Cahoon Museum of American Art
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Highlights of the permanent collection include the works of Cape Cod artists Ralph Cahoon and Martha Cahoon and other prominent 19th Century American artwork by Ralph Blakelock, William Bradford, James Buttersworth, John J. Enneking, Alvan Fisher, Levi Wells Prentice and William Matthew Prior. Seven or eight special exhibitions over the year cover the whole range of American Art. The Museum also has a charming gift shop, Mermaids Cove. Open year round (except January) Hours are Tues-Sat 10am-4pm and Sunday 1-4pm. The museum is located on 4676 Falmouth Road in Cotuit, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
History of the Building
The stately Cape Cod Colonial building that now houses the Cahoon Museum of American Art was one of seven homesteads in Cotuit built by Ebenezer Crocker in the second half of the 18th century. The house was built about 1775 and can best be described as a Palladian or Georgian style house. Although this style was being replaced by the Federal style at the time of the Revolution in more “refined” parts of New England, Cape Cod was just adopting the Georgian style. This typical Georgian Cape Cod house is distinguished by its symmetrical placement of doors and windows and by a doorway capped with a pediment. The house also features small-paned flat-topped windows and gable roof. Clapboard is used to cover the exterior which emphasizes the horizontal lines of the design. The dark red paint of the clapboard simulate the brick of more cosmopolitan homes off-Cape. The white trim highlights the symmetrical placement of doors and windows. In the interior, there is a heavy use of paneled woodwork, including doors, wainscoting and sometimes entire walls, especially the fireplace wall. Mantelpieces appeared in only the finest homes of this period, but were often added at a later time, as was done in this house.
The opening for the beehive oven in the kitchen fireplace is located at the back of the fireplace. This placement necessitated a wide hearth so that the user could enter the fireplace to access the oven. The rear oven location was abandoned for the more convenient location to the side of the fireplace opening (less chance of burning the user) about 1800 on Cape Cod.
By 1821 the building was operated as a tavern by Ezra Crocker, grandson of Ebenezer Crocker, and his wife, Temperance, who was a niece of Ebenezer. The house became an important overnight stop of the Hyannis-Sandwich stagecoach line, and possibly accommodated such notable visitors to the area as Daniel Webster. A feature which dates from this time period is the hinged wall (complete with door) in the rear of the second floor, which could be raised to provide one large meeting space or lowered to provide two smaller rooms. The stenciling in the entry hall is thought to date from this time period. It is very similar to a design found in the ballroom of the Governor Pierce house in Hillsborough, N.H., which was built in 1804. David Crocker, son of Ezra and Temperance, became the next owner, followed by his daughter, Susan Crocker. After five generations of Crocker ownership the property was purchased by a new family. Frank Handy purchased the house in 1920. The Handy family made several modifications over the years, but by 1945, when Mrs. Handy was 85-years old, the house was not in very good repair. Martha Cahoon writes: For heat, Mrs. Handy burned coal in a kitchen range and a round tin parlor stove. The bathroom and bedroom over the living room also had registers which took the chill off the rooms. Kitchen pipes would freeze in zero degree weather. When the wind was strong it blew up through the cracks in the floorboards and actually blew a bulge in the carpet!
That year the house was purchased by artists Ralph and Martha Cahoon as their home and studio. They began restoring the building immediately, although materials were difficult to obtain because of the war. When the artists moved to Cotuit they made their living as decorative furniture painters. Mr. Cahoon had been looking for a Colonial-style house that would make an appropriate setting for their antiques and painted furniture business. After Ralph Cahoon died in 1982, Cotuit art collector Rosemary Rapp purchased the Colonial farmhouse with the vision of opening a museum. In 1984, she founded the Cahoon Museum of American Art as a showcase of the Cahoon’s artwork and 19th- and early 20th-century American painting from her own collection. Few modifications were needed when the building was converted to a museum. Besides new lighting, heating and cooling systems, some of the old flooring was reinforced to accommodate the additional traffic. Later, a new front entry was built, returning the central façade to its original Georgian style with triangular pediments and supporting columns.
It was a well-kept secret at the time, Martha Cahoon remained in residence within an apartment on the premises after the museum’s inception in 1984 until her death in 1999. In January 2001, that space was converted to meet the needs of a growing museum. Expanded facilities include a larger museum store and office space, additional exhibition space, art storage, a ground-floor public restroom, a kitchenette, a conference room and receiving area for artwork.
Through careful planning and attention to the needs of a historic structure, this 1775 home continues to serve the needs of a flourishing art museum while retaining the beauty, character and authenticity of its original state. The building itself presents a warm and inviting environment to cultivate an appreciation of American art.