Ralph Cahoon was born in 1910 in Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and was one of the best-known American folk-art painters. He was a student at the School of Practical Art in Boston, and showed an interest in art early on, gaining fame as a prolific painter of early 19th century sailors and mermaids. He was known for his whimsical, primitive style of painting. During the 1960s, the mermaid became his hallmark. He favored using the New England coastline or lighthouses for backdrops.

Cahoon married Martha (Farham) Cahoon, a decorative artist, in 1931, and together they bought a house in Osterville, Massachusetts. The couple was a prolific team and sometimes produced 200 paintings in a single year together, as it was not uncommon for their works to sell out at the opening of a show. Even though they shared their ideas, they painted their canvases individually.

In 1945, they purchased and restored a Georgian colonial farmhouse in Cotuit, Massachusetts, in which they lived for 37 years. The Cahoon Museum of American Art now occupies the very same 230 year-old structure that the couple once called their home and studio. In addition to the collection of paintings by Cahoon, the museum also features a prestigious collection of 19th and early 20th century American marine paintings, landscapes, still lifes and portraits by artists such as Ralph Blakelock, William Bradford, James Buttersworth, John J. Enneking, Alvan Fisher, Levi Wells Prentice and William Matthew Prior.


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