Discover Portsmouth Exhibits, Programs & Events

Gertrude Fiske: American Master


With Companion Exhibitions
Seacoast Masters Today
Sisters of the Brush and Palette

Discover Portsmouth 2018
Friday, April 6 – Sunday, September 30, 2018
Member’s Opening Gala: Thursday, April 5, 2018
Curated by Lainey McCartney

Gertrude Fiske (1879-1961), a Weston, Massachusetts, native who painted in Portsmouth, is an American Master. She was a favored student and then the peer of several American Impressionists, including Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Benson, Philip Hale, and Charles Woodbury. Critics and peers alike identified her genius as residing in how she ‘sees,’ and this gift of ‘seeing’ made her more independent than many. This independence set her apart.

Fiske was a founding member of the Boston Guild and the Ogunquit Art Association. Furthermore, she was appointed to the Massachusetts State Art Commission in 1930 with exceptional endorsement. She was the first woman ever appointed. This was no small feat considering what a hive of activity Boston was during this period in the greater art world. The appointing board said, “Fiske ranks with the foremost painters in the country…..and there are few artists who have been awarded more prizes than Miss Fiske in the entire country.” They went on to say that, “…aside from her teachers, she has always had a strong artistic individuality of her own. There is a note of personal distinction in all of her work – a virile note.”

In her lifetime, critics exalted her color sense, vivacity, élan, and original observation. In describing her portraits, a 1920 news article says, “Her frank and telling technique and style are well exemplified in her portraits…To the perception of what constitutes a likeness, which she possesses in a marked degree, Miss Fiske adds an unusual gift for presenting the personal character of the sitter, which gives her work a place by itself.” Another article later that same year remarked on her, “adventurous spirit, creative impulse, and indifference to all current aesthetic fads.” Artist and writer Chris Volpe asserted recently that Fiske rivals Mary Cassatt, and that “[her] serious studio work probed the psychological and social dimensions of female life with a power and depth that very few artists, male or female, had ever achieved.” For the time period in which she painted, her work is considered brave, modern, enlightened, and compelling.

Although a trained and superb technical painter, she was compelled to put aside convention and formulas, in order to forge her own path – in art and in life. Fiske never married, although she was known to have had the opportunity. She maintained rich friendships with fellow painters referred to as “The Pine Hill Girls.” This group of women in Ogunquit lived and painted in close community on Pine Hill Road and trained under Charles Woodbury. This exhibition will be an in-depth exploration of Fiske’s work with a complement of material by several of her female contemporaries lending a deeper understanding of women artists at the dawn of their independence in this country. The social/political energy around women’s rights, at the turn of the century, encouraged a new autonomy, which is seen translated to bolder ideas and execution on canvas. To provide social and artistic context to the Fiske show, works by several of Fiske’s artist contemporaries will be featured in an adjacent gallery at Discover Portsmouth. “Sisters of the Brush and Palette” will include: Anne Carleton, Margaret J. Patterson, and the notable Portsmouth artist, Susan Ricker Knox.

A companion show, “Seacoast Masters Today,” in our balcony gallery will highlight several artists making their name today with the same drive and passion as Fiske and her peers. They are: Amy Brnger, Donna Harkins, Sydney Bella Sparrow, and Pamela DuLong Williams.
A rich lecture series and a catalogue will accompany this exhibition.

About the Exhibition Curator, Lainey McCartney

After graduating from Colby-Sawyer College and the University of New Hampshire with a degree in French Studies and Cultural Anthropology, Lainey’s studies included field work and interviews with the two remaining Canterbury Shakers. She then went on to work as a docent at the Currier Museum from 2008-2013 in various internal and outreach programs. She joined the curatorial and collections staff of Portsmouth Historical Society in 2014 to work with Gerry Ward, the institution’s curator, to update and maintain its collections catalogue, and she co-curated exhibitions at both Discover Portsmouth and the John Paul Jones House. “Gertrude Fiske: American Master” will be the first exhibition she has curated.

Closed for the winter.

Discover Portsmouth is currently closed to the public and reopens Sunday April 1, 2018. Our 2018 exhibition, Gertrude Fiske: American Master, opens to Members on Thursday April 5 and to the public on Friday April 6, 2018. Our administrative offices are open during the winter.

Questions? Please contact us at 603-436-8433 or email:


December 2017: Labrie Named Director, Portsmouth400

Susan Labrie

Susan Labrie

With the countdown to 2023 now six years away, Portsmouth Historical Society has named Susan Labrie director of Portsmouth400. Labrie was selected from a host of talented candidates by the Portsmouth400 Steering Committee, which was established as a cooperative effort between the City of Portsmouth and the Society. Labrie will work full-time for the Society as the liaison to the Steering Committee that will oversee fundraising and public outreach and coordinate events and programs leading up to and during the anniversary celebration. Read More (PDF). . .

Portsmouth Historical Society and the City of Portsmouth, NH, are gearing up for Portsmouth’s Celebrating 400 Years on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Please see below a powerpoint presentation explaining Portsmouth400 and a brief survey about your suggestions.

We value your input! Please share what you’d like to see included!

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New Book Reveals Lost African Lives in Maine

Lives of Consequence Cover

Lives of Consequence: Blacks in Early Kittery and Berwick in the Massachusetts Province of Maine

By Patricia Q. Wall

Portsmouth Marine Society Press, 2017
**Public Book Signing: Friday August 4 5-8pm at Discover Portsmouth, 10 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH**

Buy Online Now
[Read more…]

Wendy Turner’s New Book Available

Wendy Turner Island Light

Wendy Turner – Island Light,

Carl Little, with contributions by Catherine Armsden and Mekeel McBride
Portsmouth Marine Society Publication 36
Hardcover with jacket, 112 pages, 10 x 12, full color throughout
$40.00 ISBN: 978-0-915819-44-7
Order Online

Wendy Turner’s paintings of the Maine and New Hampshire coast, from the Schoodic Point to the Isles of Shoals, done over a period of thirty-five years, demonstrate the range and talent of this artist who lives and works in Kittery Point, Maine.  While often based on the plants, water, rocks, sky, and sea life of the Seacoast in terms of their subject matter, her watercolor and oil paintings have an ineffable quality that elevates them from depictions of nature to transcendent and sublime works of art. This book follows her work through various transitions in her career, starting with her delicate watercolor images of tide pools.  Over time, her focus moved from images taken along the beach, to beautiful garden studies, and then moving on to her large tour-de-force rock and wave paintings. [Read more…]

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We are dedicated to increasing public understanding and enthusiasm for local history. Our trustees, staff, sponsors, and members believe strongly that the uniqueness of Portsmouth is defined by the city’s past. Our mission is to provide a central location where, in cooperation with other groups, we can introduce, interpret, and stimulate the study of Portsmouth history.