Built in the 1840s as Rockport became home to a colony of artists and fishermen, the shack became a favorite subject of painters due to the composition and lighting of its location as well as the symbol it represented of the hard New England maritime life. The painter Lester Hornby is believed to be the first to call the shack "Motif Number 1," a reference to its being the favorite subject of the town's painters, and the name achieved general acceptance.
In the 1930s, the painter John Buckley used the shack as his studio. He sold it to the town in 1945, dedicated "to the fishermen and artists of Rockport." The town, recognizing its iconic value, has taken pains to preserve both its structure and appearance, finding a red paint which appears weatherbeaten even when new, and keeping the area clear of overhead wires, traffic signs and advertising.
The shack was destroyed during the Blizzard of 1978, but an exact duplicate was constructed.