Culture Vulture at the Fitchburg Art Museum

By Helen Epstein

fitchburg3The extraordinary Eleanor Norcross: educator, collector, painter and daughter of Fitchburg’s first mayor.

Have you ever been to Fitchburg? It’s off the beaten path and although I’d heard of its state college, and seen the signs — about five miles north of Route 2 — I’d never ventured into the once-properous, now economically depressed small city. My Significant Other had a meeting with a State Rep there, so while they talked, I decided to check out the Fitchburg Art Museum.

The parking lot was completely empty in the early afternoon although the museum is only open Tuesday through Sunday between noon and 4 p.m. As I entered the three-building complex, I had no clue what might be inside or about the extraordinary Eleanor Norcross, who had painted some of the work on the walls and collected the rest.

Eleanor Norcross (1854-1923) was, foremost, a painter, but also a collector and educator. Daughter of the first mayor of Fitchburg, she earned degrees from Wheaton Female Seminary and the Massachusetts Normal Art School (now the Mass Colege of Art). At 24 — this is 1878 — she decided to study at the Arts Students League in New York City, where she took classes for the next five years. One of her teachers. William Merritt Chase, suggested she continue in Paris. She lived and worked there for the next forty years.

“My Studio,” an intimate study of her Paris atelier featuring the painter’s father, is one of several oil paintings by Norcross on permanent exhibit. In 1933, a fire destroyed 88 of her works. Her surviving work includes portraits, still lives and engrossing interiors in the style of the Boston School. She also painted parts of the decorative arts collection of the Louvre with the intention, according to museum literature, of sharing them with Fitchburg citizens who could not afford to travel to France.

monadnock_sm Kent Rockwell’s Monadnock
The permanent collection includes work by Vuillard, Copley, Hassam, Joseph Stella and Kent Rockwell, in addition to her own. This summer (through September 6) the main attraction at the Museum is the 74th Regional Exhibition of Art and Craft with over 100 artists represented. I was unable to take in more than a fraction of the work on view but plan to go back.

The Fitchburg Museum of Art is well worth a detour.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts