By Pat Davidson Reef

Special to the Sun Journal
His bold brush strokes capture the unrelenting sea crashing against the irregular rocks of Maine’s rugged coastline.

A lover of nature, he also depicted the many moods of the ocean — and, sometimes, the snow-covered hills of New England.

Highly regarded as an artist and a teacher, Jay Hall Connaway was one of the most promising young marine painters of the 1920s.

Forty rarely seen works of his, from private collections in Maine and Massachusetts, can be seen beautifully displayed throughout galleries on the second floor of the Portland Museum of Art.

Inspired by Winslow Homer and Rockwell Kent, Connaway studied in New York and Paris before coming to Maine in 1922. In 1931, he and his wife, Louise, took up permanent residence on Monhegan Island. He moved in 1947 to Vermont, where he lived out his life.

Some of Connaway’s best paintings were done in 1939 and in the early 1940s.

One example is “October Sea,” a standout in the “Moods of Nature: Jay Connaway and the Landscape of New England” exhibit showing through Dec. 6. In this oil on artist’s board, done in 1939, Connaway captures the ruthless, unforgiving sea as it hits the jagged edges of rocks on the New England seacoast. Few figures are seen in his works, but in this one there is a hint of a small figure on land near the rocks. The figure is almost unnoticeable and suggests how small human beings are compared with the overwhelming power of nature.

This same awe-inspiring depiction of the fearless sea can be seen in another painting titled “Monhegan Seas,” an oil on Masonite, done in 1940.

Another work, “Sea Sketch,” an oil on Masonite, painted 20 years later, is more abstract yet it has qualities of Impressionism, specifically blurred soft lines. Connaway’s use of lighter colors in the water and snow-capped breaking waves reflects a more relaxed, yet still professional, style adopted later in life.

Connaway’s work is not as strong as Homer’s, but his “Coastal Spray” oil painting can be compared favorably to Homer’s work in its composition, powerful strokes, perspective and use of color.

Other works of significance in the exhibit include “Pawlet by Moonlight” and “A Cloud’s Burst,” which depict the simple architecture of rustic buildings of New England from unique perspectives.

However, Connaway’s seascapes are his greatist gift.

According to the PMA, Connaway enjoyed close to 90 one-man shows in his lifetime (the artist died in 1970). He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1933 and a full academician in 1943. His work was exhibited in the leading galleries of his day. In his own lifetime, Connaway’s vision of the New England landscape could be found hanging at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Corcoran Gallery of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“Moods of Nature: Jay Connaway and the Landscape of New England” can be viewed through Dec. 6. The PMA at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.
Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”

This oil on artist’s board, titled “October Sea,” was done by Jay Hall Connaway in 1939.

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