Like so many parts of Maine’s rugged coast, York Harbor is an inspiring place to paint.
By Stephen Harby
New England Quaint Meets Burgeoning Art Scene
Artists will find both beauty and history in York Harbor, Maine. This seaside community is part of the town of York (population 12,000). York dates back to the 1600s and was one of the first European settlements in New England. Between 1890 and 1910, Gilded Age tycoons arrived and built rambling summer cottages along the seaside cliffs. Today York Harbor is a thriving year-round community with a burgeoning arts scene, not to mention a renaissance of locally sourced culinary delights. York Harbor is a special place for me — I have been summering here for 60 years. In 1913 my great-grandmother bought an old farmstead named Juniper Ledges; she transformed it into a series of terraced gardens, which I remember viewing from the house’s wraparound porches.
The property was destroyed by fire when I was 9, and my family replaced it with a Midcentury Modern shingled house. The new structure is made up of three pavilions located where the porches of the old house had been, wrapping around the old foundation.
Like so many parts of Maine’s rugged coast, York Harbor is an inspiring place to paint. It’s also easily accessible, only an hour’s drive from Boston’s Logan Airport — although some would say York isn’t the “authentic” Maine, since you don’t have to drive through endless pine forests to get there, and you can even occasionally bear to swim in the ocean.
Local Picks: What to See and Do In York Harbor
A stroll along York Harbor’s Cliff Walk is enjoyable in any season; it’s open from sunrise to sunset. Start at Harbor Beach or Hartley Mason Reserve and thread your way between the cottages above and the rocks and surf below. You’ll pass the York Harbor Reading Room, a private club founded in 1897. As you round East Point, in the distance you’ll see the Nubble Light on its promontory off the coast of the village of York Beach, a short drive farther “down east.” In the days before radar and GPS, this was one of many beacons to ward off ships from running aground on the rocks. All this gazing out to sea should bring on a craving for lobster, best consumed “in the raw,” which you can take away from Off the Boat Lobsters or Maine Lobster Outlet.
The local farmers and home cooks of York produce an abundance of tempting produce and other edible delights, which reach their peak in late summer and early fall in the farmers’ markets and at York Corner Gardens, a more permanent roadside institution. Keep an eye open for blueberry pies from Something Different Baking. Up the road is Stonewall Kitchen, the largest employer in York and a significant tourist attraction. Jim Stott and Jonathan King parlayed this business from a stall at the Portsmouth farmers’ market to a world-famous brand. Travelers on their way to more distant points in Maine pull off the interstate for a meal in the café and for the free samples of the kitchen’s many jams and jellies. Bon appétit!
Two local galleries present the work of Maine artists year-round. The George Marshall Store Gallery presents a finely curated and often edgy selection of the best up-and-coming artists in the region. The York Art Association presents a broad range of local members’ arts and crafts, and includes a gift shop.
This article was written by Stephen Harby for Artists Magazine. Harby is an architect, watercolorist, faculty member of the Yale School of Architecture and founder of Stephen Harby Invitational, which organizes travel opportunities for small groups.
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