Return to Steve Ells' Home Page

Morris Hall Pancoast (1877-1963)

When I was at Harvard, there was an alley behind the Coop called Palmer Street (now it is gentrified). In those days, there was a nook off the alley that led to what had probably been an old stable. Inside was an overstuffed chair, a studio in a mess, a sofa-bed, and Morris Hall Pancoast. He painted on Cape Ann in the summer and wintered, I think, in Palmer Street. Sometimes he would hang a painting on the brick wall of the alley nook. He suffered students like me, who would take up his time but do him no tangible good.

Morris Hall Pancoast, artist

"Pancoast of Palmer Street" (Stephen Ells, 1955, Harvard Crimson)

In the urban light of the nook I never saw his paintings well, and he didn't offer to show them. I had never seen another until today in 2002, 46 years later, when I came across this work, luminous yet entitled "Mother McCary's Chickens." A chicken coop set amidst colors a sultan would envy. It pleases me for I remember his contrariness and am now delighted by the evidence of his spirit.

Morris Hall Pancoast's Mother McCary's Chickens

"Mother McCary's Chickens." (By Morris Hall Pancoast. Oil. 40"h x 32"w.)

The title may have been a small joke in a Cape Ann neighborhood, for a small seabird that lives mostly in the open ocean (the Wilson's Storm-Petrel) has the folk name of Mother Carey's Chickens. Sailors believed the birds carried the tormented souls of their drowned, unblessed comrades. Its name may come from mater cara ("dear mother"), i.e., the Virgin Mary.

A friend asked if I knew of a Pancoast bio and more of his paintings: click here.


Return to Steve Ells' Home Page