Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Cape Ann Museum: Doffie Arnold, and flora and fauna of Cape Ann

Doffie Arnold, Landscape #3, from the Crane Beach series. Pastel on paper, 1987.

Doffie Arnold, Landscape #3, from the Crane Beach series. Pastel on paper, 1987.

Sometimes museums don’t have to try so hard. Two modest exhibitions on view at the Cape Ann Museum prove that in different ways.

Dorothy “Doffie” Arnold, who passed away last year, was a prolific painter and socially aware artist. She was instrumental in creating Beal St. Association in Cambridge, which worked to find affordable housing in that city. She also started the Doffie Project (https://artingiving.com/dorothy-doffie-arnold-1), which continues to donate to charitable organizations from the sale of her works.

Rather than a retrospective filled with larger canvases, the museum has gathered a small show as a remembrance: sixteen acrylic on paper views from Crane Beach, all in the identical perspective. Rapidly completed (the labeling says “achieved in 15 minutes”), Arnold worked with brush and palette knife to capture changing light in the ocean view from the beach. 

The landscapes veer toward abstraction. Colors vary broadly. The viewpoint remains steady: looking out to sea, a thin strand of beach at the bottom foreground, with the tumult of the sky occupying most of the image.

As a remembrance, it seems particularly suitable. You can never recall someone with every detail of their lives. But this, a small, focused set of works that reveal a great deal about the view, and about the artist—this seems suitable, a way that someone might light to be recalled. 

The main exhibition hall shows paintings and sculptures—about an equal number of each—inspired by fauna or flora of Cape Ann. The works are taken from the museum’s permanent collection. 

The artists are familiar to museum regulars: paintings by Leon Kroll, Roger Martin, Nell Blaine, Ed Touchette, Zyg Jankowski and others, with sculptures by Paul Manship, Katharine Lane Weems. Debbie Clark shows a set of six from her fish monographs. Barbara Aparo’s beautiful four-panel pastel “Gloucester Linens” dominates one wall.

Weems’s work seems constantly refreshed. A set of animal stone friezes runs across the back wall, and carvings—a camel, a bronze pelican—are scattered throughout. Each is evocative, a singular perspective. It’s a helpful reminder of the artist, whose work maintains a vigorous presence in Boston’s public art sphere.

One corner of this exhibition has a surprising bit of historical artistry. Pressed seaweeds from the early 1900s, colorful and delicate, are accompanied by multiple mushroom illustrations from Elizabeth DeVicq. A fungus carving from Paul Manship completes the flora theme. The pressed work, in its small way, preserved carefully, shows how possibilities are all around us. DeVicq’s illustrations as well, reveling in the details of simple still life, take the ordinary and make it exceptional.

The Cape Ann Museum is free to Cape Ann residents throughout the month of January. Both Doffie Arnold: Views from Crane Beach, and the exhibition of art inspired by flora and fauna, remain on view through March. Visit www.capeannmuseum.org or call 978-283-0455.

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