Earle T. Merchant
1903 - 1997
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...
Earle T. Merchant, 1990
Earle Merchant (1903-1997) was born in Gloucester, a son of Grace O. (Mayo) Merchant and David S. Merchant. Merchant was raised on Bass Avenue in East Gloucester. His mother worked as a bookkeeper while her mother tended the household. Merchant attended Gloucester High School (where he played the cornet in the school band and tutored fellow students in algebra) and graduated with the class of 192l. He went on to study at Boston University Law School, earning a law degree during the late 1920s. By 1928 he had joined a law practice with offices on Main Street in Gloucester. Merchant was active in local Masonic organizations, never married and lived in his family home on Bass Avenue for his entire life.
By the early 1960s, Earle Merchant was focusing intently on painting, creating portraits, nude studies and landscapes. He made several visits to the artist colony of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, often accompanied by artist friends whom he had met in the portrait sketch groups at the Rockport Art Association. Merchant attended the sketching sessions regularly. Begun in the late 1940s, they were intended to keep the art of portraiture alive on Cape Ann. By the late 1960s, Merchant was volunteering as “monitor” of the group, preparing the studio for students and arranging for models. In addition, he oversaw the Art Association’s life sketch group which focused on painting nudes. Merchant’s involvements were not confined to Rockport as he also organized a life sketch group at the North Shore Arts Association in East Gloucester. Failing health forced him to relinquish these responsibilities in the late 1980s.
Over a span of 20 years, Earle T. Merchant captured the likenesses of hundreds of Cape Ann residents from local characters such as Floyd the Clam Digger and Bill the Catnip Man, to district judges and their wives, businessmen and shop owners, retired fishermen, waitresses and fellow artists. Merchant meticulously labeled the back of each painting with the name of the sitter and the date the portrait was done. The inclusion of the date challenges viewers today to think about what was happening in the lives of the sitters at the time in which the portraits were done, what was going on here on Cape Ann, across the country and around the world.