years worked as a shipping clerk. A turning point came in 1895, when he took a job as a bookkeeper and assistant cashier with the "Philadelphia Public Ledger" newspaper.
He met illustrator Frederick R. Gruger, who encouraged him to study art. Despite his studies at night at Drexel University and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Pancoast felt frustrated. He was tired of his job at the paper, and he could not get work in an art department because of his inexperience.
In 1902, he took every penny he had out of the bank and went to Europe. At the Academie Julien in Paris, he studied with Jean Paul Laurens. By the end of three years, after travel throughout Europe, he returned to Philadelphia and got a job with the art department of the "Philadelphia Inquirer" from 1905 to 1907 and then the "North American" as a cartoonist from 1907 to 1919.
By the early 1920s, Pancoast and his wife had moved to New York City, where he worked as a freelance illustrator and painter, and he and his wife spent their summers in Rockport, MA where she ran their "Studio Gallery By the Sea".
Pancoast's career was launched. His work was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Brooklyn Museum and at the National Academy of Design. This painting was exhibited at the National Academy in 1922.
After the stock market crash of 1929, however, the lives of the Pancoasts changed. For about 20 years, they wandered through Maine, Florida and Massachusetts, selling antiques. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1945, and rented
a small house, which Pancoast used as a gallery and studio; his wife operated a tearoom and antique shop. He died in 1963.
Morris Hall Pancoast was a member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Gloucester Society of Artists, North Shore Art Association, Pennsylvania Academy Society of Artists, Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Salmagundi Club.
His work is held by the J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Municipal Art League, Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia;
and the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery in Pennsylvania.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
As a side note, Morris Pancoast and his wife lived in the gray house right next to us here on Lanes Cove.