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Rocks, Maine

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Rocks, Maine

Artist: Betty Parsons (American, 1900 - 1982)

Date: 1938
Medium: Wax crayon, black ink, and blue fountain pen ink on medium-weight wove paper from a tablet
Overall: 10 7/8 x 13 3/4in. (27.6 x 34.9cm)
Signed: '
Inscribed: Recto, lower right (blue ballpoint [?] ink): Betty P / BP / [38?]"; verso, upper center (graphite): "Top"; left center, (graphite): "No 6" (upside down); right center (blue ink): "Maine"
Credit Line: Gift of the Mr. and Mrs. Alan D. Gruskin Collection
Object number: 91.26.4
Text Entries

Parsons traveled extensively and always sketched impressions of the environment in which she found herself. Lawrence Alloway said of his friend Parsons, “Her way of living is mobile; at the very least she alternates between New York and the North Shore of Long Island, but the journeys are often much more . . . [her work is] the analogue of this impulsive, peripatetic, hasty style of life.”(1) Indeed, to describe the inspiring effect that a beautiful landscape had on her, Parsons often invoked the characteristics of immediacy and spontaneity. She referred to the sensation she derived from the quality of light or the colors of a season as “excitement.”(2) Drawing, therefore, suited Parsons well; she said, “I love to draw because it’s a very sensitive way to convey this excitement.” Early in her career, she favored watercolor for its instantaneousness; it was, she said, “like a telegram.”(3) The MWPI work was rendered largely in grease crayon, a medium Parsons also used as a young artist; she found it limited, however, by its lack of subtlety. Parsons liked pastels as well, but she found them impractical for travel.

Parsons visited friends in Maine frequently and eventually bought a house there. Her biographer, Lee Hall, stated that Parsons “considered Maine vaguely exotic—a serene and almost holy place.”(4) The MWPI work evokes the spirited presence of place that Parsons found so compelling. In a naive style she defined space hierarchically by positioning objects toward the top of the page to indicate receding perspective. The composition was quickly captured with pen-and-ink outlines of the shimmering water, rocky seashore, and trees. Parsons then freely scribbled in colors of both naturalistic description and intuitive sensation. Pink and yellow reflections mingle with varying shades of blue and green that compose the water. The rocks are either pink and green with gray shading or mixed shades of brown with blue. Selected passages of black puncuate the rocks with deep shadows. The sandy beach is indicated by bright yellow and ochre crayon. A lawn, rendered in two shades of bright green interspersed with strokes of orange, abuts the beach. A large boulder in the upper left and two willowy trees with sparse branches complete the image.


1. Alloway, introduction to the checklist for Parsons’s 1966 Bennington College exhibition; he further stated that even when Parsons turned to abstraction in 1947, her images continued to be a “record of coasts and country.” See Betty Parsons Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm N69-105, frame 57. The author would like to thank the Betty Parsons Foundation for permission to cite this material.

2. Transcript of a September 5, 1968, interview with Alloway, Betty Parsons Papers, microfilm N69—105, frame 180.

3. Ibid., frame 181.

4. Lee Hall to author, May 11, 1993.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).