Editor's note: The following essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the New Britain Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



 


1999-2011

The Gravity of Provincetown

by Alexander J. Noelle

 

Since the 1999 centennial of Charles W. Hawthorne's founding of the Cape Cod School of Art, Provincetown has entered a pivotal period that will determine the future of the colony as well as the town as a whole. As Provincetown celebrated another century as America's oldest continuous art colony, twenty-first-century issues of tourism, affordability, and heritage have risen to confront the historic town. Thirty to fifty thousand seasonal visitors cram into the narrow streets during the summer, bringing business as well as national and international attention to the vibrant cultural scene. When they depart with the summer sun, however, the remaining twenty-five hundred residents are left with high rents and severely depleted sources of income. Provincetown, which boomed as a haven for artists, given its beauty and affordability, has had to rethink itself in order to maintain its eminence as the American art colony.

Despite the drastic changes that have occurred over the past century, Provincetown remains a thriving and devoted arts community. The level of intellectual discourse contained between two main streets within a two-mile radius far surpasses the norm for a small New England town, and this polarity has made Provincetown a crucible of creativity. There is a core group of active contemporary artists dedicated to the town and its future as a center for the arts. Many grew up there or have deep generational ties to the colony. Others were drawn to Provincetown by its legacy as America's epicenter of culture and progressive ideology. They have spent decades there, working to perpetuate the colony, promote their own work (much of which is deeply rooted in the town and its history), and pump fresh creative blood through Provincetown's veins.

Over the past 112 years, Provincetown evolved from a Portuguese whaling village, to a fishing town, to an arts community, and, now, to a major tourist destination. In the 1960s there were more than seventy commercial fishing boats docked in the harbor. Today, only twelve are registered. Tourism eclipsed the fishing business in the 1970s and 1980s, and the remaining fishermen and year-round residents developed connections to the new industry in order to meet the rising cost of living. In the 1970s the Provincetown Business Guild was formed to promote the town as an international gay destination. Since then, Provincetown's gay tourism industry has expanded exponentially and now largely supports the area.

As can be clearly seen when studying its past, Provincetown goes through cycles of commercial development and artistic response. The founding of the Fine Arts Work Center and the artist-run cooperative Long Point Gallery, for instance, were the previous generation's replies to the increasing costs of living and working. In bold moves to restore the colony's former glory, those artists made lasting contributions that have greatly enhanced its longevity and esteem. In response to the closing of Long Point Gallery in 1998, the transition of Provincetown into a second-homeowner resort town, and the mounting challenges facing year-round artistic residents, a new generation of Provincetown artists has come forward to carry the colony into the future.

 

Generations and Legacies

 

Many of the great Provincetown figures from the early 1900s onward settled in town and raised their children in the bustling arts community. These families prided themselves on their commitment not only to the art but also to the environment, politics, and heritage of Provincetown and Cape Cod. They took responsibility for everything -- from local government and arts organizations to running restaurants and organizing theatrical productions. Far from hermit artists who add mystique to a given locale, these individuals were at the forefront of the community in every capacity imaginable. They passed on their sense of dedication and ownership to their children, who, in turn, have become outstanding artistic and civic leaders. For many, this heritage represents the heart of the Provincetown tradition.

One of Provincetown's most famous residents was the writer and director Norman Mailer. This Pulitzer Prize-winning author co-founded The Village Voice in 1955 and is considered an innovator of narrative nonfiction. One of his most famous novels, Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984), was subsequently adapted into a movie by the author himself. Set and filmed in Provincetown, the production caused quite a stir in the town and brought its beauty to audiences nationwide.

Mailer was also known for his turbulent personal life. In 1954 he married the second of six wives, the Peruvian artist and author Adele Morales. Six years and two daughters later, their relationship ended suddenly when Mailer stabbed Morales with a 2.5-inch penknife at a party. This infamous incident put Morales into intensive care and Mailer in Bellevue Hospital.[1] Morales moved with her daughters to New York's Greenwich Village, where she raised them in a burgeoning art scene not unlike Provincetown's. One daughter, Danielle, grew up to become an outstanding artist whose work is deeply rooted in her personal history.

As a toddler, Danielle was introduced to her South American heritage through music, food, and her mother's vibrant color palette. Although Morales, a student of Hans Hofmann's, encouraged her daughter to spend hours painting to capture the essence of her subjects, Danielle credits her father with recognizing and encouraging her talent and telling her to "always paint what you know."[2] A "very good father" according to Danielle, Mailer had custody of all nine of his children on the weekends and over the summers.[3] These summers were spent in Provincetown, where the children formed an artistic "clan."[4] Mailer encouraged all his children to express themselves artistically, and they now hold various arts positions across the country.

Danielle in particular has a deep attachment to Provincetown. She grew up with fellow artists Anne Packard and Tabitha Vevers and can "remember living next to Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler."[5] As an adult, she attended Bowdoin College, the New York Studio School, and the School of Visual Arts. Although she resides in Connecticut, Mailer says of the art colony, "I continue to regard it as my home."[6] Following Norman's death in 2007, the Mailer home in Provincetown was dedicated as the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and offers workshops and fellowships to emerging writers, thereby perpetuating the tradition of Provincetown as an inspirational haven for authors.

Danielle's artwork is part mythological and part autobiographical in nature. Charged with a bold South American color palette, her two- and three-dimensional paintings are loaded with enigmatic narrative and symbolism. Danielle employs a personal iconography of Hispanic objects such as skulls, chili peppers, and vines that pulsates and adds mystery to her paintings. Her figures are often timeless, vital, sexual females portrayed in a spiritual landscape. [7] Using herself as a character in these scenes, Mailer brings to mind the work of Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Gustave Klimt, and Henri Matisse. Despite the focus on her Latin heritage, Danielle pays homage to her father by titling her works with literary references and listening to books on tape while she paints. [8]

In The Good Daughter (cat. no. 71), Danielle's signature style is reworked into a quiet and peaceful meditation. Painted when she knew her father was dying, the work depicts Danielle asleep, cradling Norman's novel Ancient Evenings. The ferns creep silently into the picture plane, indicating the cycles of life and death, while the black and white palette echoes finality. The funeral was held in Provincetown, "where Norman wanted to die." Danielle visits the town regularly and shows her work at Berta Walker Gallery. She states that Provincetown is part of the "fabric of my life" and a truly "magical place."

Penelope Jencks's family ventured to the Outer Cape in the 1920s, when her aunt married a local painter and her father came along for the ride. In 1939 he built a house deep in the woods of Wellfleet on a bluff that overlooked the dunes, bay, and Provincetown itself. Jencks, who now owns the house and a studio on the property, has summered there her entire life. Each year, she spends more time on the Cape, both on and off-season, to create her sculptures. She believes, "Cape Cod lends itself to three dimensions" and "can't imagine a place to go that's better" for her work. Her sculptures, which are always related to the dunes, beaches, and people of Provincetown, are a direct result of her rearing on the Cape and her experiences with the local community from the 1940s through the 1970s.

From Jencks's childhood onward, she was involved with a group of Provincetown artists and writers who celebrated the beauty found in nature, especially the sea, sun, and beaches. Nudity, following their philosophy, was the best way to commune with the elements of the Cape itself. [9] Hence, Jencks's memories are filled with visions of gazing upward at a race of naked "giants" within a vast landscape of water and sand. Jencks works with terracotta -- a material directly linked to the sand. [10] Her sculptures of people vary in size from monumental to miniscule but always retain an elemental quality of the human psyche. Some are charged with emotion while others sit in silent meditation. All, however, explore man's primordial relationship to the earth. [11]

Jencks credits two Provincetown masters as her inspirations. Edwin Dickinson was a family friend who visited when she was a child. Inspired by his vision of the world, Jencks began to see "dunes as zones of color or even parts of bodies fused into the landscape." She also studied with Hans Hofmann the summer before enrolling in art school -- an experience that shaped the course of her career. Jencks cites three pivotal lessons she learned from Hofmann: every work of art is a journey and a process that has no goal beyond personal growth; scale is not linked to size -- there is a difference between the feeling of being monumental and creating a work that is monumental; and the conviction that "art is the most important thing in the world. It is crucial -- not just a job or a hobby but something important." Clearly, as a sculptor who has dedicated her life to art, the exploration of human scale, and a medium that requires working and reworking before the final firing, Jencks has followed, explored, and lived by Hofmann's philosophies.

Unanswered Question (cat. no. 60) is a recent work by Jencks molded in plaster, which implies an air of history linked to the thousands of plaster casts found in museums.[12] Related to the composer Charles Ives's composition of the same name, Unanswered Question explores the eternal query of human existence. [13] This sculpture, like so many by Jencks, expresses her personal vision of a human natural history.[14] She uses the Cape as her avenue for discussing these timeless themes and has passed along her source of inspiration to the next generation. Her son, an artist living and working in New York City, comes home to paint the dunes and feels, like his mother, "connected to it all."

The white-line woodblock print is a staple medium of the Provincetown art colony and was invented there in 1915 by B. J. O. Nordfeldt. Tired of piecing together a print by using multiple blocks (one per color, following the ancient Japanese tradition), Nordfeldt decided to use just one. He treated the block like a canvas and carved grooves in between the various areas of color. These grooves resulted in white lines on the finished print -- hence the name. The prints are not made in editions, and each is an original and unique work of art. Sometimes, artists will use the same block for multiple prints, but they will alter the color or another aspect. [15] Blanche Lazzell became the master of this art form and began teaching it, offering her famous "five classes for five dollars." In 1950, a year after moving to the town, Ferol Sibley Warthen took one such class and subsequently devoted her life to practicing the technique.

Kathryn Lee Smith, Warthen's granddaughter, can remember sitting at the kitchen table working away at prints as early as age four. In fact, she has the scars on her hands to prove it. These early visits made quite an impression on the young Smith as she went on to pursue art, education, and lithography in Maryland and Colorado. Later in her life, when she was "searching for direction," Smith returned to Provincetown in 1981 to study the white-line print with Warthen. Smith claims, "This time, although I didn't know it then, set the course for the rest of my life." Over the next seven years, Smith traveled back and forth to the town, taking classes at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, learning from her grandmother, and discovering the infinite possibilities of the medium. When she settled in Provincetown in 1988, she had resolved to devote her life, as had her grandmother, to the study, practice, promotion, and instruction of the white- line print.

Smith began creating her own artworks by following the methods she had been taught, and she has sustained a direct lineage from Nordfeldt and Lazzell. She has won widespread acclaim for her work and was invited to Japan to teach the method to printmakers studying the ancient Japanese techniques. The grueling white-line process allows no room for error, and the application of the layers of opaque watercolor alone can take up to thirty hours for a single block.[16] To this day, Smith teaches Norfeldt's and Lazzel's techniques. In the last ten years, however, she has broken away from the typical subjects to explore the limits of the medium and push it into the twenty-first century. One of the first printers to explore abstract prints since Lazzell herself, Smith has recently been inspired by dreams. [17] The Ancestor Series, including Dawn #3 (cat. no. 100), was the result of an August 2007 dream that stressed the simplicity of design and the use of direct, pure forms to depict prehistoric ancestral images.

Smith represents the culmination of a century of development of a unique and purely American technique.[18] She offers a fresh, contemporary perspective on the Provincetown white-line print that pushes it yet manages to maintain its integrity and lineage.[19] Both her new and her old work pay homage to the artistic trends that blossomed in Provincetown while retaining individuality, inspiring the next generation of white-line printers, and extolling the medium's endless possibilities.

The Malicoats have been referred to as "Cape Cod's first family of art," and rightfully so.[20] Stretching back five generations to the early 1900s, the family includes artists of note ranging from painters to sculptors, writers to stonemasons, and printmakers to musicians. Their Provincetown legacy began when Hawthorne visited Harold Haven Brown in Indiana and recruited him to come to the Cape Cod School of Art. By 1923 the patriarch of the Malicoat family had settled permanently in Provincetown.[21] The following generations have all been involved in and inspired by the art colony in various ways.

Robena Malicoat, a fourth-generation artist and granddaughter of the Fine Arts Work Center founder Philip C. Malicoat, grew up in Provincetown on the Malicoat estate and now lives and works there year round. Although she remembers posing for Philip in the dark studio at the age of seven, she did not discover her own artistic interests until her time at Hampshire College. Working initially with colored paper, Robena began using her current medium, oil paint, in 1985. Although she is known for her still lifes, boats, and interiors, Robena began as an abstract artist. Oil paint was "a mystery to figure out," one that led her to find "intrigue in detailed still lifes."

After working on Mailer's film Tough Guys Don't Dance, Robena embarked on a thirteen-year film career that resulted in stints back and forth between Provincetown (where she painted in Philip's old studio) and Los Angeles, though she claims, "I always knew that I would end up in Provincetown, and it never ceased being my home." She finds the history of the colony, the beauty of the landscape, and the famous light to be inspiring, and says that her paintings, as a result, "come from the town, from my history."

Provincetown is a bustling town of infinite intersections. Life, art, nature, and history all weave together inextricably, and Robena's paintings capture these unnoticed connections in intimate views of daily objects. Lunaria (cat. no. 73), recently included in the exhibition "The Malicoats: Four Generations of a Family Creating" (2009; Higgins Art Gallery, Cape Cod Community College), depicts a solemn still life rendered in muted tones. The painting utilizes Philip's studio as a backdrop, imparting a sense of memory and legacy, as symbolized by the branches of dried flowers. The coffee cup, bright and ready for use, also reminds the viewer that Robena is a contemporary participant, returning daily to her role as one of the next links in the Malicoat chain.

Romolo Del Deo also comes from a distinguished lineage of key figures in the Provincetown art colony who have been cornerstones of the community. The son of Salvatore Del Deo, a celebrated painter and founder of the Fine Arts Work Center, and Josephine Del Deo, a renowned art historian and local activist, Romolo was born into a household at the heart of it all. He grew up with the "idea of artists as integral elements of a community" who were deeply invested in the town, the environment, the people, and the politics. To this day, he sees that as the role he and his contemporaries should aspire to fulfill.

Upon graduating high school, Romolo went abroad to find his own identity. Since the age of twelve he had taken to sculpture, which he identifies as his "voice" that separates his work from that of his father. By tracing his own interests back through Provincetown's history, Romolo was led to European traditions. Thus he journeyed to Renaissance marble quarries in Italy and studied classical techniques. In Florence and Tuscany he worked as a restorer of fresco paintings and gained unlimited access to the Archaeological Museum of Florence's endless vaults of ancient artifacts. He felt, however, that "all the classical and Renaissance exposure needed to be balanced," so he returned to the United States and studied contemporary American art at Harvard with the Provincetown sculptor Dimitri Hadzi. Romolo says that these years "informed my love of antiquity with the language of contemporary art."

Romolo maintains that his artwork exists on two levels: one of pure aesthetic balance and beauty, and another of mysterious and evocative narrative. His bronzes seem to be shards from an ancient culture yet are hauntingly contemporary. They clearly refer to his archaeological studies, but none portrays a recognizable figure or myth. Playing with the acculturated baggage of classical icons, Romolo's work mirrors the present art world's fractured individuality and inspiration.[22] When creating these relics, Romolo first makes complete figures then reduces them to their bare essentials. Considering life as bittersweet, he transforms perfect forms into fragments that express the contrasting forces of perpetual beauty and passing time.[23] The Beauty of Time (cat. no. 23), both in title and style, embodies this theme.

Ultimately, it was Hawthorne who facilitated Romolo's return to the art colony. Bermuda was a frequent destination of Hawthorne's, and when a museum on the island wanted to commission a sculptor, they found Romolo through old connections with Hawthorne and Provincetown. The project made Romolo realize that he did not fall outside the town's tradition, and he began to see himself as a continuation of the legacy, a "branch off the tree." After years in New York, Romolo moved back to Provincetown to become more involved in the art colony. No longer constrained by Provincetown's past, Romolo is determined to work innovatively in the community and also maintain the town's status as a cutting edge locus of art, culture, and ideology.

Like Romolo and Robena, Tabitha Vevers comes from a distinguished family of artists (fig. 58). Her father, Tony --- art historian, curator, educator, painter, and founding member of Long Point Gallery -- moved to Provincetown in the 1950s and fast became a fixture in the community. Her mother, Elspeth Halvorsen, has been involved in the Provincetown art scene for more than fifty years. A founding member of the Rising Tide cooperative gallery, Halvorsen is known for her surreal box constructions and resides to this day in the family home, which was "purchased from Mark Rothko at the suggestion of Milton Avery." Tabitha cites both parents as sources of inspiration for her own work, claiming she inherited a "resourcefulness and sense of experimentation with materials" from her mother and a "sense of personal mythology" from her father.

Born and raised in the colony, Tabitha says, "I always knew I wanted to be an artist." She pursued her interests at Yale University, as did her father, and graduated with a degree in fine arts. Since then, she has been East Coast-based, living in both Provincetown and Boston. No matter where she is, however, the Cape is never far from her mind. She believes it is "important to exhibit where you live and engage in the community," especially in Provincetown, which "has informed and inspired" much of her work. In 1995 Tabitha was awarded a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center. This contemporary art community at the heart of the colony gave her the chance to focus completely on her art.

Tabitha works in a distinct style that blends Old Master techniques with contemporary issues. Inspired by her courses, she delves into the gilded lexicon of the Renaissance and other art-historical periods to find characters for her intriguing narratives set in imaginary worlds. Organized into series, her paintings propose a different way of thinking about our relationships to the planet and to one another and tackle such diverse subjects as rape, AIDS, sexuality, fertility, evolution, feminism, violence, global warming, genetics, and religion.[24]

Tabitha's lifelong connection to Provincetown can be seen in her supports, which include scrimshaw and seashells. While she usually chooses her materials to correspond with a specific vision, Tabitha was surprised when the imagery for her recent Shell Series (cat. nos. 107, 108) "grew out of the material itself."[25] Tabitha first painted shells as a child and sold them on the streets of Provincetown, but her return to them was for "a more mature study." Research led her to erotic Japanese artwork, and she created her own mythology that explores fictive relationships between creatures of the deep and women. A metaphor for man, the crustacean beings examine various roles of lover, protector, and adversary.

Like much of her work, Shell Series is set on the shore. Tabitha is constantly inspired by "the place where land meets the sea-the known and the unknown, a source of life and a source of mystery."[26] Provincetown, with its expanse of shoreline and depths of both personal and art history, is a constant source of inspiration for her. Her paintings expose the undercurrents of visual culture, and, therefore, of the colony itself. By persevering to "make the invisible visible, to express something that doesn't quite have words, which you can't quite attach a language to,"[27] Tabitha gives form to the intangible aspects of Provincetown.

 

Drawn to the Edge of the World

 

While it is pivotal that the existing Provincetown lineages pass on a sense of responsibility to emerging artists, it is equally important to attract new creative thinkers to the tip of the Cape. The fusion of local art history and beauty with the innovative visions of outsiders has kept Provincetown on the cutting edge of the contemporary art scene for more than a century. There is also a group of contemporary artists who, unlike those artists previously discussed, did not inherit a sense of dedication to the town from their family. Rather, they were drawn to the tip of the Cape by the unique vitality of Provincetown and have become advocates for the past, present, and future of their adopted home.

After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in painting, Susan Baker went to Provincetown in 1969 as a visual arts fellow during the inaugural year of the Fine Arts Work Center's art and writing fellowship program. Baker met her husband, the poet Keith Althaus, during the fellowship, and they have lived on the Outer Cape ever since. In more than forty years, she has become a local celebrity and authority on the history -- both written and unwritten -- of the art colony. She opened her own gallery, wittily named the Susan Baker Memorial Museum, in 1983 and has recently combined her sense of humor with her interest in Provincetown, publishing two illustrated books that explore local lore.

The History of Provincetown (1999) is a comical account of the colony's history. Beginning with the floating of homes across the bay in the mid-1800s and ending with her own completion of the book, Baker demonstrates that life in Provincetown involves an everlasting series of anecdotes to be told and retold.[28] These episodes include Charles Demuth riding the local bus (cat. no. 3), Eugene O'Neill meeting a seal while swimming, Jackson Pollock hurling an easel at Hans Hofmann, Judy Garland's parade down Commercial Street, and the Motherwell art heist. Through her clever narration and bold illustrations, Baker captures the slanted spirit of the town and its all-embracing nature.[29] She even includes a nod to the rising tourism industry by dedicating her book "to those who came, couldn't park, and left."[30] The whimsical yet documentary nature of the text makes it quite popular among the tourists and has contributed to spreading an awareness of Provincetown's esteemed -- and often humorous -- egacy. Baker published her second Cape-inspired book, Provincetown Dogs, in 2000.

Although she is deeply involved with the local art scene and its heritage, Baker consciously avoids the influence of other artist's styles.[31] This desire to remain uncategorized derives from her dedication to a personal vision of art. Baker is, however, clearly inspired by Provincetown's landscape and history. She simply prefers not to ascribe to any of its schools of practice in order to maintain her signature style of a bold palette, strong gestures, and sense of narrative. Running beneath the surface of Baker's art are themes of pain, wisdom, and reflection that pertain both to herself as an artist and to Provincetown as a developing colony. [32] Baker is one of the town's most unconventional historians, a role she created for herself after decade upon decade of living at its creative heart..

Born and raised in Miami, Bert Yarborough moved from Iowa City to Provincetown when he was awarded a Fine Arts Work Center fellowship in 1976. In less than a year, he developed a deep affinity for the town and was awarded a second fellowship. Since then, Yarborough has become one of its most dedicated and involved artists. Following his fellowships, which he defines as a "life-changing experience," he spent the next decade in Provincetown, discovering the history of the colony while developing his art. This period of research led him to find his own place in its legacy, which he says "was and is a crucial element of my life." Yarborough forged endless connections to many of the Provincetown legends: he befriended Myron Stout and Jack Tworkov and lived and worked in the Motherwell/Frankenthaler, Edwin Dickinson, and E. Ambrose Webster studios. He remains deeply involved with the Fine Arts Work Center, where he teaches, chairs the Visual Committee, and runs the Print Auction Fundraiser.

Yarborough's unique mark-making style grew out of his intense study of line, geometry, and symmetry during his early training as an architect. It was this formative exposure to repeated mark making that made him consider the relation of his creations to the natural world. [33] Correspondingly, his first works of art on the Cape were environmental installations in the bogs, dunes, and woods. Later, he spent three summers in an artist's shack on the beach, next door to Philip C.Malicoat, communing with nature and honing his singular style. While his recent work evolved to incorporate more traditional media, Yarborough continues to be inspired by the environment. Over the years, he says that he has "developed an iconography of suns, heads, birds, etc. from my life in Provincetown." Yarborough uses these icons as individual marks on the canvas, replacing abstract lines with icons made of abstract lines. These marks "do something . . . activate the surface . . . it's become . . . a way of breathing with paint."[34]

One often detects a sense of duality in Yarborough's work. At once figurative and abstract, he presents images that reference prehistoric times and the present, the body and the spirit, the animal and the human.[35] This refraction is a direct result of his 1984 Fulbright fellowship, which he used to study Yoruban carving traditions in Nigeria. Yarborough's "work is really about the polarities" of his experiences in the Provincetown art colony versus his studies of traditional African tribal techniques.[36] He appropriates icons that are weighted with millennia of history and, by using them as marks, gives them a blurred yet contemporary meaning.[37] Night Light (cat. no. 118), for example, depicts a portrait rendered in abstract brushstrokes. Above, the sun burns in a night sky -- is this "night light" actually the moon? Yarborough merged these traditional symbols for the cycles of nature, and male and female, to create his own powerful iconography. By mining the visual history of Provincetown, Yarborough encourages the next generation of artists to study the colony's past and use it as a well of inspiration.

The internationally acclaimed photographer Jack Pierson had a visual art fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in 1993, which was also the first year he participated in the Whitney Biennial. Immediately following his sojourn in Provincetown, Pierson was featured in "American Dreaming" at the Whitney. Comparing his photographs to the paintings of another Provincetown-inspired artist, Edward Hopper, the exhibition juxtaposed two distinct visions of daily life in America. Since then, Pierson has become known for his work dealing with sexuality, identity, and memory.

Pierson's large-scale photographs often have the feeling of a candid snapshot. These monumental documents take a nondescript subject and elevate it to an important, yet unclear, status. [38] Using 1950s Technicolor, Pierson heightens the reality and drama of his intimate scenes, which often play with clichés.[39] A self-labeled conceptual artist, he uses the photograph as a form of personal memory and thereby creates a mythology that focuses on unidentified, attractive men who represent the artist himself, his friends, and his lovers.[40] On one level, they also document Pierson's expression of the self and his various psychological states of being.[41] While the themes of his photographs are often complex, he confronts the viewer with a bold image that is visually arresting in its own right.

In 2004 Pierson was chosen once more to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial. He selected the Self Portrait series (cat. no. 90), a ground-breaking body of work in his career as well as the field of contemporary photography. These fifteen snapshots of nude and seminude men at various stages of life all bear the title Self-Portrait, yet none actually depicts the artist himself. They allegorically narrate his life from an innocent youth through the various stages of a sexual adult. This gang of identities exposes underlying themes of individuality, social awareness, and sexuality. By fictionalizing the documentation of his own life and visually constructing a new identity, Pierson questions the role of the photograph as a representation of reality.[42]

It is common for Pierson's art to reflect his feelings regarding contemporary gay culture and subculture.[43] He often presents new frameworks for the representation of homosexuality that question romanticism and nostalgia in the attempt to convey a stark yet authentic view of gay life.[44] As Pierson lives and works between New York, southern California, and Provincetown, it is safe to assume that the art colony's development of its own international gay identity contributed to Pierson's internal investigations.

Like Bert Yarborough, John Dowd focused on architecture before switching to painting. Dowd frequented Cape Cod and Provincetown as a child during summers in the 1960s with his parents, both of whom are teachers. After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in architecture and furthering his studies in Rome, he settled in Provincetown and worked in antique shops while painting on the side. In 1983 a dealer saw Dowd's paintings and took the artist under his wing. Since then he has become a prominent artist in both of his adopted hometowns, Provincetown and New York. He exhibits across the country and was awarded the Altman Grand Prize for Landscape from the National Academy of Design in 1992.

In the 1980s Dowd, along with Yarborough and others, rented inexpensive studios from the Fine Arts Work Center. Continuing in the tradition of Days Lumberyard and the Provincetown masters who used the same spaces, the artists worked in former coal- storage bins. The environment created a nurturing and energetic community, and it was in this pocket of artistic freedom that Dowd's career took off.[45] When the Fine Arts Work Center renovated the space, Dowd purchased a home at the heart of Provincetown and filled it with artwork by those historic masters. He continues to be "inspired by the town's unique light as well as its range of architecture, which holds an emotional response" for him. He is inspired by the smallest details of the area, which he weaves together in canvases that pay homage to the beauty of the landscape and the architecture.

Dowd's artwork, like Provincetown itself, represents a synthesis of artistic styles. He is credited with evoking the tonality of the Luminists, the sense of place of the American Realists, and the mood of the German Romantics.[46] He is also referred to as a contemporary Edward Hopper, thanks to his sense of light and isolation. Dowd's paintings are characterized by strong structural qualities and an absence of people.

One of the reasons Dowd has remained in Provincetown is the town's dedication to the arts. "It is nice to feel embraced by a community," he says, "that celebrates artists and being an artist. Here, people are enthusiastic about the colony . . . there is a certain camaraderie." He captures the ambient nature and elements of Provincetown in his contemplative landscapes and cityscapes, such as Backstreet, Provincetown (cat. no. 27), that reveal his sense of commitment to preserving its history. However, Provincetown's booming tourism in the summer is also a source of inspiration. Stimulated by the flood of tourists, events, art shows, and pulsing vitality, Dowd feeds off of the town's energy during the days and evenings so that he can work on his paintings until dawn. In the winter months, he lives in New York and participates in the metropolitan art world, as did Hofmann. Dowd truly represents the twenty-first-century Provincetown artist by perpetuating the traditions of past masters, yet he continues to grow along with the art colony and draw inspiration from its evolution.

Before discovering Cape Cod, the photographer Daniel Ranalli focused on producing abstract photograms. He was appointed the executive director of the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in 1979 and subsequently discovered the beauty of the outer Cape. Soon after, Ranalli purchased a home just outside Provincetown and has been a prominent and active artist in the community ever since. His walks on the beaches inspired work that was directly related to the delicate ecology of Cape Cod and departed from his preceding abstractions. Ranalli, however, creates Cape-inspired artwork that neither relies on the artistic traditions of Provincetown nor reproduces clichéd Cape Cod vistas. Instead, he focuses on series of photographs that recount a "personal natural history." [47]

With series such as Environmental Interventions, Zen Dunes, and Whale Strandings, it is clear that Ranalli has pursued an "active collaboration with natural forces."[48] He blends the elements that rule the Cape with his tradition of abstract mark making to create interventions within the environment. The resulting photographs capture various natural cycles infused with elements of serendipity. For example, Double Line #2 from the series Snail Drawings (cat. no. 93) documents his experimentation with a sea creature's basic instincts. After forming two parallel lines of snails, Ranalli took a photograph and then waited fifteen minutes. He photographed them again, this time capturing the snails' random movements, which etched the surface of the beach with their own designs. As a result of his direct interaction with natural forces, Ranalli learned how and why snails move and how their movements relate to the tide.

The series Zen Dunes was inspired by the Provincetown tradition of living in dune shacks for part of the summer. Ranalli and his wife, the painter Tabitha Vevers, spend one to three weeks at a time in the dunes almost every year. Off the grid, these shacks offer the chance to develop a first-hand relationship with the local ecosystem as well as the opportunity to focus entirely on one's work. Many of the great artists throughout Provincetown's past, including Tony Vevers and Wolf Kahn, either owned or used shacks on a regular basis. Today, it is difficult to arrange a stay in the shrinking number of shacks due to the growing interest among artists. To Ranalli, time out on the dunes "is an escape, like Provincetown was in general in 1899." Zen Dunes began when Ranalli attempted to clear a dune of footprints. Enticed by the resulting marks, he used a fire rake to create massive designs that reflect his own contemplation and meditation of the natural landscape.

Ranalli not only captures the timeless, elemental movements of the sea, but he also documents how random human interaction with these forces disrupt natural cycles. By collaborating with nature, Ranalli produces a contemporary and personal yet environmental reaction to the beauty of the Cape that is completely original. His interest in natural history and concern for the future raises the awareness of new ways to find inspiration in a landscape that has been reproduced thousands of times as well as the need to protect that very source.

Sky Power decided in 1976 that Provincetown was in need of a horse-and-carriage company, so she moved there to start one. This business venture came after she had grown up in Texas, been educated in Wyoming, moved to Seattle, and then settled in a commune in Massachusetts. A woman of many skills, Power is also an established chef, piano tuner, and carpenter. She even worked on the Provincetown docks with the Portuguese fishermen for a time. Although she has painted since high school, Power ventured out to the Cape because she was drawn to the ocean, the small town, its growing business prospects, the gay community, and its natural beauty . After a few years, Power left the East Coast and, ironically, it was her experience with an art colony on the West Coast that drove her to "see what she was missing back home in Provincetown." She returned in the 1990s and has been deeply involved ever since.

Beginning in 2003 Power became the managing director at Berta Walker Gallery, an esteemed Provincetown institution that features both contemporary and past masters. Through this venue, she has become intimately familiar with the colony's legacy. "When you are around work by great artists," she says, "you learn from them tremendously just by seeing it and studying it." Power has experienced a rush of creativity and a swell of exhibitions in the past eight years, demonstrating the colony's town's influence and Power's ability to turn over a century of artistic energy into fuel for her own inspiration. [49]

Power's dreamscapes are abstract representations of her internal "weather" at a given moment.[50] Drawn to locales with vast skies and violent seasonal shifts, Powers creates paintings that evoke the feeling of a storm on the sea or a burst of clouds in the sky. As can be seen clearly in Beyond the Horizon (cat. no. 92), the rolling waves, veils of haze, and distant vistas of the Cape are powerful sources of aesthetic stimulation. With thinned layers of oil paint, she explores the "link between the inner and the outer" in her canvases, using the pure visual language of color and gesture.[51] She states that she begins her work with free, loose strokes that become more detailed and analytical as she progresses, since "the story becomes apparent to me in the middle of painting." Heavily influenced by the Fauves, Power uses bold tonal juxtapositions and intense luminosity to imbue her work with a sense of internal conflict.

Due to her involvement with the community and her camaraderie with the local arts advocates (some of whom studied with Hofmann and other key figures), Power developed the feeling that she "is totally connected . . . part of the history, the string from way back." The continuum of artists coming to Provincetown, learning, developing, and inspiring a subsequent generation is something Power hopes to perpetuate. It is also one of the unique elements of the town that brought her back, as she aspires to play a role in the colony's future. Power's work, which so precisely taps into the human spirit, also demonstrates the spirit of Provincetown itself.

 

Conclusion: High Tide

 

The current generation of artists demonstrates their devotion to and connection with Provincetown through a wide variety of mediums, symbols, and themes. Whether their family stretches back to Hawthorne or they arrived in Provincetown on their own volition, each champions the colony in their artwork -- and goes further. In response to the rising challenges that face artists living there today, this generation, like so many before, has taken actions to preserve the traditions of Provincetown and ensure its ongoing role as America's oldest continuous art colony.

Institutions such as the Fine Arts Work Center and the artists (such as Jack Pierson and Bert Yarborough) who support them have made it their mission to not only bring the very best emerging artists into the town but also to restore its year-round vitality. Established more than forty-three years ago, the Fine Arts Work Center was founded in response to "the sense that if this was not done, there would be a significant loss in the community."[52] This collective effort was the artists' reaction to the beginnings of Provincetown's rise as a major tourist destination, as life there became more expensive. The Fine Arts Work Center has continued to evolve with the town in order to fulfill its mission by developing new programs, such as the recent MFA program with MassArt. Every year, it brings in ten visual artists and ten writers from around the world who create a beehive of creative energy. Just like the Hawthorne and Hofmann schools in their heydays, the Fine Arts Work Center is an international magnet for emerging creative thinkers. It also provides affordable studios and apartments to local artists and holds events throughout the year that are free and open to the public. Despite the changes in Provincetown, the Fine Arts Work Center continues to give the gift of time in an inspiring, unique location, and, as a result, many return to the colony.

In 2005 a group of twelve artists (including Paul Bowen, Jim Peters, Daniel Ranalli, Tabitha Vevers, and Bert Yarborough) decided to take their fate -- and perhaps even the fate of Provincetown's contemporary art scene -- into their own hands. They formed the collective gallery artSTRAND, a venue where they could curate exhibitions and attract fresh talent from beyond the Cape. Their basic conviction was that the century-old art colony, despite its changes, would continue to support its dedicated artists.[53]

Many of the original twelve have deep family connections to the colony or were former Fine Arts Work Center fellows and all had exhibited for decades in Provincetown before starting artSTRAND. For those familiar with Provincetown's recent past, this event was a twenty-first-century version of the founding of the illustrious artist-run galleries of Provincetown's history, such as the Provincetown Group Gallery, Sun Gallery, Rising Tide Gallery, and Long Point Gallery -- all of which had closed by 1999. Vevers, whose parents were deeply involved with these galleries as well as the founding of the Fine Arts Work Center, feels that "in a way, we do bring something back from the old Provincetown."[54] Bowen was a member of Long Point Gallery himself, and artSTRAND has picked up many of the gallery's celebrated traditions, such as producing an annual and affordable series of artworks to promote the gallery and expand its support base. [55]

It is remarkable that this group has begun and maintained a collectively run gallery in Provincetown. This art center, with more than fifty galleries, charges exorbitant rents (comparable to those on Newbury Street in Boston), compounded by a drastically shorter season -- not to mention the recent recession. [56] Much of artSTRAND's success comes from the founders' philosophy of putting the artist back in the community and breaking down the barriers between dealers, collectors, and creators.[57] Following the best of Provincetown's traditions, they pay homage to the colony's past and keep local artists at the forefront by providing a forum for discussion, interaction, and innovation. Through evolving the gallery model, they see themselves as an example of reinvention for survival in the new Provincetown. [58]

The past twelve years have not constituted an easy time for artists in the colony. Unfortunately, some of Provincetown's most celebrated figures have had to leave the Cape due to the rising costs of living. Yet a core group of contemporaries is succeeding at sustaining the traditions of Provincetown's past and fighting for its future. They adopted key elements and traditions into their artwork and lifestyles and subsequently modernized them. Despite moves across the country or exhibitions all over the world, each of them is continually drawn back to the historic town. There are countless identifiable reasons why artists come and return, but Provincetown has always emitted a unique and intangible gravity that draws innovative thinkers from around the globe.

Now, Provincetown must take its next step as an art colony, tourist destination, and historic community. Through the dedication of local advocates, it has weathered more than a century of creative cycles, economic waves, and changing identities. The chains of tradition get both longer and stronger each and every year, as newcomers continue to arrive and are inspired by local artists, who, in turn, were inspired by the figures of the past, the landscape, and the famous light. In order to uphold its legacy as America's oldest continuous art colony and achieve yet another century, "it is pivotal that Provincetown maintain the present as well as the past -- it is important to grow a new history each and every day."

 

Notes

1. Tracey O'Shaugnessy, "This Month: Portfolio, Danielle Mailer," Connecticut Magazine (July 2007): 30.

2. Peg Goldberg Longstreth, "The Good Daughter: The Unconventional Art of Danielle Mailer," Provincetown Arts 25 (2010-11): 79.

3. Ibid., 78.

4. Ibid.

5. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from interviews with the author.

6. Longstreth, "Good Daughter," p. 78.

7. Margo Nash, "Around Connecticut: The Creative Life, A Woman with a Rich History, Making Art and Teaching Children," New York Times, March 11, 2007.

8. O'Shaugnessy, "This Month," p. 31.

9. Hayden Herrera, "Penelope Jencks' Figure on the Beach," in Penelope Jencks: Sculpture (Boston: Boston University 808 Gallery, 2006), pp. 28­29.

10. Jonathan Shahn, "Some Observations on Scale and Material in the Recent Sculpture of Penelope Jencks," in ibid., pp. 13­14.

11. Wendy Doniger, "The Symbolism of Size in the Work of Penelope Jencks," in ibid., p. 12.

12. Shahn, "Some Observations," p. 14.

13. Doniger, "Symbolism of Size," p. 12.

14. Eleanor Munro, "Penelope Jencks," Provincetown Arts 21 (2006-7): 47.

15. Margaret Carroll-Bergman, "Kathi Smith: The White Line Etched in her Heart," Provincetown Arts 13 (1997-98): 89.

16. Ibid., p. 90.

17. Katherine Lee Smith, "A Lifetime of Provincetown Printmaking," in Katherine Lee Smith: Crossing the Fine White Line (New Bedford: New Bedford Art Museum, 2008), p. 6.

18. James R. Bakker, "Crossing the Fine White Line," in ibid., p. 3.

19. Patricia Zur, "Katherine Lee Smith: Contemporary Direction for a Classic Art Form," in ibid., p. 10.

20. Betty Carroll Fuller, "Introduction," in Galen Lord Malicoat, The Malicoats: Four Generations of a Family Creating (West Barnstable: Higgins Art Gallery, Cape Cod Community College, 2009), p. 1.

21. Ibid., p. 2.

22. Taylor M. Polites, "Romolo Del Deo: New Sculptures and Bronze Furniture," ArtScope (July-August 2008).

23. Mark Daniel Cohen, "Romolo Del Deo: Art as an Alchemical Act," Provincetown Arts 14 (1999-2000): 148.

24. Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, "Narrative Bodies: The Art of Tabitha Vevers," Provincetown Arts 24 (2009-10): 50.

25. Ibid., p. 52.

26. Ibid., p. 50.

27. Lise Motherwell, "The Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Tabitha Vevers'" Provincetown Arts 18 (2004-5): 51.

28. John Skoyles, "Introduction," in Susan Baker, The History of Provincetown (Burlington, Vt.: Verve Editions, 1999), p. 4.

29. Ibid., p. 5.

30. Susan Baker, History of Provincetown, p. 6.

31. Keith Althaus, Susan Baker: Early Works, 1968-1982 (Provincetown: Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 1998), p. 4.

32. Ibid., p. 13.

33. Christopher Busa, "Bert Yarborough: OK Guy," Provincetown Arts 17 (2002-3): 97.

34. Ibid., p. 99.

35. Reva Blau, "Enchantment and Discontent: Bert Yarborough's Singular Aesthetic," Provincetown Arts 24 (2009-10): 62.

36. Ibid., p. 63.

37. Ibid.

38. Mary Behrens, "Jack Pierson: The Lonely Life," Provincetown Arts 13 (1997-98): 80.

39. Ibid.

40. Richard D. Marshall, Jack Pierson, Desire/Despair: A Retrospective. Selected Works, 1985­2005 (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2006), p. 7.

41. Ibid.

42. Marina Grzinic, Jack Pierson: Self Portrait (New York: Cheim and Read, 2003), pp. 3-4.

43. Marshall, Jack Pierson, p. 8.

44. Grzinic, Jack Pierson, p. 4.

45. Melora B. North, "Flying High on Art in the Bins at Provincetown's FAWC," Provincetown Banner, June 17, 2009.

46. John Dowd Biography, Cape Light Fine Art, http://www.capelightfineart.com/bios/John_Dowd.php (accessed January 19, 2010).

47. Daniel Ranalli, "Artist's Statement" in Leslie K. Brown, Traces: Daniel Ranalli, Cape Work, 1987­2007 (Provincetown: Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 2010), p. 16.

48. Ibid., p. 2.

49. Susan Rand Brown, "Sky Power: Beyond the Horizon," Provincetown Arts 24 (2009-10): 57.

50. Ibid., p. 56.

51. Ibid.

52. Margaret Murphy, interview with author, September 23, 2009.

53. Jennifer Liese, "Any Name Is a Vessel: Forming artSTRAND," Provincetown Arts 20 (2005-6): 42.

54. Ibid., p. 47.

55. Tabitha Vevers, "Thinking inside the Box: artSTRAND's Portfolio Project 2007," Provincetown Arts 22 (2007-8): 74.

56. Cate McQuaid, "The Artists' Last Stand," Boston Globe, September 1, 2005.

57. Liese, "Any Name," p. 43.

58. Ibid., p. 45.


About the author

Alexander J. Noelle is Assistant Curator, New Britain Museum of American Art

 

Resource Library editor's note

The above essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art, granted to TFAO on August 15, 2011.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Alexander J. Noelle, Assistant Curator, and Claudia Thesing, Director of Development, of the New Britain Museum of American Art for their help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.

RL readers may also enjoy biographical information on selected artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

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