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  • by Karen Cummings

Practising the ABCs of Art

Sunday, August 19th [1984], will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fryeburg artist, philanthropist, and character Anne Cary Bradley. Except for a thoughtfully arranged mantel in her honor in the Fryeburg Women's Library, the day of her birth will go by generally unheralded.

This isn't because she isn't remembered. On the contrary, the shy, quiet woman cut quite a figure as she rode around the streets of Fryeburg on her bicycle, always sporting a large hat held in place with a stick pin and wearing a blue smock with black sateen bloomers.

Anyone who lived in Fryeburg before Cary's death in 1956 vividly remembers this diminutive person who would suddenly pop up in someone's driveway, garden, or back yard with easel and paints ready to go. "I remember that she always rode a bicycle," said George Dole, son of Louis A. Dole, a friend of Cary's and the minister at the New Jerusalem Church in Fryeburg from 1920 to 1937. "Her art materials would be strapped to the back and she'd stop and set up her easel wherever she liked the view."

Her philanthropic endeavors will long be remembered, too. An active member of the New Jerusalem Church, Cary was one of their largest contributors. In her collection of newspaper articles and recollections of people who knew Anne Cary Bardley, Eva Barbour of Fryeburg quotes Margaret Briggs, wife of a former pastor, "Cary was clerk of our parish for many years. No one knew, until after her death, that the parish was required to pay per capita tax to the National Church each year since Cary had always quietly taken care of it. Shortly before our arrival in Fryeburg, Cary had the church recarpeted with one of the best carpets available at her own expense... Cary's good deeds were not limited to the church. There was a little boy in town who wanted a bicycle very much and, as I remember it, he just happened to find one on his porch one day."

On top of all this, Anne Cary Bradley was a prolific artists who recorded mech of the face of Fryeburg and the surrounding area. Summers were spent cycling around the town painting gardens, doorways, street scenes -- whatever took her fancy -- in bold strokes and colors.

"She loved purples and blues," said Mrs. Barbour, who was a neighbor of Cary's. "You could always tell one of Cary's paintings by the colors she used."

A Portland newspaper article written during one of her many shows in that city describes her work. "It requires fine drawing and the technique of an artist and architect to paint as Miss Bradley does: strongly, boldly, and with accuracy."

On the occasion of another show in her later years, this description was printed: "Miss Bradley's artistic ability leans to the impressionistic rather than the academic and her subjects, chiefly interpreting the beauty of the outdoors, depict Maine and New Hampshire scenes. Still life and landscapes predominate..."

And yet, though she often exhibited her work in museums and hotels in Portland -- even as far afield as New York City for the 19th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1935 -- she remains relatively unknown in the art world as well as within her home community. Many walls of Fryeburg homes are graced with an A.C. Bradley painting or two, but most people are only vaguely aware of the person behind the painting.

ANNE CARY BRADLEY WAS THE ONLY CHILD of William B. Bradley and Almira T. Blake. Her father was 41 when she was born and had retired to his home town of Fryeburg after making his fortune in sheep farming in Washington state. The Bradleys were a prominent family in Fryeburg and contrbuted much to the town, but when articles were written about her during her life, her relationship to the poets Phoebe and Alice Cary and the 19th century singer, Annie Louise Cary, were most often mentioned.

She was a direct descendant of three passengers on the Mayflower, but never joined any of the organizations that recognized that. "She wasn't interested in being a joiner," said Wilfred Rice, former pastor of the New Jerusalem Church. "She was nominated once to be the corresponding secretary for the church but told us that we better find someone else. 'I don't like to correspond with people,' she said."

Shy, quiet, and reserved all her life, Cary was obviously influenced very strongly by her mother and her home situation. "I've been told that her father, who is my great uncle, liked his liquor," explained a distant cousin, Stuart Bradley, "and that her mother was a teetotaller. The result was that the two never spoke to each other and even went so far as to build a wall through the center of the house so they wouldn't have to see each other at all."

Painting was a welcome outlet that Cary turned to at a very early age. Painfully shy in the difficult teenage years, Cary was encouraged by her mother, who also painted, to try her had at it. "It is my understanding," said Eva Barbour, "that as soon as she started painting, she knew what she wanted to do with her life." At the age of 14, Cary took her first lesson from Rachel Weston and thus started her lifelong, "hobby."

"Her father left her quite a bit of money," said her cousin, Stuart, "and so she didn't need to be employed and just painted all day, every day." Cary had several art instructors during her lifetime, often spending summers at artists' colonies in Ogunquit, Maine, and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Between the years 1910 and 1924, Cary attended the Portland School of Fine Arts, where she worked diligently on her techniques with oil, pastels, and watercolors.

Cary Bradley's paintings and varied use of color is in the style of the pre-Impressionists, best exemplified by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. Like these painters, Cary used bold, wide brush strokes and painted using bright, complimentary colors (especially her favorite, purple), rather than the actual colors of the subject. Though not ahead of her time in painting style, certainly she was an innovative landscape painter for her area and era.

"One expects a woman artist to show a preference for flowers, landscapes, or delicate designs," said a newspaper article of her day. "However, Miss Bradley can paint these with rare ability, but her unusual talent is best expressed on canvas showing groups of buildings, street scenes, city blocks..."

"I remember looking through a notebook that Cary kept," said George Dole, "and she had written in very bold hand -- 'Never Paint Pretty Pictures' -- and there was nothing pretty or fussy about her paintings ever." She painted wherever she was, whether it was while visiting the Dole family after they moved to Bath, Maine, or staying for a week or two each summer at farms in North Chatham, or spending her winters in a hotel room high above the rooftops of Portland.

"She was such a shy person," added Dole, "that when she went to Portland, she would ask for a hotel room with the particular view that she wanted so she wouldn't have to be out among people to do her painting."

A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIME IN HER ART, Cary was also ahead of her time in her attitudes toward life. "Things didn't bother her a bit," explained Dole. "She was shy, yes, but very unself-conscious." Option for comfort rather than style, her bloomers and large hats were decidedly different, but Cary felt "artists ought to look different." Margaret Briggs told Mrs. Barbour that Cary was once wistfully remembering the old days when Fryeburg had many more "character" when all of a sudden she realized, "Perhaps I'm one!"

An eccentric who might have provoked ridicule from both adults and children, Cary was well-loved by all who knew her. "She was one of the most loving and lovely people I have ever known," said Mrs. Briggs.

"She would come and visit us in Bath when I was a teenager," explained Dole, "and even though she had difficulty with her voice -- it would crack in out of falsetto -- wore funny clothes, and always fell asleep in church (so much that we kids would be mesmerized watching her head bob up and down), it never occurred to any of us to make fun of her. My parents respected and loved her so much," he continued, "that we just knew she was a special person."

THE MEMORIES AND TALES OF CARY LIVE ON, but what of the tangible result of her life? What has become of all of Cary's paintings? The Portland Museum of Art has none of her work on exhibit. The Maine Historical Society only has her listed as a Maine artist as does the Archives of Maine Art at Colby College in Waterville.

Cary's reserve and shyness may have contributed in part to her relative obscurity, but much of it can be attributed to her philanthropy. "Every year during the church's assembly, we would hold an auction to raise funds for the church," explained Mrs. Briggs who now resides in Intervale, "and she would almost clean out a year's work -- bringing over so many paintings. Some of them she had done rather quickly, but others were beautiful. She conducted the auction herself, too, and often pictures that were marked $25 on the back, she would let go for 25 cents."

"All of us that have attended the assembly have at least one A.C. Bradley," said Dole. "each year she held an open house and if you happened to admire a painting she had hanging in her home, sure enough, it would turn up the next year at the auction, and she'd make sure you got it. We are all just thankful that we had the opportunity to buy her paintings at prices that we could afford."

Thus are the majority of Cary's painting in the hands of people who haven't even considered having them appraised. "We enjoy the paintings because they are nice and are of familiar scenes," said Dole, "but mostly we like them because we knew Cary."

NOTE: In the original version, the author thanked "Eva Barbour and the Fryeburg Women's Libray for the use of Mrs. Barbour's notebook with pictures and recollections of Anne Cary Bradley." Mr.s Barbour passed away in 1990. Currently, a search on the internet shows many of A.C. Bradley's paintings available with prices ranging from $150 to $8000. The one color illustration is a photo of the A.C. Bradley painting, depicting Baldface Mountain in North Chatham, that the author bought from the New Jerusalem Church when she wrote this story in 1984.

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