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 Martha Farham Cahoon  (1905 - 1999)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: primitive-surreal genre

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Ad Code: 3
Martha Farham Cahoon
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born of Swedish immigrant parents in 1905, in Rosindale, Massachusetts, Martha Farham Cahoon had a highly successful business partnership with her husband Ralph Cahoon on Cape Cod, selling furniture decorated with folk design motifs.

She came from a family that had moved to Harwich on Cape Code when she was ten years old. She excelled in school, but chose an apprenticeship with her father, Axel Farham, who was a talented furniture decorator working for some of the best-known decorating firms in Boston. Under his guidance, she mastered a freehand method of decorative painting called rosemaling, and later became proficient in stenciling and varnishing.

In 1932, she married Ralph Cahoon, a trained commercial artist from Chatham, Cape Cod, and after her marriage, she continued working with her father until she and Ralph bought a house in Osterville, Massachusetts. Their business life together began as they restored, decorated, and sold antique furniture. In 1945, they purchased and restored a Georgian colonial farmhouse in Santuit, Massachusetts.

Their earlier works reflected traditional patterns of Pennsylvania Dutch and Swedish painted furniture, however they later began painting entire scenes on the fronts of secretaries and bureaus. In 1953, the Cahoon's framed many works of a wealthy customer, Joan Whitney Payson. Later they made a transition from furniture to easel painting, and exhibited their work in Payson's Long Island art gallery.

It was a successful transition for the Cahoon's, as were the years of productivity that followed. The material they first used was plywood, but later they favored masonite, whose surface better resembled that of the furniture they were used to decorating. Their individual styles were very similar, primarily pastel in tone, using greens, soft pinks, grays, and browns, with no attempt to use light or shade to create a third dimension.

The 'mermaid' became Ralph Cahoon's hallmark in the 1960s. His imagination and creativity using this motif knew no bounds, using mermaids to play golf, fish, knit, pose for photographs, or hide in trees. The New England coastline or lighthouses were favorite backdrops, as were hot air balloons.

Martha's themes included still lifes, nature studies, scenes including mythological figures, and pastoral scenes reflecting the different seasons.

Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"

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