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Edward Robinson’s Pictorial Legacy

Early images of Monhegan capture a vanishing way of life

By Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.

All photographs courtesy of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission


The remote location of Monhegan, its rugged natural beauty, and the uncomplicated lifestyle of its fisherman and their families began attracting artists and photographers to the island in the late 1850s. From the end of the Civil War to 1900, Monhegan grew in popularity as a seasonal art colony and a summer retreat with boarding houses, hotels, and cottages.

By the 1890s the dry plate glass negative gave photographers the means to work more freely in the field. During that decade four photographers made extensive pictorial records of Monhegan. Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott and Eric Hudson were professional artists who sometimes used their photographs to assist them in creating paintings. Edward Knowlton’s photographs complemented the watercolors of his artist wife, Maude Briggs Knowlton. While having no connection to the art world, Edward Robinson shared the enthusiasm and skill of his contemporaries for photographing the island. Triscott, Hudson, and Knowlton have been the subject of exhibits and publications documenting their work. However, Robinson remains largely unknown—examples of his photographs were shown for the first time at the Monhegan Museum in the summer of 2019.

Edward Robinson Born in Vineland, New Jersey, on December 23, 1865, Robinson was descended from distinguished Thomaston, Maine, forebears on his father’s side. He grew up in the family house on Main Street and graduated from Thomaston High School in 1883. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1890. For the next six years, most of his time was spent at M.I.T. as a laboratory assistant and an instructor.

In 1896, he became a professor of mechanical engineering at Clarkson Institute of Technology in Potsdam, New York, teaching there for six years. In 1902 he was appointed to head the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Vermont in Bennington, a position he held until his death in Thomaston on August 2, 1929.