Maritime Portsmouth: The Sawtelle Collection

Maritime Portsmouth: The Sawtelle Collection by Richard M. Candee
by Richard M. Candee

Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, collectors Joseph G. and Jean E. Sawtelle built a major collection of maritime art and artifacts related to the port town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their ultimate goal was to create a maritime museum in Portsmouth, but the museum vision withered with the unexpected passing of Joe Sawtelle in 2001. This summer, the Portsmouth Historical Society and Portsmouth Athenaeum are exhibiting the entire Sawtelle collection, including earlier gifts to both institutions.

One hundred and ninety paintings, prints, and artifacts are on exhibit at the Portsmouth Historical Society’s Discover Portsmouth Center, through August 30, while artifacts and paintings related to the USS Kearsarge form the core of the exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, through September 17, 2011. The collection is documented in Richard M. Candee, editor, Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection (Portsmouth Marine Society). For more information visit www.portsmouthmarinesociety.org.

Timothy Merritt Newhall (1840–1911) Salter’s Island, Portsmouth Harbor, Portsmouth, NH Oil on canvas, 30 x 48-1/2 inches
Timothy Merritt Newhall (1840–1911)
Salter’s Island, Portsmouth Harbor, Portsmouth, NH
Oil on canvas, 30 x 48-1/2 inches

One of the most charming paintings of the landscape along the Piscataqua River is this late-nineteenth-century view by T. M. Newhall of Salter’s Island, or Marston’s Island as it came to be known after it was purchased by a Boston family in the fish and lobster trade. The painting was discovered by Joe Sawtelle in the religious school that later occupied the buildings seen in the painting, when he went to look at the island for development. He declined the real estate, but bought this large and detailed landscape.

Newhall was a native of Lynn, Massachusetts, then the second-largest town in the Commonwealth, known for its shoemaking industry and seaside resorts, as well as a center for art patronage. John Marston, the purchaser of the island, was also from Lynn, and given the origins of both men, it is tempting to think that this painting was a commission based on their connections in Massachusetts.


James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894) The Ship Wild Duck Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches
James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894)
The Ship Wild Duck
Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches

Born in London, England, into a family of maritime artists, James E. Buttersworth settled in New Jersey around 1845. He became the most prominent of American ship portraitists of the nineteenth century. His career of sixty years was dedicated to portraits of all types of vessels. His paintings are known for their meticulous detail, dramatic settings, and grace in movement.

On the Wild Duck’s maiden voyage in 1828, a passenger wrote she “...proved herself a fast sailor, as she passed everything we came in sight of.” In fact, however, she was the fourth slowest of the four clippers in the owner’s fleet. When in Hong Kong on her third voyage, she ran aground; she did not appear in any subsequent shipping records.


John Haley Bellamy (1836–1914) Eagle plaque Carved pine and paint. H. 9, L. 24-1/2 in.
John Haley Bellamy (1836–1914)
Eagle plaque
Carved pine and paint.
H. 9, L. 24-1/2 in.

The Sawtelle collection includes several works by legendary carver John Haley Bellamy, a native of Kittery, Maine. Bellamy produced many of his distinctive eagle plaques during his career. This large eagle is less dynamic and more formal in posture than Bellamy’s smaller, trademark banner eagles. His larger examples almost invariably feature a painted shield and a brace of American flags. Adorning offices and exteriors of private clubs or commercial businesses, these majestic birds reflect the optimism and patriotic spirit that then held sway.


F. Childe Hassam (1859–1935) Church Point, Portsmouth, 1883 Watercolor and gouache on brown paper, 11-1/2 x 12-1/2 inches
F. Childe Hassam (1859–1935)
Church Point, Portsmouth, 1883
Watercolor and gouache on brown paper, 11-1/2 x 12-1/2 inches

Among the many artists who documented the region in paintings, etchings, and prints was F. Childe Hassam. His painting of “Church Point” was used to illustrate a serialized story in an 1883 issue of the Boston bicycling publication The Wheelman magazine, about a locally-invented “marine bicycle.” Though boating enthusiasts and local historians are familiar with Hassam’s images for this series, they are often overlooked by scholars of the artist. This delicate graphite image is among the earliest examples of Hassam’s art.

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