The dock on Monhegan is the center of that far-out-at-sea island’s universe.
“It’s our lifeline,” writes painter Alison Hill. “It’s the first thing we see when we arrive,” she notes, “and the last thing we see when we leave.”
For Hill, who moved to Monhegan in May 2002, the setting conjures a range of images: the summer ritual of jumping off the dock, fishermen and women hard at work, the Monhegan Boat Line crew out in all weather, “and the way everyone pitches in to help unload or load whatever is needed.”
Her brushwork is loose yet sure as she renders the dock and its shed and the jacketed Rollins, coiling ghostly rope…
She is always impressed by the landing’s steadfastness and structure—it was first built in 1908—and has been inspired to paint it on many occasions.
In her 2015 exhibition “Castaway” at Archipelago, the Island Institute’s store in Rockland, Hill included several paintings of dock activities. One of them, “Coiling the Ropes,” depicts Chris Rollins, a ninth-generation Monhegan islander on the deck of the Laura B, which is moored pierside. The painter wanted to represent island life in the off season by showing this lone figure at work.
Hill’s view looks past the Laura B’s pilot house toward the bow of the boat where supplies are piled. Her brushwork is loose yet sure as she renders the dock and its shed and the jacketed Rollins, coiling ghostly rope that snakes across the wooden deck.
Hill works from life when she can but says the action paintings are “mostly from photos and sketches, and some memory.”
A note about the Laura B: the 65-foot vessel started out as a U.S. Army T-57 carrying troops and supplies—and a pair of 50-caliber machine guns and a 20 mm cannon—in the Solomon Islands during World War II. After its move to Maine in 1946, the boat transported lobsters to Boston and New York City before beginning its half-century-and-counting tenure as a year-round passenger ferry and freight and mail boat between Port Clyde and Monhegan.
Hill’s first trip to Monhegan aboard the Laura B took place in February 2002, at the invitation of her boyfriend and future husband, painter Ted Tihansky (1953-2019), who wanted to introduce her to the island. Smitten, she sold her home in Newport, R.I., and moved lock, stock, and easel to Monhegan.
Hill held degrees in psychology, art therapy, and art education from, respectively, the University of Rhode Island, Leslie College, and Rhode Island College, and had worked at a variety of jobs, including body builder, carpenter, and telephone lineman. Taking up painting full time, she furthered her skills at the Art Students League in New York City and Lyme Academy.
Over the ensuing 20 years Hill has painted the island from edge to edge, capturing a diverse inventory of Monhegan motifs in all seasons and weather: the surf-dashed coast, Fish Beach, the Sheridan shipwreck, cottages and gardens, the church, the lightkeeper’s house, the Island Inn. While she occasionally goes off-island, for “fresh paint” events in Cape Elizabeth and Camden, Monhegan is her main muse.
Hill manages a seasonal studio/gallery, open between Memorial Day and Indigenous Peoples Day. That schedule allows for a “good stretch of time” for painting commissions, including portraits, and creating new work for the gallery. Even in high season she manages to get out every day before she opens and after she closes.
Hill is well aware of the island’s art history and turns to predecessors like Jay Connaway, Alexander Bogdanov, Andrew Winter, Alice Stoddard, and Don Stone for inspiration. She also admires many contemporaries, among them David Vickery and Ralf Feyl. The island provides her with subject matter, but also community. And it all starts at that iconic dock.
You can see more of Alison Hill’s work at www.alisonhill.net.
Islandport Press will be publishing Carl and David Little’s The Art of Penobscot Bay in the spring.