Perhaps more than any other Maine island, Monhegan has a history of being an artists’ colony, a place where artists flock in the summertime to make and sell art. Rockwell Kent, Jay Connaway and Andrew Wyeth established this reputation decades ago, and today’s artists are both enjoying the benefits of that reputation and carrying on the tradition.

Monhegan sculptor Mike Stiler lived on the island full-time for ten years, and now splits his time between Monhegan and Lincolnville. Stiler believes the Monhegan art community is in the process of changing from the way it was in the 1950s and before. “The old timers would say it has changed a lot,” said Stiler. “There has been a gradual commercial increase. There was a much more serious level of art making on Monhegan in the 1950s.”

Painter Jacqueline Baldini, who works and teaches on Monhegan in the summertime, has also noticed a change. “When I talk to visitors about the old timers who worked on Monhegan in the last three decades, who I was so privileged to know, I realize the generation visiting Monhegan now isn’t familiar with the names who were staples on the island for decades. I now feel like the old timer.”

After Jamie Wyeth, Don Stone is perhaps the best-known painter working on Monhegan today. Like Stiler, Stone lived on Monhegan year-round for seven years, but now splits his year between the island and Exeter, N.H. He doesn’t see much of a big change in the art community on Monhegan, though he acknowledges the passing of old timers he had great respect for, such as Rockwell Kent and Andrew Winter. “People like myself and my son [artist Caleb Stone] are filling the gap,” he said.

Sylvia Murdock is currently one of a handful of full-time artists living on Monhegan year-round. She has lived on the island for 17 years. Despite the change that inevitably comes to any community with time, Murdock believes that the “essence of Monhegan artists and Monhegan art are still intact. All year long something related to art is going on here, even in the winter.”

Like many artists working in areas of high tourism such as the Maine coast, both Stiler and Murdock find that summer is their most important time to show and sell their work. The big production time is in the winter. “Summertime is market time, that is when I get to sell my art,” said Stiler, who describes himself as “basically a cartoonist in wood.”

Murdock, whose work is “full of life,” agreed. “[Summer] is an intense time for showing work because of the tourist season.”

However, many Monhegan artists enjoy working en plein air and see summer as a time to take advantage of warmer weather and different light. “I love to work outdoors in summer, but I do it all year,” said Murdock. “[In the summer] the light is warmer, yellower.”

Painter Suzette Lebenzon spends most of her year in Camden, but travels to Monhegan each summer to work. She paints “colorful, upbeat images” and tries to “focus on the simple beauty which surrounds us and can be overlooked. I enjoy working en plein air more than in my studio,” she said. “The warmth of the sun, tempered by the ocean breeze is too much for me to resist. Two of my favorite subjects are hanging laundry and cottage gardens. On Monhegan, there is an abundance of both during the summer.”

Baldini, who attempts to “capture the ‘spirit of the land’ ” in her work, also enjoys working outdoors. “Since I paint en plein air, summer is a time of year when I wrestle with the ‘manageable elements,’ rain, fog, heat, wind and bugs, as opposed to snow and temperatures so cold my paint won’t leave the brush,” she said. “And the days are longer so I can get more painting hours in.”

While all this is true, these artists could be talking about any island. What is it that has made Monhegan so attractive to artists for so many years? “One of the things that makes Monhegan really beautiful is that most of the land is in trust, people don’t live all over the island,” said Stiler. “It evokes a time gone by with no cars. There is a different energy, a rare vanishing quality, the quality of silence.”

Baldini has a slightly different view. “The draw for artists to Monhegan is the ancient romanticism of an island caught in a time warp of its own choosing,” she said. “It’s a rare place where you can be totally alone, yet surrounded by nurturing spirit if you choose to be.”

Regardless of the reasons artists continue to converge upon Monhegan year after year, two things seem to be common among them all. First, most artists seem to feel that being an artist is not a choice but a requirement in their lives. “It is who I am,” said Murdock. “As artists, we must [create artwork.] I can’t not paint the landscape here.”

Second, as Stiler said, “Monhegan is a limitless source of material.” For him, the island is “like a stage set. It’s like everybody’s playing out their roles.” Lebenzon agrees. “I never run out of things to paint there,” she said.