Beach Books

Historic Shore Impressionists

The Beachcomber
By MARGARET THOMAS BUCHHOLZ | Aug 18, 2013
Courtesy of: Down The Shore Publishing 1940: Oscar Julius

Lambertville gallery-owner Roy Pedersen grew up by the sea in Point Pleasant Beach. A child of the shore, he had many adventures in his small boat, “looking for turtles and sea horses and fish among the channels and exploring through the marshes.” This childhood passion for the seashore stayed with him and led to his collecting and studying New Jersey impressionist paintings. His first exhibition on that theme was in 1997.

Now in a culmination of his passion, Pedersen has written Jersey Shore Impressionists: The Fascination of Sun and Sea 1880-1940 (Down The Shore Publishing). The book breaks new ground in the history of American art by recognizing the distinct influence of the New Jersey shore on these painters of the Impressionist era and into the early 20th century. The book establishes a category of painters who focused on and were influenced by the water and light from Sandy Hook to Cape May.

Several years after he opened the gallery, Pedersen said, “For whatever reason, there has never been any real examination and consideration of New Jersey painters, and particularly the Jersey Shore painters … The Bucks County impressionists are in such demand I thought there must be impressionists who painted down at the Shore.” And he began to find pockets of them. “Because I grew up at the shore, I knew of some of the painters who had worked there.”

In 1941, the Newark Evening News wrote: “Did you know that the Jersey Shore section is just one big art colony? If you want to visit an art colony this summer, you need not go as far as Cape Cod, or even as far as New Hope, Pa – just turn shoreward and there you are.”

Dozens of painters – some known, many not – are included in Jersey Shore Impressionists: Will Hicok Low, Thomas Eakins, Albert Grantley Reinhart, Ida Wells Stroud, Clara Stroud, George Bellows, Carl Buergerniss, Robert Henri, Paul Gill and Oscar Julius are a few. The majority of the paintings are images from the Brielle, Manasquan and Point Pleasant shore area.

Although we are told very little about him, three paintings of local interest by Oscar Julius are at the front of the book: a watercolor of clam diggers working the bay; Barnegat Inlet with the lighthouse in the background; and a powerful image of lobster fishermen pulling in a pot (although this might have been painted in Maine, as Julius worked there also). Julius had a gallery on Fifth Street in Barnegat Light in 1942.

The Strouds are favorites of mine. Pedersen has an extensive chapter on Ida and Clara, mother and daughter, enhanced by photographs and anecdotes – these two painters deserve a book of their own. Ida grew up in New Orleans, which offered women opportunities not always found elsewhere in the 1880s. She moved north after her husband died, and eventually settled in Point Pleasant, where she and her daughter created oils, watercolors, ceramics and illustrations.

Amos Birdsall Jr., a name known around Barnegat Bay since the 18th century, is represented with only one painting, and that is the lovely sailboat on the cover, painted in 1890. Birdsall was self-taught, but when only 15 years old, the New Jersey Courier described him as an “artist of nautical subjects.”

Images throughout the book will be familiar to shore-lovers: sailboats at work and play in “Gathering Salt Hay” (page 86); sailboats shrouded in mist in “Going for a Sail” (page 85); pound boats plowing through the surf in “Beached” (page 98) and “Pound Boat” (page 112); the beach at dawn in “Ocean Sunrise” (page 81) and under bright sun in “Beach at Atlantic City” (page 60); shimmering creeks and bays, such as in “Grey Day at Sandy Hook” (page 45).

Pedersen adds to the visual pleasure of the paintings with his comments and the back-stories of the various artists. The book is almost as much a pleasure as the paintings within it – with the fine aesthetic touch that Down The Shore Publishing gives their finest books.

Jersey Shore Impressionists should be on your must-have list of shore and art books. It transcends New Jersey’s cultural heritage and is an important contribution to American art in general.

Pedersen will hold a conversation about the Impressionist painters of the Jersey Shore on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, Loveladies. The program will include a presentation of artwork currently in the major exhibition at the Morven in Princeton, and will examine Long Beach Island’s influence, including its art colonies, on these important American painters.

Margaret Buchholz is the former owner of this newspaper and author of Josephine: From Washington Working Girl to Fisherman's Wife, Shore Chronicles, New Jersey Shipwrecks, Island Album and co-author of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, all available at local stores. Send comments to lbipooch@comcast.net.

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