FROST, JOHN ORNE JOHNSON
had a deep love of the sea and a pride in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts, that inspired more than one hundred paintings based on maritime themes andlocal history. Many of Frost’s painted scenes are aerial views enhanced by accompanying text.
Marblehead Fleet Returned from the Grand Banks
shows minutelydetailed houses, fences, animals, flowers in doorways, as well as factories, shipyards, and street names, and includes captions. A lookout sights the fleet and alerts thetownspeople, who assemble from every direction to welcome the fishermen upon their return from sea. At age sixteen, Frost went to sea as a fisherman. Despite the hazardous weather conditions out on the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic, he signed up again thefollowing year. The challenge of these journeys quelled his wanderlust, and he settled down to work in Marblehead the next year. In 1870, after Frost met and marriedAnn Lillibridge, he took a job with his uncle as a carpenter’s apprentice. A year later, he went to work in a restaurant owned by his father-in-law. He remained in therestaurant business most of his working life.Following an illness in 1895, Frost worked with his wife in her successful flower business. When his wife’s own health deteriorated in 1919, he began to paint. Heconstructed a small building behind his house where he exhibited his paintings and carved models of Marblehead buildings, ships, and fish. Frost said that he was drawnto painting because he wanted to be prepared to answer questions from visitors to Marblehead who might ask about “the town and the way the fishing business wascarried on…That started me to try.” Frost worked with oil paint on academy board, chipboard, and Masonite, and applied color with no attempt at shading or modeling. He also worked entirely from memory.When local citizens derided paintings of his displayed in a shop window, Frost said, according to Arthur Hentzelman of the Boston Public Library, “If they make people laugh, they were doing some good.” Upon his death, Mrs. Albert Carpenter, a collector, acquired many of Frost’s paintings. About thirty additional panels werediscovered in 1954 by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Mason, who had purchased Frost’s home. They were found nailed to the walls with the images facing in.
Maritime Folk Art; Painting, American Folk; Painting, Memory
Lipman, Jean, and Tom Armstrong, eds.
American Folk Painters of Three Centuries.
New York, 1980.Little, Nina Fletcher. “J.O.J. Frost: Painter Historian of Marblehead.”
Art in America,
vol. 43, no. 3 (October 1955): 26–33.Reynolds, Robert L. “History in House Paint.”
vol. 13, no. 4 (June 1962): 10–19.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Painting from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Williamsburg, Va., 1988
FROST, JOHN ORNE JOHNSON