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A Little History of Motif #1

May 21, 2019

If you have ever been to the quintessential New England seaside village of Rockport, Massachusetts, then chances are you have seen the famous Motif #1 in person. The little red fishing shack at the end of Bearskin Neck in downtown Rockport has been captivating artists, locals, and tourists alike since it was built in the mid-1840s.

Found at the end of a sea-worn granite pier, this unassuming fishing shack once housed fishermen supplies and daily catches. It was also used as a meeting spot for people hoping to catch a glimpse of the United States Naval Fleet launching when they were stationed in Rockport. Today, it is one of the most painted buildings in the United States, if not the world!

If you are wondering where the name Motif #1 came from, look no further than a local art teacher, Lester Hornby, who assigned his students to paint something that caught their eye in the area. Student after student came back with the same painting – the little red fishing shack. So many students chose the slightly weathered look of the building as their subject that Hornby later remarked, “What? Motif #1 again!” It has been called that lovingly ever since.

If you plan to visit Rockport Harbor this summer, you will be able to see Motif #1 from pretty much anywhere you stand. Locals joke that it sticks out like a sore “red thumb.” While they may quip about this unlikely celebrity right in their backyard, the reality is that the people who call this area of Cape Ann home are incredibly proud of this picturesque building and proudly show it off any way they can.

Rockport shops honor the history of this iconic building with postcards, magazine covers, books, keepsakes, and even memorialized it as a postage stamp! Believe it or not, Motif #1 has also made it into a few major motion pictures including Finding Nemo, and Disney’s The Proposal, where the building was temporarily renamed for the movie location of Sitka, Alaska.

For many who visit the charming downtown streets and take the building into their sights, it is hard to believe that Motif #1 is not the original structure. During the harsh Blizzard of 1978, the building was lost. Townspeople rallied to create a remarkably stunning replica in the same location. This is the structure you see today.

Next time you are staying at the Pleasant Street Inn in Rockport, Massachusetts, visit this icon and take a picture with your friends, family, or loved ones. You will be able to say you saw Motif #1 in person next time you see it in a book, on the big screen, or in a painting.