Artists gravitate toward places that inspire them creatively, so you can often find artists houses among splendid scenery or in rural isolation.
Famous artists could often afford large houses, and some have since been transformed into inns and bed and breakfasts.
Artists Houses As Inns
Now every New England state has a house that an artist once lived in, but functions as an inn or an artists retreat.
At two of the artists houses described below you can actually practice your art in the same places Fairfield and Eliot Porter and Norman Rockwell found their inspiration.
So here we bring you six artists houses, one in each state (admittedly, we include an engraver and an architect as artists – but we think they’d agree). If you know of any artists houses where people can stay, please include them in the comments section.
Abel Buell Home
Abel Buell, apprenticed to a silversmith as a boy, learned his craft perhaps too well.
As a young man, he used his skill at engraving to alter the plates for five-pound notes to plates for larger denominations. Then he printed them. He got caught, and authorities cut off the tip of his ear as punishment.
An uncommonly ingenious mapmaker, he designed the first map of the United States in 1784 and colored it by hand. The map involves enough artistry that we’re putting his house on our list of artists homes.
He was born in 1742 in Clinton, Conn., when it was called Killingworth. Today his home is a bed and breakfast called the Abel Buell House By The Shore. You can stay in one of two rooms, one with a queen-size bed, one with a twin.
33 Commerce St., Clinton, Conn.
Great Spruce Head Island
Fairfield Porter, born in 1907 in Winnetka, Ill., bucked the Abstract Expressionist trend during the middle of the 20th century. He stuck to a representational style despite criticism from other artists. In his paintings, he made ordinary landscapes and interiors seem extraordinary.
His brother Eliot was a biochemical researcher at Harvard who took up photography as a hobby. Fairfield introduced Eliot to Alfred Stieglitz, who encouraged him to work harder. Eliot began to exhibit in Stieglitz’s gallery, and eventually he quit his job and pursued photography full time. The Sierra Club published a book of his photographs with quotations from Henry David Thoreau, and it did quite well. Eliot Porter published more books, and is considered the pioneer of the coffee-table book of nature photography.
When the boys were young, their father bought Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay and built a 12-bedroom summer cottage. The brothers and their three siblings spent summers on the island. Today, the Porters’ niece, Anina Porter Fuller, invites a dozen artists to spend a week on the island working independently in late June or early July. (Here’s her painting of the house.)
Great Spruce Head Island, Deer Isle, Maine
Fidelia Bridges Guest House
Fidelia Bridges created exquisite images of nature in the 19th century, though people have largely forgotten her. Except, at least, for those who stay at one of the most interesting artists houses, the Fidelia Bridges Guest House.
She was born in 1834 in Salem, Mass., to Eliza Chadwick Bridges and Henry Gardiner Bridges. Her father died in China when Fidelia was 15, and her mother died three hours before the news of her husband's death reached Salem. Fidelia's sister auctioned off the family furniture and sold the house.
Eventually Fidelia got a job as a mother's helper in New York, where she would later run a school and her own studio. She also worked as a governess to Mark Twain’s three children.
All the while she drew and painted, limiting her subjects to birds and plants.
She moved to Canaan, Conn., and lived quietly, drawing and painting for the rest of her days.
The Fidelia Bridges Guest House belongs to the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Mass.
18 Washington Square West, Salem, Mass.
Inn at Whitefield
Emil Otto Grundmann was a German art professor and artist who came to the United States. He got a job as director of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he founded the Boston School of art. He taught such artists as Frank Weston Benton, Charles Henry Turner and Edmund C. Tarbell.
Grundmann visited a friend in Whitefield, N.H., in 1879 to paint the White Mountains. He painted the lovely Interior at the Mountains, a view of the silhouette of the Franconia range through the window of his friend's bay window. The interior includes 'accessories of genteel tourism,' according to Robert L. McGrath: a map of Europe, sculptures, prints of Roman monuments and wicker furniture.
Today you can be your own genteel tourist at the house, now the Inn at Whitefield.
381 Lancaster Rd., Whitefield, N.H.
Architect’s Inn Guesthouse
George Champlin Mason designed a number of palatial homes in Newport, R.I., including one for himself.
Mason spent his early career trying to make a living as a landscape painter. He published a collection of engravings of Newport landscapes that promoted the city to tourists and vacationers.
Mason switched careers several times, first as a newspaper editor and finally as an architect. He began designing houses in 1858, eventually designing many of the summer mansions in Newport. He also helped found the Newport Historical Society.
After his death in 1894, Belmonts and Vanderbilts lived in his house. Today it’s an inn, known as the Architect’s Inn Guesthouse, decorated with period furnishings and offering fully interactive Murder Mystery weekends.
2 Sunnyside Pl #1, Newport, R.I.
Norman Rockwell Inn & Studio
Before Norman Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, Mass., he lived in Arlington, Vt. There he adopted the themes of Americana that have endeared him to millions of his fans.
Rockwell was 49 when he bought a farmhouse in Arlington, Vt., in the fall of 1943. The move to the house, built in 1792, gave him a much-needed restart for his art.
He was more interested in diners, doctors' offices and schoolhouses than in the landscape.
Today you can enjoy the Green Mountain scenery or the diners and schoolhouses at the Norman Rockwell Inn & Studio. You can even stay in his studio – or his barn. The inn also offers Rockwell Seminars during which acclaimed painters and illustrators give one-on-one instruction in Rockwell’s actual studio.
3587 River Road Arlington, Vt.
Images of artists houses: Emil Grundmann, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Otto_Grundmann#/media/File:Emil_Otto_Grundmann00.jpg; Under the Elms, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10887039
This story about artists houses was updated in 2019.