December 8, 1873 – January 18, 1958
Congdon was the daughter of New Hampshire Governor George Ramsdell, and she studied art at a young age in Worcester. Originally a watercolorist, she studied at the Académie de Lécluse in Paris in 1891, and later with Rhoda Holmes Nichols (1854–1938), an assistant to William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), at a summer extension to Chase’s Shinnecock School of Art in Oguinquit, Maine. She also studied with Boston and Oguinquit marine painter and etcher Charles H. Woodbury (1864–1940), who taught his students to “paint in verbs, not nouns,” thus advocating the quick stroke of a brush.
She was active in Nashua as a watercolorist until she married a New Hampshire surgeon and Nantucket native, Dr. Charles E. Congdon, in 1902. She reportedly suspended her art career to maintain an antiques shop in Nashua, her birthplace, while raising two sons.
By the mid-1920s, a second famous Chase influenced Congdon’s adult art career. She engaged in summer classes in oil painting with Frank Swift Chase (1886-1958) on Nantucket, and she rapidly became an en plein air painter in the bold style of her new mentor. The Boston Herald observed, “Her work is direct, facile, and without mannerisms.” She painted a series of waterfront paintings after island painter Edgar W. Jenney (1869-1939) suggested that she study reflections on the harbor waters. For larger works, Congdon often worked on a precursor of modern masonite, preferring the rough side for her thick impasto technique. At times she would use wide, quick marks to finish the foreground of a scene. If a painting wasn’t completed in one sitting, she would often dismiss it or paint over it. As essayist Carolyn Walsh observed, “under Chase’s influence, her canvases grew larger and her expression more exaggerated; reminiscent of Van Gogh and the Post Impressionists.”
In 1930, when Charles retired, the Congdons moved permanently to 5 Orange Street. Congdon exhibited in the Sidewalk Art Shows, which began in 1930 founded by figure illustrator Maud Stumm (1866-1935), and she helped organize the event for Stumm with another Chase student, Rae Carpenter (1894-1990). She exhibited regularly in Florence Osgood Lang’s Easy Street Gallery summer exhibitions from the 1920s through 1943. She kept a studio among the simple, sparsely furnished, Lang properties on Commercial Wharf.
Congdon was a co-founder of the Cottage Hospital Thrift Shop, in charge of the antiques and rare books for a quarter century until her health declined in 1955. She was also an active Unitarian and a member and trustee of both the Nantucket Historical Association and the Old People’s Home Association. Though she didn’t hold regular positions on the AAN board or committees, she was a steady exhibitor and volunteered often to sit at the Kenneth Taylor Galleries during its formative years. She also exhibited at Anne Alden Folger’s shop at 5 Union Street and Florence Lang’s Candle House Studio at the base of Commercial Wharf, the island’s first group gallery that preceded the Easy Street Gallery by a year.
As documented in Robert diCurcio’s book Art On Nantucket, at least one of Congdon’s canvases in the Nantucket Foundation’s permanent collection was destroyed with a number of important Nantucket artworks when a portion of the collection burned in the Zero Main Street fire in December of 1979. Today her paintings are highly collectible, and they have acquired greater value than the work of the many Waterfront Artists who were her peers.