In the 1950s, artists John Heliker, called Jack, and Robert LaHotan purchased a 19th-century ship-captain’s house on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, off Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.
The house and boatyards built by Captain Enoch B. Stanley on a sheltered tidal pool had once been the prosperous and busy harbor door to the island during clipper-ship days, but the town dock was relocated to the other end of the island facing the mainland in the 20th century.
19th-century boatsheds and outbuildings were converted over the years to studios, and both artists spent many of the most productive years of their lives regularly painting in Cranberry in the summers and teaching and painting in New York during the winters. Robert LaHotan spent the last two years of his life realizing his vision of turning the property into a residency program for artists on Cranberry. In 2003, the buildings passed to the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit New York foundation, which administers the property and the estates of the artists.
From the mid-twentieth century on, in addition to Heliker and LaHotan, many well-known artists have had homes and studios on the island. Walker Evans visited in the 1960’s and photographed the boatsheds and the elaborate cast-iron stove in the Heliker-LaHotan home. There is a small community of artists and crafts persons in the Cranberry Isles today.
Great Cranberry Island is the largest of a group of five islands. The Cranberry Islands sit off the southern shore of Mount Desert Island absorbing the seas and wind from the open waters of the Gulf of Maine, shielding the entrance to Somes Sound and the two harbors that sit to either side of its mouth, Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor. This group of islands includes Baker Island, part of Acadia National Park; the privately owned enclaves of Bear Island and Sutton Island; and both Great and Little Cranberry Islands which still have small year-round populations of lobstermen, boat builders and other hearty souls.
A small post office and general store serve the 40 year-round residents of Great Cranberry. During the summer season, the population swells by several hundred, and frequent Mail Boat and ferry service from the mainland transports residents and day visitors from the National Park. The Island boasts a busy library and a small museum and historical society. More information about modern day Great Cranberry Island (or GCI as it is known) and its history is available on a website maintained by one of the local residents: http://cranberryisles.com/.