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About Artist and Writer George Savary Wasson

Wasson00LITERARY LIONS

Brought up in an intellectual atmosphere, artist George Wasson never lost touch with the rustic Maine coast, for he spent most of this summers with his grandfather at Brooksville. These summer visits he loved, entering fully into the life of Brooksville. His folksy books about Kittery Point Maine, though out of print today, are still beloved by many and preserve the local dialect. (Continued below)

Although George Savary Wasson was born in Groveland, Massachusetts, in 1855, his family hailed from Penobscot Bay, where they settled after the Revolution. George Wasson’s grandfather, “Squire” David Wasson, was closely identified with the shipping history of Brooksville, and built vessels there which hauled lumber from Bangor to Boston. “Squire” David’s son, David Atwood Wasson, after studying at Bowdoin College and the Bangor Theological Seminary, was in 1851 ordained as pastor of an evangelical church at Groveland, and there his son, George Savary Wasson, was born. The Reverend David Atwood Wasson  soon fell in with Emerson and Thoreau. He moved to Concord, and from 1865 to 1867 was minister of the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society in Boston, but poor health forced his retirement.

In 1872 David Wasson took his son to Stuttgart, Germany, to study under the tutelage of a Professor Funk for three years. Eventually he opened a studio in Boston, where he specialized in marine painting, and was one of the members of the coterie at the St. Botolph Club with artists like French, Sargent and St. Gaudens. He owned a series of yachts, beginning with the Gulnare in 1876, used for long summer cruising down east. So exclusive was his interest in subjects drawn from the sea that only two of the thirty-two paintings at his one-man show at the Chase Gallery in 1883 dealt with non-maritime scenes.

George Savary Wasson of Kittery Point

Wasson’s cruising brought him not only subjects for pictures, but a devoted wife. Having had one look at Amelia Inslee Bullock Webb, who was teaching school at Deer Isle, Maine, he scraped an introduction via the local postmistress, and, in a remarkably short time persuaded her to marry him. The wedding took place in 1885.

Not long after, when cruising to Castine, George Wasson put in at Kittery Point; thought it the most paintable spot he had ever seen, and determined to settle there. This he did in 1889, building a house with a studio in the top story, where half-models of ships and nameboards from vessels wrecked along the coast made sympathetic companions for his own paintings. Every bit of it he loved. The general store became his club, and its frequenters his friends. Just as he recorded in his sketch books the details of scows, pinkies, hay schooners, and wrecks, so he salted down the speech of his neighbors in note books, and from this treasury of language evolved his stories.

Much as George Wasson loved Kittery Point, he spent many weeks of each summer exploring other parts of the coast. Mrs. Wasson hated boats, however, and so remained at home during the long summer cruises to the eastward. As their two sons, David Arnold (1887-1915) and Lewis Talcott (1889-1912), acquired sea legs they would accompany their father on his wanderings.

The highly congenial life at Kittery Point might have gone on indefinitely had it not been for the premature deaths of the two sons. Lewis, an ensign in the United States Navy, died in 1912, and his older brother, David Arnold--who had inherited much of his father’s literary skill--died in 1915. Kittery Point then became too full of associations for the father and mother and for David’s widow, who made her home with them, and so in 1916 the surviving Wassons moved to Bangor, thus returning to the Penobscot.

In the Wave Crest, his last boat, George Wasson would live through the summer at Castine, while his wife remained ashore in a boarding house or hotel.

Through the summer of 1931 George Wasson was hard at work on his last book, Sailing Days on the Penobscot. When the proofs arrived he was too ill to look at them, and he did not live to see the finished book. As he lay dying in Bangor, his doctor came to see him and remarked, “Well, Mr. Wasson, I see they’ve hauled you up in drydock.”  “Yep, hauled up for good this time.”  And so, on the 28th of April, 1932, George S. Wasson slipped his moorings.  His friends observed that it was high water and he went out with the tide.

(c) Greg Gathers, 2012

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