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By Cathy Newman Photographs by Amy Toensing

Twelve miles (20 kilometers) off Maine, a refuge of solitary painters and lobstermen weathers a tide of summer artists.

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“When I come here, I become who I really am,” Sue Bolman told me one morning over breakfast. For more than 30 years Sue has spent summers in her cottage on Horn Hill. Summer residents do just fine with locals. “The fishermen were always invited over for cocktails, and they accepted with gusto,” she said.

The warmth is reciprocated. She spoke of Alfred Stanley and how last year, when she was hospitalized inshore with a heart ailment, he visited three times a day. “He didn’t feel compelled to chatter, tell jokes, or mutter platitudes. He just sat by the bed and held my hand,” and you could tell how deeply moved she was by his compassion.

There is something healing about islands. Perhaps it’s the limitless expanse of water, suggests Jan Bailey, a poet, who once lived on Monhegan and still summers there. “Water heals,” she says. “Its permanence sets the rest of the world in perspective. There is greater solitude and inner time here.” We sat on her porch overlooking a pond, sipping gin, and watching mallards glide on the dark green water.

The interior of her cottage is decorated with whimsical brushstrokes of lemon, blue, and lavender. When I complimented its cheerfulness, Jan explained she had pianted it herself one winter. “My neighbor Alice Boynton said to me, ‘You will learn to love the gray.’ But that has never happened.”

Is there a square inch of Monhegan that has not been painted? Perhaps it is the silver light that dances off the mirror of the sea or the fog that softens the landscape that has lured painters here since the 19th century.

Among them are Edward Hopper, the American painter of urban desolation, the illustrator Rockwell Kent, and three generations of Wyeths: N. C., Andrew, and Jamie.

Ted Tihansky is an artist. Ted also is a mess. He has paint everywhere but on the canvas. On his forehead, a war-paint-like slash of blue; in his hair, chartreuse; on his shirt, chrome yellow. What is it about Ted that invites disaster? Once when he was painting by the shore, a little girl came over to watch, and in the wink of an eye the painting tipped over on her, and she became a living canvas.

Watching Ted paint is a spectator sport, judging from the knot of tourists gathered in the road behind him. It is a dance. He steps back from the easel, then forward, brush in hand, back and forth, and soon the glorious display of larkspurs, nasturtiums, and poppies growing in the garden belonging to Kathie Iannicelli, the island’s greenest thumb, lifts from the canvas and blooms with such exuberance as to dazzle the eyes. “Painting is my life,” says Ted, who is tall, rangy, and endearingly earnest. “It took me 30 years to learn that.” Monhegan has been an artistic epiphany for Ted. “People here take their lives seriously,” he says, returning to the canvas, painting furiously.

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VIDEO Island of ice: Photographer Amy Toensing goes beyond the lens to talk about the strong character required to live on this cold Yankee island. Click Here

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Online Extra
Chart your vacation to this artist haven with these travel tips.

Some residents put out the unwelcome mat when day-trippers crowd their island. What tourist encounters—good or bad—have you experienced? Tell us your tales.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

As the article mentions on page 98, there are 14 true island communities in Maine. Those islands are Great Chebeague Island, Cliff Island, Long Island (in Casco Bay), Peaks Island, Monhegan Island, Matinicus Island, North Haven Island, Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, Islesboro Island, Little Cranberry Island, Great Cranberry Island, Swans Island, and Long Island (off Mount Desert).

But why, you may ask, aren’t Mount Desert Island and Deer Isle (among other islands) not included? That is because according to the Maine State Planning Office, an island qualifies as a “true island community” only if it cannot be reached by bridge.

—Jennifer L. Fox

Monhegan Commons
Find out the latest weather on Monhegan or review the issues island residents are facing.

A Visitor’s Guide to Monhegan
Tips on what to bring, do, and see when visiting Monhegan. Contains links to ferry service and island inns.

Department of Marine Resources—Maine Marine Resources Laws
Curious about the state of Maine’s laws and regulations regarding commercial fishing? This site is a helpful resource.


Curtis, Jane, and others. Monhegan: The Artists’ Island. Down East Books, 1995.

Duncan, Roger F. Coastal Maine: A Maritime History. W. W. Norton and Company, 1992.

Faller, Ruth Grant. Monhegan: Her Houses and Her People. Mainstay Publications, 1995.

Jenney, Charles Frances. The Fortunate Island of Monhegan. Davis Press, 1922.

Simpson, Dorothy. The Maine Islands: In Story and Legend. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1960.


Yeadon, David. “Hidden America: Maine’s Granite Isle,” National Geographic Traveler (April 2000), 90-93.

Kostyal, K. M. “Back to the Past in Rural Maine,” National Geographic Traveler (May/June 1991), 42-46.

Jeffery, David. “Maine’s Working Coast,” National Geographic (February 1985), 208-241.

Starbird, Ethel A. “A Way of Life Called Maine,” National Geographic (June 1977), 726-757.

Marden, Luis. “The American Lobster, Delectable Cannibal,” National Geographic (April 1973), 462-487.

Scofield, John. “Character Marks the Coast of Maine,” National Geographic (June 1968), 798-843.

Graves, William. “Maine’s Lobster Island, Monhegan,” National Geographic (February 1959), 285-298.

Horgan, Thomas. “Down East Cruise: Nomad Sails Along Maine’s Rocky, Tree-clad Coast, Home of the Yankee Lobstermen, Salty Fishermen, and Blue-water Sailors,” National Geographic (September 1952), 329-369.

Lucas, John D. “The Maine American and the American Lobster,” National Geographic (April 1946), 523-543.


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