At 11 Pirates Lane in Gloucester, three stories of rotted clapboard cover East Gloucester’s North Shore Arts Association (NSAA) building. The association’s harbor home wears 94 years of sea spray corrosion like a pair of faded jeans. Flaking mute-red paint reveals the poor condition of its underlying structure. One of the East Coast’s largest art exhibition halls needs a major renovation—and the NSAA does not intend to let its historic waterfront property decay beyond repair.
Before it was an exhibition space, the building functioned as part of an early 20th-century working waterfront. Front façade barn doors provided easy access for the tucking away of boat sails, and the 96-foot by 33-foot second-floor open plan with vaulted ceilings was ideal for additional storage.
In 1922, building owner Thomas E. Reed offered the property to neighboring artists for roughly $24,000. Current NSAA president, Anne Demeter, speculates on the reason for the sale price: “Throughout Cape Ann, there were places for people to board, and a lot of artists did,” she says. “A lot of people who had these buildings were paid in artwork.” Reed’s neighboring property housed artists who quickly paid for the place and established it as the North Shore Arts Association.
The building still marks Smith’s Cove Inlet, abutting a busy commercial marina and multiple fishery operations. Stacked lobster traps hem the gravel parking lot at the harbor’s edge, where Brown’s Yacht Yard rents watershed slips. The scene is ripe for being put to canvas, and a catalyst for two centuries of artistic creation. Artist Fitz Henry Lane’s granite hilltop home protrudes on the parallel shore—the western-horizon view from NSAA’s front porch. Co-Vice President Anita Johnson describes the organization’s effort to maintain Cape Ann School’s maritime iconography: “[NSAA] feels very strongly about history and tradition…. The desire for artists to capture the effect of the light on the ocean and its surroundings is a major characteristic.” Painters from NSAA’s 600-member association prop easels in the gravel lot overlooking panoramic inspiration for Lane’s 19th-century maritime realism. The site is a destination for local artists, visiting exhibitions, and memorial displays. Post September 11, for example, artists consolidated work for the memorial show that incorporated steel beams from the Trade Center towers—welders cut crosses in the beams to create a solemn sculpture.
Currently, an entryway sign reads: “Buy a Board Building Restoration,” referencing a funding initiative for the building’s $115,000 waterside wall renovation project. Ninety-seven horizontal feet and three stories of clapboard will be stripped; 10 roofline window panels will be replaced with materials less susceptible to weather damage; and decrepit gutters, mounted external air conditioning, and two wooden decks will be addressed in accordance with Massachusetts building codes. “One thing we are dedicated to is doing an authentic historic restoration,” says Johnson. “We are restoring it the way it was done originally.”
Gloucester’s tying of maritime heritage with artistry can be seen in law offices doubling as galleries, pubs sporting lobster buoys, and NSAA’s own historic landmark on Pirates Lane. Gallery director Linda Cote recognizes the necessity of preserving the location: “There are so few historic buildings left on Gloucester harbor. So many of them have been torn down. It is part of Gloucester’s footprint.” Cardboard boxes in the building’s first floor lobby hold original slate roofing of Gloucester’s decommissioned Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory—a motif once painted by 20th-century artist John Sloan.
If the fundraising campaign is successful, six weeks of external renovation are predicted. However, future events are not contingent on construction. Anne Demeter shares a lineup of event speakers already planned for the summer: “We are going to have Dr. Iain Kerr, the CEO of Ocean Alliance. He will speak on the oceans and whales. They have a drone called the ‘SnotBot’ that flies over the whales. When a whale spouts, the Bot analyzes the DNA and health of the whales. We are going to have Roger Payne, founder of Ocean Alliance and the first to record songs of humpback whales. And president of Rocky Neck Art Colony, Karen Ristuben, will be discussing the joining of art and science.” Additionally, PBS’s Antiques Roadshow appraisers Colleene Fesko and James Callahan volunteered their time for the highly anticipated North Shore Arts Appraisal Event. (With exception of the appraisal event, all NSAA exhibitions, receptions, lectures, and demonstrations are free and open to the community.)
North Shore Arts Association
11 Pirates Ln.