The Little Studio

As the Salem Arts Festival is happening this rainy weekend, I thought I’d offer up a few artistic posts.  I have long been interested in a Salem artist named Philip Little (1854-1942), whose house is located diagonally across the street from ours, so I was very pleased to come across an article about his Salem studio in an old journal called Art and Progress.  Entitled “An Artist’s Studio in Old Salem”, the article was published in November 1914; it contains a brief description of the studio and two great images of the artist in his milieu.

This first view of Little-in-context is amazing, as he stands (and presumably paints) on the deck of his studio, the ruins of a post-fire Salem are in the background, including the twin towers of St. Joseph’s Church.  The article text makes this very point:  On the water-front in old Salem is the studio of  Philip Little, well known as a painter of outdoor pictures.  This is near the historic Derby Wharf and not far from the House of the Seven Gables.  It is a simple concrete structure about 30 x 40 feet and about 20 feet to the ridgepole.  The walls are concrete and the reddish roof is of a fire-proof material….The [interior] walls of the studio are tinted a warm gray.  The furniture consists of a large working easel, a palette stand, and a few chairs. On the polished floor there are a few rugs. Fortunately this studio was just outside the zone destroyed by the great fire of the past summer.

The interior view, just as described:

Though I couldn’t find the exact painting that is on view here, Little’s views of Salem’s old wharves, which must have been painted from the vantage point of this studio, are among his most popular. Certainly Salem Harbor, the 1913 painting below was conceived in the studio, and I like to imagine that the etching Harbor View (1927) was as well (although it looks rather more Maine-ish to me).  Little was no starving artist:  his family’s textile wealth enabled him (as well as his brother Arthur, an architect) to pursue his passion for art:  he began his education at MIT but wound up at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Nevertheless, he led a long life characterized not only by creativity but also by public service (the Salem School Board, the Massachusetts Militia) and generosity.  Like his fellow impressionist and Chestnut Street neighbor Frank W. Benson, Little summered in Maine and while he was up north he let his Harbor studio to a succession of artists, including up-and-coming Connecticut printmaker Philip Kappel.  The little studio of Philip Little lives on as a private home, little changed except for the addition of a small second story, which no doubt provides an even better view of Salem Harbor.

Salem Harbor (1913) and Harbor View, possibly Salem (1927; from a 2009 sale at Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers); the Little Studio on Salem Harbor today (in the middle, with the outbuildings of the House of the Seven Gables in the background).

5 responses to “The Little Studio

  • Nelson Dionne

    I have often wondered why we have not seen more in print here in Salem about the local connections of Little, Frank Benson or any of their peers. It’s almost as if they are still being snubbed here for some long forgotten transgression. Nice article. Now if I could only find a few postcards mentioning Salem that show their works.

  • William Legault

    There seems to be very little interest in the Salem Arts community concerning these old Salem artists. It seems as if many of them look down on the old school, maritime themed paintings.

  • Margaret Little

    Thank you for this wonderful article that I just happened upon while researching my family member Philip Little as I am planning a trip to Salem and am trying to find his residence many pieces are still in the possession of our family. Margaret Little Ashburnham Ma

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