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The Many Doors of Harry Harlow

harlowdoor00.jpgSEACOAST ARTISTS

He was a man on a mission. After retiring to Portsmouth, artist Harry S. Harlow painted every major colonial doorway in the Piscataqua region – at least 200 all told. Today his highly accurate work has become an important tool for those studying the architecture of bygone days, and grand homes that are often lost to history. (see feature and photos below) 




Magnificent Obsession – Colonial Doors of the Piscataqua

Harry S. Harlow was born in Haverhill MA on July 19, 1882 and trained as a commercial artist. From 1909 to 1915 he exhibited as a decorator and craftsman member of the Society Arts and Crafts, Boston. During World War I he moved to Portsmouth and served in the NH State Guard. In 1918 he w as a draftsman at the Navy Yard, but listed as an artist boarding on Dennett Street. By 1920 he had established a studio in Haverhill and worked for the next 30 years as a commercial artist under the banner of Stockbridge Art Studios.

A Reader Remembers HMS HARLOW (click here)

Returning to Portsmouth in 1927 he married Marion McGraw, the daughter of carpenter Charles Mcgraw, whose familiarity with local old buildings aided Harlow’s interest in painting them. Those paintings cemented a friendship with city librarian, Dorothy Vaughan, who called him "the kindest, gentlest man you’d ever know."


In 1946 Vaughan recommended the Harlows to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities as custodians of the 1664 Jackson House. He painted that old house from several angles in different seasons over the years. In 1947, the couple created a Jackson House Card Shop there for summer sales. In a nearby Harlow Studio on Dennett Street, he offered paintings, designs, illustrations, bookplates, and coats of arms, as well as cards and illustrations for advertisements. The Harlow Press also hand printed Ye Olde Strawberry Banke, a booklet of his woodcuts with brief histories written by Marion Harlow.


A sketch in American Magazine (Summer 1947) noted that during the Great Depression he began "to paint doorways of fine old Colonial homes for which Portsmouth is noted." In 1940 fifty of those Portsmouth doorway paintings were shown in the New Hampshire State Library in Concord, NH.

By 1950 he had finished 200 colonial revival paintings of local landmarks as they may have appeared when new. Harlow and his wife later used the paintings as models for woodcuts for cards. He also painted ships, portraits of shipbuilders, and imagined scenes from local history -- such as his painting of Paul Revere during his ride to Portsmouth and Benjamin Franklin with his lightning rod on the 1716 Warner House. Harlow’s interest in 17th century buildings may stem from his Pilgrim ancestry, but his Colonial Revival paintings of refined 18th century homes are both architecturally correct and highly romantic. He died in 1963.

If you have information on other Harry S. Harlow paintings, please contact the Portsmouth Historical Society at 603-426-8420.

SEE MORE Portsmouth Doors here 

Copyright (c) 2008 by Richard M. Candee / Portsmouth Historical Society




Harry S. Harlow Bonus Photos


 Imagined portrait of Ben Franklin who reportedly installed a lightning rod at the Warner House in Portsmouth, NH. Photo o painting by Harry S. Harlow (c) Prof. Richard M. Candee on

(From 1 1940 Publication)

"The doorways on the old Piscataqua mansions have great interest for both the artist and the craftsman. In their entirety they are distinguished for their pediments and their columns, which in design and execution show the exquisite skill of master carvers. Harry M. S. Harlow, an artist who lives in Portsmouth, has made a detailed study of these doorways with their triangular and curved pediments, heavily carved cornices, fluted Corinthian columns, and Ionic porticoes; he has interpreted their beauty in a series of paintings which faithfully portray the chronological sequence of their development as American art forms. Fifty doorways, no two of them alike, have been portrayed. Much of the research for the paintings has been done by the artist’s wife and by her father Charles H. Magraw, a retired carpenter, who has worked on so many of the old houses, and who remembers the details of construction on those he has repaired."

QUOTE FROM: Francis P. Murphy, Hands that Built New Hampshire, The Story of Granite State Craftsmen Past & Present (WPA Writer’s Project, 1940)



Portrait of H. M. S. Harlow by Larry Monahan, photographer, for "Interesting People" The American Magazine (Summer issue 1947)

Courtesy Portsmouth Historical Society, Gift of Joseph Sawtelle Family

BONUS: A Reader Remembers HMS HARBLOW (next page)


They Called Him HMS HARLOW


I notice that when you refer to Mr. Harlow, you call him Harry S. Harlow. Having been close to both him and his wife since my birth in 1941 until his death, I feel that I need to let everyone know just how proud Harry was of his Mayflower ancestry. He made sure one of the first things I learned at his side, was that he was descended from the Merricks who came over on the Mayflower. He always used the initials H. M. S. Harlow, which was Harry Merrick Sutton Harlow. As a child, I spent many, many hours watching him work on his oil paintings, and when I was able (in his opinion), he would let me pull the handle on his printing press which I was so thrilled to do. I remember Marion painstakingly painting with water colors, the note cards which were lined up on the drying racks. By my pre-teen years, I was allowed to fold these cards and count them out, and combine them with their envelopes, to be placed in the boxes (which they also made by hand - boxes & envelopes). My sister and I both had Pilgrim costumes which we wore when "working" the garden parties at the Jackson House one wonderful summer. Marion's father was a fantastic man. We called him ChaCha, and he always smelled like Noxema....not a bad thing. He had so many rare antique tools, and slide after slide (stereo-opticon) of Portsmouth that he would spend hours telling me all about. But, I tend to ramble...which is easy when thinking back to the many hours spent with Harry, Marion, and Charlie. My main objective was to tell you how important ALL of Harry's names were, and to see if possibly you could make the correction in your article about him, to include the extra initial.

Even though I read your paper thoroughly each issue, I failed to notice the omission of Harry's initial until today. Hopefully this can be corrected, even at this late date.

Thank you for such a great I might add has helped my immensely in my research of the Caswell's of Smutty Nose, who were my grandmother's family.

Patricia Holt





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