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Cloudy. Low 67F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: July 31, 2022 @ 6:03 pm
Samuel L. Gerry’s landscape painting, “View of Centre Harbor, New Hampshire,” from 1847, took a circuitous route to become part of the New Hampshire Historical Society’s Gerry exhibit.
Samuel Lancaster Gerry, a Boston-area artist who spent much time painting the New Hampshire landscape, is pictured in this tintype from about 1865.
Samuel L. Gerry (1813-1891) painted “Old Man of the Mountains,” in about 1886, when the lure of the White Mountains had visitors and artists alike flocking to New Hampshire.

Samuel L. Gerry’s landscape painting, “View of Centre Harbor, New Hampshire,” from 1847, took a circuitous route to become part of the New Hampshire Historical Society’s Gerry exhibit.
C oming in the midst of a modern-day tourist boom in the Granite State, an exhibit in Concord is drawing attention to a gifted but perhaps underappreciated 19th-century artist.
It’s also proof positive that America’s love for the White Mountains has a legacy of its own.
The New Hampshire Historical Society’s exhibit, “A Faithful Student of Nature: The Life and Art of Samuel L. Gerry,” on view through Aug. 6, recalls a time when a community of artists was effectively the best marketing tool for the burgeoning new tourism industry.
Samuel Lancaster Gerry, a Boston-area artist who spent much time painting the New Hampshire landscape, is pictured in this tintype from about 1865.
And the Concord exhibit is attracting lots of its own visitors lately. On a recent Friday morning, the Historical Society’s Park Street building is abuzz, between several touring school groups and scholars who stand in front of canvases talking about the lasting impact of Gerry’s work.
In the second half of the 1800s, travelers who were used to having to wander the world to see natural wonders were seeking a closer option.
Aided by the growth of railroads, they “discovered we had our own version of the Alps here in New Hampshire, and they loved it. It helped create New Hampshire’s identity in people’s mind,” said society President William Dunlap.
“The traffic jams on Route 93 we can blame on Gerry and his colleagues,” he adds with a laugh.
Many of the paintings come from private collections and have rarely been seen by the public.
Dunlap’s favorite exhibit piece is a bucolic scene of Center Harbor in 1847. It has a distinctively layered appeal, from the mountain vista in the distance and the lake that casts mirror images of a steepled building and boat sails to the grassy banks where a pair of cows rest and a well-dressed couple takes a stroll.
Dunlap pauses before the painting to explain how the piece came to be in the exhibit.
“A man contacted us about a dozen years ago. He said, ‘I’m going to bequeath this to the society.’”
Portsmouth resident D. Bruce Montgomery planned to keep it hung in his home until he passed, after which it would go to the society. But when a three-year effort to mount a Gerry exhibit came to fruition, the society reached out to see if Montgomery would consider lending the piece for temporary display.
Montgomery told Dunlap to show the painting — and then keep it as an early gift.
And like many tales of things lost and found, the painting came into Montgomery’s hands in a roundabout fashion.
“My first wife’s grandmother had borrowed it from the family that owned it. It had been painted to commemorate the opening of a hotel in Center Harbor. She had borrowed it to paint a copy.”
But before she could return it, she died, as did the man who had lent it to her, Montgomery said.
“It stayed in the basement for practically forever. Somewhere along the line it was damaged. Someone backed a hand truck into it and put a rip into the sky.”
Years later, Montgomery decided to have it professionally restored via an “invisible mend.” When the Historical Society learned of the painting, they sent a curator over to see it.
“They were just gushing over it. It was the earliest known Gerry they had ever seen of that era, when he began to paint in the style reminiscent of Impressionist art,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said he’s glad the painting can now be seen by so many people.
“It wasn’t a sacrifice because of the giclée (a high-quality inkjet-printed copy) I had made of the painting before I sent it over to the Historical Society. It’s hung in my living quarters at Wentworth Senior Living in Portsmouth. If you are more than two feet away, you don’t know what I have in the office here from the original. It’s identical, only mine is photocopied onto canvas instead of paper.”
More reasons to visitThe Historical Society’s building is itself a striking reason to visit. People wander through the rooms, picking up pieces of Granite State history and peering up and around at the architecture and embellishments along the way.
When walking through the spread-out Gerry exhibit, it’s easy to wonder why this contemporary of celebrated White Mountain artists didn’t get the enduring fame of his colleagues, including his friend Benjamin Champney, a singular name in White Mountain Art circles.
Gerry was a known painter, teacher and advocate, as well as a founder of the Boston Art Club. The historical society’s exhibit features his work from 1834 to shortly before his death in 1891.
“Gerry is frankly in their league. It’s really sort of a mystery why there hasn’t been, as far as we know, a definitive exhibit of his art and coverage of his life until this exhibit,” Dunlap said. “Some of our members who are also collectors of White Mountain art and a couple of members came to us saying, ‘This is a void that needs to be filled.”
Samuel L. Gerry (1813-1891) painted “Old Man of the Mountains,” in about 1886, when the lure of the White Mountains had visitors and artists alike flocking to New Hampshire.
It’s also a bit of a reminder to enjoy the sights while we have them. The very places that inspired these works and lured people to experience them are often impacted by all those visiting feet, time and the elements.
It’s interesting to see “Old Man of the Mountain,” painted in about 1886. The majority of the piece is centered on a lake where boaters enjoy the lush foliage and a peaceful air. But the eye is drawn upward, slightly right of center, to the familiar profile of the Old Man, who still seems to preside over New Hampshire history today, 19 years after the stone profile fell from the Cannon Mountain cliffs.
Gerry’s renderings of the state’s natural beauty, including the now lost Old Man, helped shape the way Americans viewed New Hampshire and contributed to the rise of tourism in the state.
One Gerry painting referenced but not on view at the Historical Society is “The Artist’s Dream.” It’s an allegorical painting that hints at inspiration and imagination. An artist sketches in the foreground while ethereal figures and ruins reminiscent of Rome and Greece blink into view in the landscape.
That piece is at the Antique Co-op, 323 Elm St., Milford, and has been listed for sale for $18,000, confirmed manager and co-owner Jason Hackler. The painting also can be viewed online at nhantiquecoop or via the society’s digital exhibit gallery at nhhistory.org.
To see a digital version of the historical society’s exhibit, go to nhhistory.org.
What: “A Faithful Student of Nature: The Life and Art of Samuel L. Gerry”
Where: New Hampshire Historical Society, 30 Park St., Concord
When: Through Aug. 6. Thursday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $7 for adults. Free for ages 18 and younger, society members, full-time students and active military and their families (with ID)
Info: nhhistory.org or 603-228-6688
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