Posted by: L | September 28, 2014

Wooster Farm 2014

This past September, I had the privilege to spend a week at Wooster Farm, at the former summer home of American Impressionist Frank Weston Benson. I came across both the place and the workshop by pure luck last winter. I saw a report in the weekly email from Plein Air magazine, about a workshop that had been held at this site last September. What caught my eye was the name of the farm. Wooster is a family name, and the east coast, particularly Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and New Brunswick are the areas where the family established itself, beginning in the early 1600s. I had not heard of this particular place, so I was intrigued to find out more about it.

Also, I have been interested in learning more about plein air painting, something I had not done much of. I have tried on and off over time, but was never much satisfied with what I did, and so had been keeping an eye out for a workshop. You can read more about the actual workshop over on my art blog, Redberry Art. When I saw the article, I immediately searched out Tom Dunlay, the Boston painter who conducted the workshop, to say I was interested in taking one if he did another at a future date. Fortunately, he decided to do another one this year, so I signed up and started planning. Tom sent me a link to an article that was written about the first workshop in 2013 entitled ‘Following the Light’. That really made me determined to go, both for the place and the workshop.

Wooster Farm is on the island of North Haven, off Rockland, Maine. The farm and Wooster Cove show up on old maps. If you scroll down there are several. The property has water on both sides, Wooster Cove to the south and the strait between North Haven and Vinalhaven Islands to the east. To get there, I ended up flying to New Brunswick, driving to Rockland, and taking the ferry to North Haven. We had a beautiful week of sunny weather, with only a couple of cloudy or rainy afternoons. I did some digging in the family history and on line and found out some interesting things.

The original farm was owned by David Wooster, who, according to the family tree, was the brother of Oliver Wooster, the branch from which our family came. So a very long ago, many-great uncle. There is an on-line copy of a book about farms on North Haven; on pgs 2, 49, 121, and 133 there are references to various Woosters who lived on the island and to the original farm. The reference to Levi Wooster, who raised a barn in 1827 is intriguing. Was this the barn at the farm that Frank Benson turned into his studio? Based on the age of the structure, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. There was music at the barn raising and a song sung:

Fiddle and rum, fiddle and rum,

Mr Wooster and Mrs Wooster

and all hands come.

Wooster Farm, Wooster Cove in background

Wooster Farm, North Haven Island

The hill, where Benson painted many of his famous paintings is directly behind the house (you can see the slope going up). Also, the curved white bench on the front porch of the house is the original bench which appears in several paintings.

 

Barn, at the corner of Wooster Farm and Benson Roads

The Barn which became Benson’s studio, at the corner of Wooster Farm and Benson Roads

Barn, roof structure

I have a collection of photos of the the farm and cove on my photo site, so you can see more details of the buildings and property. There is also Tom Dunlay’s Facebook page from Wooster Farm Workshop 2014 where photos are being posted.

The other interesting thing, when I looked at the family tree my grandfather wrote out by hand, there were several instances of Wooster/Benson marriages, albeit in New Brunswick. So I wonder if there were both Woosters and Bensons who left this area as United Empire Loyalists, who were related to the Woosters and Bensons that ended up on North Haven. In a quirk of history, that is exactly what happened at the workshop. Ellen, who was my roommate at the farm, during the workshop, is the great-great granddaughter of Frank Benson. So the names came together again.

Benson and Wooster descendants

Benson and Wooster descendants

 

The best thing is that the property is being preserved by its current owners. They also have some of Frank Benson’s personal property which can be found in the house and the barn. One of his easels and a palette is there, plus household items. Photos of the Benson family have been enlarged and are placed around the walls of the barn/studio. Also, when Benson painted, he cleaned his brushes and palettes and scraped the paint onto the walls of the studio. So several places around the walls have these great blobs of paint.

Paint scrapings, palette and photo of Frank Benson

Paint scrapings, palette and photo of Frank Benson

Here are a couple more items I found about the place that talk about its history and legacy:

Dreamy Days at Wooster Farm

A Rainy Day: Frank Benson’s Maine Interiors

People who have stayed on North Haven

Artist Frank Benson; Seasons in the Sun

A Ray of Sunlight – this one has a lot of Benson’s paintings, particularly of his family on the hill near the house, where we went and painted as well.

 

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Responses

  1. Always such fun when snippets of family history come to light. And the art genes came through!


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