A Beginner’s Guide To Motif 1 In Rockport, MA
Precariously perched in the center of Rockport’s inner harbor, at the end of Bradley Wharf, you will find the modest red fishing shack affectionately referred to as Motif #1.
The heart and soul of the village, Motif #1 symbolizes a connection to Rockport’s rich oceangoing tradition and the resilience of the community. Here is our Beginner’s Guide to Motif #1, everything you need to know about this Rockport icon.
Motif #1 was originally built back in the mid-1800’s as a place to store fishing gear and house the daily catch. The first floor stored bait, lines and netting and the second floor housed a fish broker’s office.
In the early 1900’s, plein air painters began to visit Rockport. They would visit Rockport for the summer and study and paint together. They found inspiration all around Cape Ann, but in Rockport they were captivated by the humble red fishing shack.
The phrase Motif#1 was said to be coined by Lester Hornby. Hornby, an American artist, frequented France where Sur le motif was a common phrase. Sur le motif loosely translates to “from the theme,” meaning to paint with the actual subject in view.
Later in life, Hornby taught art in Rockport, and as the red fishing shack gained prominence in his pupil’s work he exclaimed “What? ‘Motif #1’ again!” The name stuck, and the rest is history.
Motif#1 is one of the most painted buildings in the entire world.
There are several reasons why so many people paint Motif #1. While the 1,008 square foot shack is not necessarily unique, from an architectural perspective, the lighting and location of the subject matter is unique.
The Motif can be viewed from almost all vantage points and its location in the harbor allows for attractive lighting and an interesting foreground and background.
Beyond the aesthetics, the powerful symbolism of the Motif also provides a strong draw for artists and tourists alike.
Let’s take a closer look at the word Motif itself. The word motif is defined as follows
Motif [moh-teef] [sorry Rockportians, the pronunciation is clear] noun
1. A recurring subject, theme idea etc., especially in literary, artistic, or musical work.
2. A distinctive and recurring form, shape, figure etc., in design, as in a painting or on wallpaper
3. A dominant feature
It seems that Motif #1 checks off all three boxes of this definition. The Motif has been featured in a number of artistic works, on a postage stamp, in a Winston cigarette ad. It is also featured in the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal, and is hanging in the dentist office in Finding Nemo as a tribute by director Andrew Stanton to his Rockport roots.
The love of Motif#1 continued throughout the years, and the building was actually acquired by painter John Buckley, who used it as his studio from about 1930 to 1945.
Buckley ultimately sold the Motif to the town of Rockport in 1945, which proclaimed it a monument to all Rockporters who served in the Armed forces.
Motif #1 has been lovingly cared for by the town of Rockport ever since. The town keeps the shack clear of any debris, signage, or wires. When it’s time to paint the Motif, the town utilizes a red paint that looks weather worn to maintain the character.
Not everyone knows, but the Motif #1 that stands at the end of Bradley wharf today, is not actually the original fishing shack. The Motif was actually destroyed by the waves and wind in the Blizzard of 1978 and actually fell over onto a local fisherman’s vessel.
But Rockport residents were quick to react. Even before the storm had ended, many had gathered on the pier to pay homage to this icon and vow to rebuild as soon as possible.
Luckily plans of the standing structure already existed and the Motif was rebuilt in the same post and beam style as it was originally built.
The Motif has been well-maintained by the town. It has actually been jacked up and moved, when the pier needed repair and brought back to it’s original location.
Many people wonder what’s inside of Motif #1. Well, it’s not actually just an empty shell.
The interior of the motif now serves as a time capsule or museum. Many Rockporters have contributed to the time capsule over the years which now includes paintings, sketches, sea glass, musical instruments, fishing gear, and much more.
Rockport’s rich history included a hub of the fishing industry, shipbuilding industry and granite industry. But over time, those industries waned. In an effort to bring Rockport back to prominence, Rockport Legionnaires made a 27-foot parade float of the Motif and brought it to the Chicago World’s Fair.
The Motif float earned first place in the historic fleet parade beating out 199 other entrants.
Interestingly, one of Rockport’s art galleries, iartcolony, is working to create a new Motif float called Motif 0 that will be transported to Art Basel in Miami. The Motif will again ride as a beacon of hope and bring awareness to the quaint coastal village.
Next time you visit us here at the Addison Choate, be sure to take a few minutes to admire the beautiful Rockport fishing shack, Motif #1. The team at our Rockport, MA hotel are always happy to discuss Motif #1. Hopefully, you can now fully appreciate the Rockport icon and share your knowledge of the history of Motif #1 when you return home to family and friends.