Clark Point Gallery

Bygone Gardens Bloom Anew

Clark Point Gallery
Richard Rothe photographed his daughter Hilde at one of his rock gardens in Northeast Harbor. This and other early 20th-century photos by Mr. Rothe are being shown at the Clark Point Gallery in Southwest Harbor.

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Most folks who have even a passing interest in gardens have heard of Beatrix Farrand, the landscape architect who worked and developed a horticultural aesthetic at her Reef Point home in Bar Harbor and other Mount Desert Island estates in the first half of the last century. But Mrs. Farrand was preceded here by another master gardener – a Prussian émigré named Richard Rothe, who managed a large nursery in Northeast Harbor from 1906 to 1912. Inspired by the island’s rocky landscape, he went on to develop and promote the American rock garden.

Fortunately, Mr. Rothe had another talent besides, or perhaps more aptly, tangent to his gardening; he was also a talented photographer. Now Clark Point Gallery owner Peter Rudolph is exhibiting a collection of Mr. Rothe’s evocative hand-tinted black-and-white photographs of island gardens, scenic vistas and sundry scenes.

It is easy to drift into nostalgia for a bygone age of opulence while wandering through the collection of garden photos showing a time when newly minted millionaires and old money competed to make their summer homes showcases of horticultural splendor.

Here is the lovely Mrs. John Melcher seated on a stone bench in her garden, reading a book while day lilies and delphiniums explode with color behind her. Over there is Mr. Rothe’s own daughter Hilde, a charmer in a straw hat and white frock, posing in one of her father’s early rock gardens, where bright pink and yellow phlox and evergreens peek out between crevices of handsomely composed granite.

Another little girl in a pinafore and flower-festooned hat strolls amidst a profusion of pink, purple and white Canterbury bells; and over here the formidable Mrs. Inman is almost dwarfed by the exuberant blooms in her Southwest Harbor garden.

It was not just the images of gardens Mr. Rothe was drawn to capture with his camera. He also recorded many of his favorite natural vistas on MDI as well as people and activities. They include the view from Ravenscleft in Seal Harbor; the silhouette of Mount Desert Island seen from a rocky point of Sutton’s Island; iceboating and sleigh rides on a frozen upper Hadlock Pond; a group of fetching children dressed up as Native Americans or at a doll party and, rather strangely, three, stern little gun-toting girls dressed in fur posing with a pair of bucks we are led to believe they have just bagged.

The photos of children bring to mind the ethereal works of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, whose photographic portraits of Alice Liddell and her sisters posed in gardens and in whimsical costumes illustrated a relationship that would eventually inspire his “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”

Mr. Rothe’s photographs tell, or at least suggest, a myriad of wonderful stories, too – viewers just have to make them up.

The exhibit of Rothe photographs, which Mr. Rudolph organized in association with the Old York Road Historical Society in Jenkintown, Penn., will be on view through Labor Day.

Also on view at the Clark Point Gallery are the works of late 19th-century and early 20th-century artists who painted scenes of coastal Maine, especially MDI and the outer islands.

The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call the gallery at 244-0920 or visit

For more arts & entertainment news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.