A charming watercolor created as the key illustration for the essay, “Pedaling on the Piscataqua” in the 1883 issue of the cycling enthusiast magazine, The Wheelman. This was the first and best of eight works that renowned artist Childe Hassam created for the article, spread into two parts over the April and July issues of the magazine.
The article details a three day journey made by “marine bicycle” along the Piscataqua River on the border of New Hampshire and Maine and out to the Isle of Shoals in the autumn of 1882. These hydrocycles, or “aquatic velocipedes”, were a recent innovation and impressive watercraft even for their day. Able to move forward by sail or the use of pedal-powered propellers, and capable of navigating the open ocean as well as the tricky waters of the Piscataqua around Portsmouth Harbor, rated as having one of the fastest tidal currents in North America.
Here Hassam illustrates them with the sail set as a sunshade as the cyclists pass Church Point, so named for the North Church of Portsmouth, New Hampshire whose spire is clearly visible in the background. A historic and important landmark even in Hassam’s day, the church dates to the 17th century and was spiritual home to several important Americans such as Daniel Webster and John Langdon as well as welcoming then President George Washington to services.
Rendered on toned paper with white bodycolor used to highlight the piece and give wonderful texture to the sky, Hassam created a refined design and striking composition. A series of small lateen rigged sailboats sit tied to the dock near a sailor, a fisherman and a small boy all of whom stare in wonder at the usual watercraft coming into view.
Unable to cycle on land due to poor road conditions, the author and his group married their first love of boating on the river with their new passion of cycling. Able to face forward while paddling was a great advantage over the rowboat and the upright seats lifted their riders high and dry on twin pontoons.
Masterfully rendered and styled by one of the most celebrated American artists of the period, this work embodies all the wonder and optimism of the late 19th century. Sophisticated and, for the time, modern graphic design elements are married to a fine landscape with American historic landmarks, the best of old and new. This excellent illustration brings to life both a specific journey and the zeal of 19th century adventurers for the sea and the latest innovations of the machine age.
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