The White Mountains of New Hampshire have long inspired artists, writers and photographers. John Collier took this photograph in June 1943 while he was working for the Office of War Information. Collier had suffered hearing loss and learning disabilities from a childhood accident. When he was 12, he was apprenticed to the painter Maynard Dixon, but it was Dixon’s wife, Dorothea Lange, who exposed him to photography.
Collier followed quite a few artists who portrayed the White Mountains. Early in the 19th century, artists began traveling to northern New Hampshire to paint them: Benjamin Champney, John Frederick Kensett and Asher Durand, to name a few.
White Mountain art started in 1826, when a widely reported tragedy began to attract people to the region. Nine members of the Willey household perished in a landslide.
White Mountain Art
Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting, found inspiration in the Willey family tragedy. He painted a landscape called Distant View of the Slide that Destroyed the Willey Family. Other painters followed, and prints and paintings of the White Mountains drew more tourists to the region.
No painting did more for White Mountain tourism, though, than John Frederick Kensett’s Mount Washington from the Valley of Conway in 1851.
An engraver made a copy of the painting, which sold to 13,000 subscribers of the American Art Union. Artists also copied the painting, and Currier & Ives turned it into a lithograph in 1860. It surpassed images of the Willey family house as the best known landscape view of the era.
Louisa May Alcott featured the them in two of her novels, Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom. Her neighbor in Concord, Mass., Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote several stories about the White Mountains, including The Great Carbuncle and The Ambitious Guest. And Hawthorne died in Plymouth, N.H., while on a trip to the mountains.
This story was updated in 2022.