As part of Maine’s Bicentennial in 2020, the Tides Institute & Museum of Art mounted during the summer of last year an exhibition of works from its collections ranging in date from 1820 to the present. In addition, the Tides Institute will publish a Bicentennial book featuring 100 works from its collections and the stories behind the works and how they came into the Tides Institute’s collection. Each week, one of the selected works will be featured in our weekly online posting, CulturePass, to this region’s cultural activities and on our website here.
This week’s piece is an original “Ex Libris” bookplate for Whale Cove Cottage on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. This was the cottage that noted American writer, Willa Cather, and her companion, Edith Lewis, had built for themselves in 1927 by local carpenters. The bookplate contains an interior view of their comfortable and cozy looking cottage complete with fireplace, shelf clock sitting above on the fireplace mantle, a low bookcase to one side of the fireplace full of books and a comfortable wicker chair beside the fireplace and bookcase for sitting in. The bookplate is adhered to the inside cover of a book in the collections of the Tides Institute and it may have come from the personal library of Willa Cather and perhaps was one of the books in the bookcase shown in the bookplate scene of the cottage. Willa Cather first came to Grand Manan with Edith Lewis in 1922 and rented “Orchardside,” one of the Whale Cove Cottages that still exist today, as does their own cottage that they later had built nearby. Cather was working on her novel, “A Lost Lady,” when she spent that first summer on Grand Manan. She and Lewis would return to Grand Manan each of the following summers for nearly 20 years. Cather wrote only one story clearly set on Grand Manan. This is the story, “Before Breakfast,” found within a book collection of her stories, “The Old Beauty and Others,” published after her death in 1948 in which she describes in detail her Whale Cove Cottage and surrounding trails. But clearly Whale Cove Cottage and Grand Manan provided Cather with the time and space to work and write on her other novels over those nearly 20 years. She spent her last summer on Grand Manan in 1940 as she was finishing up her last novel, “Sapphira and the Slave Girl,” published in the fall of that year. She died in 1947.