Martha Cahoon (Cape Cod 1905-1999)

Martha Farham was born in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood to Swedish immigrant parents.. She lived there until her family re-located to the seaside town of Harwich, Massachusetts in Cape Cod in 1915.

Apprenticed to her father, a respected furniture decorator, she quickly mastered the restoration and decoration of antique furniture and built her own reputation as an adept craftswoman.

In 1932 Martha Farham married Ralph Cahoon. Martha taught Ralph her family’s business, refinishing, decorating, and selling antique furniture. The couple soon outgrew their Osterville home and re-locate to a house in Cotuit.

In 1953 their careers took a new path when one of their customers, the wealthy New York socialite, art dealer, and future co-owner of the New York Mets, Joan Whitney Payson convinced them to frame some of their designs. Furthermore, Payson offered to show their works in her Long Island Gallery. Their foray from furniture decoration into “wall art” proved successful and both Cahoons went onto to produce numerous works over the ensuing decades.

While much of their earlier furniture decoration shared Pennsylvania Dutch inspired motifs, their easel paintings marked the first significant diversion in Ralph and Martha’s palettes and styles. While Martha continued to work in muted tones and a 19th century naïve style, Ralph experimented with brighter and more contrasting colors, and developed his signature style of frolicking mermaids and sailors set against fantasized New England settings. Although Martha did adopt portions of her husband’s style, her work remained softer and less playful, focusing more on idyllic and soothing subjects.

Martha Cahoon continued painting long after her husband’s death in 1982 and continued to draw in crayon up until her own death in 1999. Her works are considered to be masterpieces of 20th century American folk art and are housed in many museums and countless private collections including the Cahoon Museum of American Art.

Recent Examples at Auction