What Would Fitz Think

Gloucester Harbor From Rocky Neck, 1844, owned by the Cape Ann Museum

Gloucester Harbor From Rocky Neck, owned by the Cape Ann Museum,


Turbines Over Gloucester


What would Fitz think? What would the great luminist painter of the 19th century, Fitz Henry Lane, think of the new wind turbines that now dominate the skyline of his beloved Gloucester? A sailmaker’s son, he grew up in the shadow of ships, but a childhood encounter with deadly nightshade kept him on crutches his whole life. He could only yearn for the sea. After a printing apprenticeship in Boston, he returned to Gloucester and built a stone house, still standing and open to the public, on Duncan’s Point, now known as Harbor Loop. From this vantage point he studied the seaport at the height of the Age of Sail. Friends would row him out into the Harbor in a dory so he could get a closer look at some rigging, or see the land as sailors saw it.


Fitz Henry Lane House, with Sculpture of Artist on the Right


In the painting, Gloucester Harbor From Rocky Neck, owned by the Cape Ann Museum, Lane sees a town marked by a series of church steeples. The citizens had much to pray for, the mortality rate for fisherman being so enormously high. City Hall, with its wall of names of those who have died at sea, had yet to be built, so there is no tower, and we have lost some of those church steeples, but otherwise, the skyline has hardly changed since Lane painted the city in 1844.  As if anticipating the erection of the wind turbines, he has Ten Pound Island fortuitously placed to block them out or diminish their impact on the scene. They’re big! Very big. One of the turbines is close to 500 feet tall, and the blades, like rigid sails, are the size of football fields.



Windmill shaft arriving in Gloucester Harbor, photo by Kim Smith


But would the turbines really have bothered him? Fitz spent a few years in Boston learning his craft, at a time when urban life was truly offensive. The Industrial Age was spewing coal smoke into the air and the dust rained down upon the streets thick with struggling humanity. It was all very Dickensonian. Even his paintings of Boston Harbor are aggressive, dark, and harsh. My bet is that he would rather paint a modern turbine than a smokestack any day.


Boston Harbor scene by Fitz Henry Lane


The city of Gloucester is projected to save $450,000 a year for its partnership in the wind project. The municipal buildings are now entirely powered by clean energy.  Imagine that. Fitz Henry Lane’s father harnessed the wind with canvas, cutting sails for the fleet. Now here we are 150 years later, with no commercial sails in the harbor, and Gloucester is still harnessing the wind. Fitz might deeply mourn the loss of sailing vessels in the harbor, but he would paint the turbines with wonder. He would make them part of the landscape.


Masts and Turbine, Blending Together

From the March JoeAnn Hart Hothouse.org blog

2 Replies to “What Would Fitz Think”

  1. I, like many, am infatuated with this elegance of the wind turbines and the way they capture wind and suggest the appearance of sails. I fear for the summer tourists who will be captivated, as well. I hope there are no accidents on the last leg of 128 because it is all but impossible not to gawk. But all this is beside the point. I am happy to think about Fitz Henry Lane and wonder about how he would have viewed the turbines. I liked the suspense of this posting as well as the images…as JoeAnn leads us along and makes us wonder what Fitz would think.

  2. I worry, too, about when the summer residents and tourists return. They might not have heard anything about the turbines, and all eyes will be up in the sky in amazement, rather than paying attention to negotiating the rotaries. We should have a sign at the bridge, Don’t stare and drive.