Philip Little was born on Little’s Point in Swampscott. As a young man he was groomed to work in his father’s cotton and wool business, attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until illness forced him to drop out.
After working in his father’s firm for a brief time, Little decided he would prefer a career in design and enrolled at the Lowell Institute. In 1880, after completing his studies and spending a year learning lithography at a Boston firm, he entered the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
At the Museum School, Little met another aspiring artist, Frank Benson of Salem. When his formal art education ended, Little moved to Salem with his new wife, Lucretia Jackson, and began sharing a studio with Benson at 2 Chestnut St. Eventually the two men would be neighbors on this magnificent Salem boulevard, Little living at No. 10 and Benson at No. 14.
Little pursued dual careers as an artist and civic leader. Wealthy and generous, he became an important public servant in his adopted Salem. Over the course of his long career he served on both of the city’s legislative bodies — the board of aldermen and the common council — as well as the municipal school and health boards and the city’s committee on military matters. The artist, who looked as dashing in a military uniform as he did in his cutaway and Inverness cape, also served in the Massachusetts Militia for a decade and a half. By the time he retired in 1901, Little had attained the rank of major.
When he wasn’t busy with governmental affairs, or with his duties as curator of art at Salem’s Essex Institute, Little was carving out a reputation as a respected American painter and printmaker “untainted” by European art training.
He drew heavily on the New England coast for his subject matter. For much of his adult life, he summered on MacMahan Island in Maine and every fall he would return home to Salem laden with stunning Impressionist scenes of the Maine coast.