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God Bless Art

Posted: 4/6/16

Gail McCarthy, Gloucester Daily Times

The Cape Ann Museum is opening a new exhibition by a quirky local painter, the late Earle Merchant (1903-1997), who captures the likeness of residents in a colorful and animated way. The exhibit, “God Bless Art: The Portraits of Earle Merchant,” is on view Saturday, April 9 through Friday, May 27.

The Rockport Art Association has donated its collection of 46 of Merchant’s portraits to the Cape Ann Museum. The work will be featured in a special exhibit opening on April 9. A public reception will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. 

Merchant was born in Gloucester in 1903, graduated from Gloucester High School and went on to study at Boston University Law School. By the late 1920s, Merchant had joined a law practice, which had offices on Main Street in Gloucester.

In the early 1960s, Merchant took up portrait painting and volunteered as “monitor” of sketch groups at the Rockport Art Association. Over a span of 20 years, Merchant captured the likenesses of hundreds of Cape Ann residents, from Floyd, the “Clam Digger,” to district judges, ministers and businessmen.

Writing in the 1990 edition of the Rockport Art Association’s 70th annual exhibit catalog, Merchant had this to say about his painting:

“I am, essentially, a self-taught artist. My earlier works leaned towards the primitive, but they became less of that style as I progressed. I like people, especially children. This probably accounts for achieving notable likenesses in finished portraits. I value highly my companionship over the years with so many talented fellow artists. Cape Ann is fortunate to have such high quality artists. God bless art and its Associations.”