Shipwrecks and Lighthouses

It was nighttime, August 11, 1897, and a thick fog had closed in around the Howard W. Middleton, a 3-masted schooner carrying 894 tons of coal from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine. The schooner had just passed rocky Black Point, made famous by the stormy seascapes painted by American artist, Winslow Homer.

Rather than risk sailing farther, Captain Shaw decided to put into a harbor on nearby Richmond Island, but in the swirling fog he missed the island and wrecked his ship on a rock just off a mainland beach.

sunset over Higgins Beach, photo by author

The Middleton’s crew made it to shore, and eventually tugboats from Portland retrieved much of the coal. A lot of coal also washed up on the beach, and people came from miles around to gather it for the coming winter. But with a huge hole in her hull, the Middleton was declared a loss and left on the rock. That winter a storm broke up the ship and carried it onto the beach, where today,125 years later, its seaweed-draped keel and ribs still lie half buried in the sand. I’ve walked around it many times at low tide.

Howard W. Middleton shipwreck, photo by author

If the Middleton had been able to round the next headland,

headland at Two Lights, photo by author


rocks and waves at Two Lights, photo by author

Several lighthouses, including Two Lights

Two Lights, photo by author

and the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse, both often painted by Edward Hopper, could have guided her into Portland’s safe harbor.

Since ancient times ships have depended on lighthouses to help them navigate dangerous waters. After independence, in 1789, the new American Congress passed a law to provide for the maintenance of existing lighthouses and for the building of new ones. Edward Hopper is famous for his paintings of lighthouses.

In this post you’ll:

  • Learn a little about Edward Hopper and his paintings of lighthouses
  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Discover 3 activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy Hopper’s work
  • See a cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

The Artist

Edward Hopper,photo in public domain

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was born in a small town on the Hudson River north of New York City. By the time he was 12, Hopper was already 6 feet tall, making him feel out of place and lonely. After high school he studied at the New York School of Art,

Soon after graduation from art school, Hopper traveled to Europe. He wasn’t interested in the modern art movements such as cubism. Instead he was drawn to the work of the French Impressionists. Over the next few years he made 2 more trips to Paris, studying the Impressionist’s emphasis on light and nature, their lighter colors, the cropped compositions, and the buildings many painted.

For a while Hopper struggled. His art didn’t fit either type of art that was prominent in America in the early 1900s–gritty, city scenes or idealized paintings of rural America. By the 1930s, with the help of his wife, Josephine Nivison (also an artist), people began to appreciate his work. His landscapes, and paintings of houses, lighthouses, diners, and storefronts all have a similar style that has greatly influenced American art. Hopper painted in both oil and watercolor. His most famous painting, The Nighthawks, was painted during WWII and seems to show the darkness and anxiety many people felt during those war years.

The Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago, public domain


These words, which will be in bold green the first time they come up, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of the painting.

  • Impressionists:  artists who wanted to show the effects of changing light in their paintings. They also painted scenes of everyday life. Claude Monet was a leader of the French Impressionists.
  • Geometric: when used in art–simple shapes showing squares, circles, triangles
  • Mood: the way an artist uses color, shadow, and other aspects of composition to makes us feel a certain way.
  • Composition: how colors, shapes, lines, etc. are arranged in a paintign to create a balanced work.

The Paintings

Hopper’s lighthouse paintings aren’t in the public domain, so I’ll use The Nighthawks and The House by the Railroad to explain his style and then give you links to see his lighthouses.

The House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper,1925, Museum of Modern Art, public domain

Like the Impressionists, Hopper liked to show the effects of light on objects and their colors. Part of this house is in bright sunlight, while the angles of the roof and windows produce sharp shadows—some of them very deep. Unlike the Impressionists, Hopper didn’t blur the edges of objects. He used a definite line and used lots of geometric shapes.

Hopper’s compositions are spare, with just enough detail to tell you the setting of the painting. Notice that in Nighthawks, the counter is almost bare, as are the walls and the windows across the dark street.  Many of his paintings look like snapshots.

Most of Hopper’s paintings have few, if any, people, and there is often a mood of silence and even loneliness in them. The diner lights in Nighthawks are harsh. Fluorescent lights were still new, and Hopper seems to have enjoyed the eerie mood they produced.

Here are links to 2 of Hopper’s lighthouse paintings:

The Lighthouse at Two Lights

Lighthouse and Buildings, Portland Head, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore Hopper’s Paintings

  1. Ask children to tell what’s going on in the paintings, (at least with Nighthawks. The others don’t have much action!) and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.
  2. Talk about mood, and what colors placement and actions of people, etc., give them the mood of Nighthawks and why the other paintings seem to be so quiet and lonely.
  3. In the other paintings, ask children to find different geometric shapes. How many ovals, squares, rectangles, etc. and of what colors, can they find.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages. Add link

Here’s a photo of Molly with the canvas bag I always use to carry things back and forth to school. It has a picture of Hopper’s painting, Lighthouse and Buildings, Portland Head, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Molly hopes you enjoyed learning about Edward Hopper and will join us next week for a devotion based on his lighthouse paintings.






10 thoughts on “Shipwrecks and Lighthouses

  1. cindy knoke

    So fascinating Kathy and such depth of understanding. As you well know, lighthouse’s original purpose was to save people’s lives on the sea. Some lighthouses still function. Thank God for lighthouses, and you!


    1. Kathy O'Neill Post author

      Thank you, Cindy! You are so kind and encouraging! Lighthouses always bring back memories from my childhood in Maine and when I finally learned about this wreck I’d walked around all my life, I was glad to learn the crew got off safely. I hope you had a safe trip to Canada and then home. Your pictures take me places I’ve never been and I always enjoy them!


  2. JD Wininger

    Thank you for helping me understand both art terms and the story behind much of the artwork you share. Like the Holy Spirit with God’s Word, you help me to make sense of it all. God’s blessings my friend.


    1. Kathy O'Neill Post author

      You are so welcome, J.D.! I love to learn the stories behind artworks and the artists, so I’m glad you enjoy those too. Isn’t it interesting that God puts us in places where we can use those things we love to teach about Him–just as you do from the Cross Dubya! Blessings to you, too.


  3. CandyceCarden

    I enjoyed your book spotlights and author interviews but I’m glad to see these enriching art appreciation experiences back.


    1. Kathy O'Neill Post author

      Oh, thank you, Candyce! I enjoyed doing those interviews and learning about some new children’s books to love and give, too. And now Molly and I are glad to be back to art!


  4. Katherine Pasour

    Your post is so interesting and informative. I had not heard of Edward Hopper and I’m thankful you shared his history and some of his paintings. His story is a reminder that if we persevere, even if we’re different, we can find our place. Thank you, Kathy.


  5. Angela Jelf

    Hi Kathy,
    I’m so enjoying these lighthouse posts! Fascinating information about Edward Hopper and great links to his wonderful lighthouse paintings, and so interesting to hear all about the ship carrying the coal which got washed up on the beach! Such great parallels for children about Jesus, light of the world and finding safety in Him! Inspiring stuff as always.


    1. Kathy O'Neill Post author

      Hi Angela! It’s so good to hear from you, and I really appreciate your encouraging comments. Have you ever visited any of the many lighthouses in your country? I’m sure some of them are pretty old!

      Liked by 1 person


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