New England is also justly famous for the art it has produced, particularly the seascapes painted on Cape Cod, along the coast of Maine, as well as those by Hudson River School artists such as Thomas Cole and his student Frederic Church. Some of the other artists who have memorably painted New England landscapes and seascapes include Winslow Homer (1836-1910), John Marin (1870-1953), Fairfield Porter (1907-1975), Neil Welliver (1929-2005), and Andrew Wyeth (b. 1917), the latter of the iconic Christina's World, painted in a coastal Maine field.
To showcase these works, and the works of other local and traveling artists, there are a surprising number of excellent art museums and galleries throughout New England, even in such unlikely places as Williamstown, Massachusetts; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and Portland and Rockland, Maine.
New Englanders have generated whole libraries, from the earliest days of hellfire-and-brimstone Puritan sermons to Stephen King's horror novels set in fictional Maine villages.
Among the more enduring writings from New England's earliest days are the poems of Massachusetts Bay Colony resident Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-72) and the sermons and essays of Increase Mather (1639-1723) and his son, Cotton Mather (1663-1728).
After the American Revolution, Hartford dictionary writer Noah Webster (1758-1843) issued a call to American writers: "America must be as independent in literature as she is in politics, as famous for arts as for arms." He struck an early blow for pragmatism by taking the "u" out of British words like "labour" and "honour."
The tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) captivated a public eager for a native literature. His most famous story, The Scarlet Letter, is a narrative about morality set in 17th-century Boston, but he wrote numerous other books that wrestled with themes of sin and guilt, often set in the emerging republic.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), the Portland poet who settled in Cambridge, caught the attention of the public with evocative narrative poems focusing on distinctly American subjects. His popular works included "The Courtship of Miles Standish," "Paul Revere's Ride," and "Hiawatha." Poetry in the mid-19th century was the equivalent of Hollywood movies today -- Longfellow could be considered his generation's Steven Spielberg (apologies to literary scholars).
The zenith of New England literature occurred in the mid- and late 19th century with the Transcendentalist movement. These writers and thinkers included Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), and Henry David Thoreau (1817-62). They fashioned a way of viewing nature and society that was uniquely American. They rejected the rigid doctrines of the Puritans, and found sustenance in self-examination, the glories of nature, and a celebration of individualism. Perhaps the best-known work to emerge from this period was Thoreau's Walden.
Among other regional writers who left a lasting mark on American literature was Emily Dickinson (1830-86), a native of Amherst, Massachusetts, whose precise and enigmatic poems placed her in the front rank of American poets. James Russell Lowell (1819-91), of Cambridge, was an influential poet, critic, and editor. Later poets were imagist Amy Lowell (1874-1925), from Brookline, Massachusetts, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), from Camden, Maine.
The bestselling Uncle Tom's Cabin, the book Abraham Lincoln half-jokingly accused of starting the Civil War, was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-86) in Brunswick, Maine. She lived much of her life as a neighbor of Mark Twain (himself an adopted New Englander) in Hartford, Connecticut. Another bestseller was the children's book Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), whose father, Bronson, was part of the Transcendentalist movement.
New England's later role in the literary tradition may best be symbolized by the poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Though born in California, he lived most of his life in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In the New England landscape and community, he found a lasting grace and rich metaphors. (Among his most famous lines: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.")
New England continues to attract writers drawn to the noted educational institutions and the privacy of rural life. Prominent contemporary writers and poets who live in the region at least part of the year include Nicholson Baker, Bill Bryson, Christopher Buckley, Donald Hall, John Irving, P. J. O'Rourke, and John Updike. Maine is also the home of Stephen King, who is considered not so much a novelist as the state's leading industry.
Film & TV
New England is frequently captured through the lens of Hollywood, thanks in equal parts to its natural beauty; its Calvinist, slightly spooky history; and the unusual number of star actors, actresses, and directors who were raised here and continue to push forward projects incorporating local storylines or landscapes.
Lillian Gish's 1920 silent film Way Down East was perhaps the first movie to bring cinematic attention to the region, and films now regularly depict Boston's grimy underbelly (The Departed and Mystic River); local Red Sox mania (Fever Pitch); and working-class struggle and identity crises (Good Will Hunting). Plus there are a host of horror films written by Maine's Stephen King -- from Carrie, Cujo, and The Dead Zone, as well as a welter of TV miniseries -- which make it sometimes seem as if the only inhabitants of small New England towns are supernatural forces. However, King also penned the story upon which the lovely film The Shawshank Redemption -- also purportedly set in Maine -- was based.
Several television series have also been based in New England, most notably this wildly popular trifecta: Cheers (1982-93), set in a chummy Boston bar (which is still there beside Boston Common); Newhart (1982-90), in which actor Bob Newhart comically attempted to run a Vermont bed-and-breakfast inn; and Murder, She Wrote (1984-96), which saw crime novelist Angela Lansbury stumbling across and solving real-life crimes with seeming ease from her perch in fictional Cabot Cove, Maine. Wings (1990-97), a TV program set at a small airstrip on Massachusetts's Nantucket Island, propelled several actors to further fame.
More recently, Boston Public (2000-04) and Boston Legal (still running) have explored facets of public schools and legal practice, respectively, in the city.
New England musicians have contributed mightily to the American music scene. An exhaustive list of stars is impossible here, but a few of the notable local lights include:
- Folk-pop singer James Taylor, born in Boston, long ensconced on Martha's Vineyard, and now residing in his beloved Berkshires
- The longstanding rock band Aerosmith, with roots in Boston and New Hampshire
- Crooner Rudy Vallee, born in Vermont and raised in Westbrook, Maine
- The wildly popular '70s rock group Boston, fronted by residents of that city
- Pop stars Michael Bolton and John Mayer, both born in Connecticut
- Jam-band Phish, formed in Burlington, Vermont, by college friends
- Texas-based country-folk musician Slaid Cleaves, raised in western Maine
- Nashville singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, also born and raised in Maine
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