Marsden Hartley was one of America's most admired and respected modernist painters. Given the name of Edmund Hartley at birth, he assumed the name Marsden, his stepmother's last name, when he was in his early 20s.
The youngest of nine children, Hartley was born in Lewiston, Maine. When he was eight, his mother died. Since the family had little money, he left school at an early age to work in a shoe factory. By 1890 he had moved to Cleveland where he rejoined his family who had moved there to seek better employment. Hartley, primarily self-taught, was a student for a short time at the Cleveland Art School. After moving to New York, he studied with William Merritt Chase and at the National Academy of Design and the Art Student League.
By the mid-30s he determined to return to his New England roots, first in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and then Maine. In fact, Hartley, in a 1937 essay titled, "On the Subject of Nativeness: A Tribute to Maine," declared that he wished to be known as the native painter of Maine. The essay can be found in Gail Scott's On Art by Marsden Hartley (1982). Many of his paintings and drawings from the 30s and 40s focus on the Lovell area, Mount Katahdin, and the coast and fishermen of the Corea area.
In addition to being a gifted artist, Hartley was also a poet and essayist. By 1916, his writing had become an important part of his creative life. Just as Stieglitz encouraged him in his artistic efforts, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane and Sherwood Anderson encouraged Hartley to write. Like many other writers, he was first published in little magazines such as The Little Review, The Dial, Poetry, Contact, and others.
Hartley died in Ellsworth and his ashes were scattered on the Androscoggin River.