Bessie Thompson Cram was a Portsmouth summer resident and painter for almost 70 years. Bessie was born in Middleboro, Massachusetts, but her ties to Portsmouth were deep. She was the cousin of Gertrude Macomber Hammond and spent the last 12 years of her life in the home of her cousin on Quaker Hill. Around 1900 she established a studio at a cottage on the Sakonnet shore down from the Macomber home. She called it “Sakonnet Studio – Summer School of Arts and Crafts.”

Bessie’s obituary in the Newport Daily News (July 30,1966) calls her a “Craftsman.” Her artistry went beyond painting and she was adept at many mediums. She was a graduate of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Craft. In the 1920s she became a master craftsman of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts and Dean of its Leather Workers Guild. Bessie was a teacher who shared her skills with Portsmouth students. She taught jewelry design with precious metals and stones, leather tooling and molding and patching of pewter and other metals.

She was a “craftsman” but she never neglected her painting. Her style of work evolved over the years. Between 1912 and 1924 her work became more abstract and more colorful in design. From 1940 to 1959 her painting became even more abstract. Her last project was an impressionistic series with the Sakonnet River as a subject.

Steven Olszewski named his own “Sakonnet Studio” after Bessie and held an exhibit of her work in 1974. He used the weathered walls of Bessie’s cabin when he built his studio on East Main Road. The Sakonnet Times of June 20, 1974 describes this exhibit and was a great source of information on Bessie. A special thank you goes to the Portsmouth Free Public Library for providing that newspaper clipping to me.

I am grateful to Joan Macomber for sending images of her painting. Phone conversations with Joan and Bill Macomber introduced me to Bessie and her work. Bessie’s work deserves to be recognized.