The shadowy and ethereal world of Emily Nelligan’s (American, 1924-2018) charcoal drawings reveals a remarkably deep connection between artist, landscape, and medium. Although her formal artistic training, which took place at Cooper Union in the 1940s, was in painting rather than charcoal, Nelligan later switched mediums due simply to the fact that charcoal is significantly less expensive. Utilizing this challenging medium, Nelligan conveys a specific mood which would be impossible with paint. The high contrast dreaminess and depth of her landscapes is stirringly evocative of Cranberry Island, Maine—her sole subject. For many years, she and her husband, the artist Marvin Bileck, led a quiet, private life, alternating between living in Winsted, Connecticut, and Cranberry Island. The attachment she feels to the island is evident in her work, lovingly crafted in devotion to the land and sea.
While Nelligan was long a well-loved artist among other artists in Maine, she did not receive her first full-scale exhibition until 2000, at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. She and Bileck’s work was first exhibited together at the Alexandre Gallery in 2005, in an exhibition based on their drawings of Cranberry Island.