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Who Was Rufus Porter?

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Most people think of Rufus Porter as the itinerant muralist who traveled New England from the early 1820s to about 1845. His vivid landscapes are characterized by rural and coastal images and the open brushstrokes used to achieve his signature feathery trees. Porter’s art is so closely identified with the region that he has achieved the iconic status of Norman Rockwell.

Few realize that Rufus Porter was much more than a folk artist. A chronology of his accomplishments depicts him as nomad, genius inventor (he held some 100 patents), adventurer (joined a trading voyage to Hawaii), soldier (joined the Maine Militia in the War of 1812), author (founded Scientific American), teacher, visionary (designed an airship 70 years before the Wright Brothers’first flight), and, of course, artist.

Porter spent his childhood years in the Bridgton, Maine, area, where a museum devoted to him has recently opened. The museum, located in a home containing murals that Porter painted circa 1828, plans to move an antique barn to the site to display 15 more murals, some of which were exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in a 1968 show. The museum hopes to continue Porter’s tradition of teaching the arts by offering classes and workshops.

The Rufus Porter Museum and Cultural Heritage Center (207-647-2828; rufusportermuseum.org) is located at 67 North High Street in Bridgton, Maine. Open in winter by appointment.

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