Ralph Cahoon's mermaids showcased in new exhibit

A View of Barbados, W.I., by Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982) Oil on masonite.  Bernard Woodman (1920-1986) Shells on Board.
A View of Barbados, W.I., by Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982) Oil on masonite. Bernard Woodman (1920-1986) Shells on Board.
(Cahoon Museum of American Art)

"Chasing the Mermaids," a special exhibition dedicated to the most popular subject matter of Cape Cod folk artist Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982), is on view through Sept. 18 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Massachusetts. The museum was Ralph and Martha Cahoons' home and studio from 1945 until 1982.

Ralph and Martha Cahoon began as furniture restorers and decorators in the American folk style. They initiated their signature designs in the 1940s and 50s incorporating whimsical depictions of mermaids, sailors, beach settings and New England landmarks and customs, often with the backdrop of 19th-century modes of transportation such as hot-air balloons, clipper ships, freight trains and bicycles.

The Cahoons began creating framed paintings on masonite in the mid-1950s, showing at galleries nationwide, including Vose Galleries of Boston, beginning in the 1960s.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy purchased two Cahoons for the family's Hyannisport compound in 1961. Since then, the enduring charm of the Cahoons' work has steadily increased in popularity. The best mermaid paintings of Ralph Cahoon, the more prolific of the artist-couple, have a solid following of collectors. Large-scale works have fetched upwards of $175,000 at auction.

The current show at the Cahoon Museum draws on private collections to trace the evolution of  Ralph Cahoon's style.


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