Martha Cahoon, 1905-1999Born 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 and was often incorporated into Martha's work as well.
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.
Source: Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Oil on board. 24" x 20"
Signed lower right.