Eleanor Parke Custis
1896 - 1983
Eleanor Parke Custis (1896-1983) was a painter and a fine art photographer. Custis was from Washington, DC, a direct descendant of Martha Custis Washington, our first First Lady. She came to Cape Ann with her parents, staying at the Rockaway Hotel on Rocky Neck. By 1935 she had a studio at Wonsonhurst, a rambling wharf building on the Neck that had been converted into summer apartments and studios to accommodate the burgeoning art colony. Custis studied painting and drawing with Edward Tarbell at the Corcoran School of Art from 1915 to 1925 and also with Henry B. Snell during the summers of 1924 and 1925 in Maine. In addition to this formal training, Custis traveled to Europe during the late 1920s, expanding her artistic vision. By that time she was already exhibiting her artwork, including at Gallery-on-the-Moors (1921) and at the North Shore Arts Association (1923), both in East Gloucester. The Grand Central Galleries in New York City gave her a one-woman show of her paintings in 1933.
During the 1930s, Eleanor Parke Custis shifted her focus from painting to photography, quickly becoming one of this country’s most prolific and successive salon exhibiters. In 1947, her book Composition and Pictures was published by the American Photographic Publishing Company. In it she used her photographs and her paintings to explore “dynamic symmetry,” a mathematically-based formula used by many artists to enhance their compositions.
In 1960, Eleanor Parke Custis made Gloucester her permanent home, settling into an architecturally exuberant house perched atop Banner Hill with a bird’s eye view of Rocky Neck and the Inner Harbor.