Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982)

Descended from 17th century Scottish immigrants to Cape Cod, Ralph Eugene Cahoon, Jr. was essentially a self-taught folk artist. His only formal training consisted of a two-year course at the School of Practical Art in Boston. In 1932, Ralph met and married Martha Farham, the daughter of Swedish immigrants. Martha’s father, Axel, was a talented furniture decorator who had learned the art of painting furniture (rosemaling) in Sweden. He taught this craft to Martha, who in turn taught Ralph.

Upon marrying, the couple set up home in Osterville where they established a business decorating and selling furniture and antiques. In 1945 they moved their family and business to Cotuit, purchasing the 1775 Crocker building for that purpose.

Around 1953, one of the Cahoon’s customers, art patroness Joan Whitney Payson, convinced them to frame some of their designs for her to exhibit in her Long Island Country Art Gallery. The transition from furniture to easel painting was a successful one and the years that followed were very productive. During the 1960s, Ralph’s hallmark mermaids helped to establish his own unique style; in paintings set in a typical New England backdrop: ocean, lighthouses, clipper ships, and perhaps a hot air balloon or two in the sky.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Cahoon’s folk art regularly sold out exhibitions at the Lobster Pot Gallery on Nantucket and Palm Beach Galleries in Florida. Famous people who visited the Cotuit gallery included members of the Mellon and DuPont families, Josiah K. Lilly III, as well as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Today Ralph Cahoon is widely regarded as the most famous folk artist Cape Cod has produced. His work is highly collectable.

Excerpted from the Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA

Recent Examples at Auction