Hearkening back to Noble’s early years exploring New York Harbor in his rowboat, the museum is exhibiting 23 drawings in its new exhibition, My Studio: A selection of plein air drawings by John A. Noble, 1930-1950.
The drawings are Noble’s first, fresh takes on the Harbor landscape. They show his unedited response to the world and the growth of his mastery in charcoal and pencil. He did hundreds of drawings in this fertile period, on the spot, in all kinds of weather. He rarely parted with one of them and kept them as his personal resource file.
My Studio takes the viewer to Port Johnston, the boneyard of abandoned vessels on the Kill Van Kull where Noble set up a studio in 1939. He first saw Port Johnston at age 15 from the Anna Sophia on his first schooner trip in 1928, and he was astonished by what it symbolized. The sailing ships that lined the pier represented the waning days of the Age of Sail. It was a sight, he said, which “affected me for life.”
After returning from the trip, he went to the boneyard and befriended and cared for its watchman, Tillison Gorton. After Tillison died, he took over his job and set up a studio in Tillison’s cabin, the teak saloon of a European yacht. In the 1940s the pier began to collapse, and to save his studio, he built a barge to float it on out of the wings of an abandoned Bethlehem Steel dry dock, “each one painfully loose,” he said. He later commented that he did not think there was anyplace else where he could draw.
My Studio includes examples of the fruits of those rowboat explorations, like drawings of two floating grain elevators operated by International Elevating Company, the three rail bridges at the mouth of the Hackensack River, and an abandoned coal pocket in the upper reaches of Newton Creek.
The drawings are part of a major gift from the Noble Family Collection. They have donated over 600 drawings and Noble’s lithographs, paintings, writings, and his 6,000 photographs that chronicle New York Harbor in the last century. The book John A. Noble: The Rowboat Drawings includes drawings in the exhibition and is on sale in the museum shop and through our digital bookstore.