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:
Restoring the Art Colony to Its Former Glory
by Deborah Forman
Since 1899, when Charles W. Hawthorne (1872-1930) opened his Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, the colony has flourished. Artists, writers, and theater people went there for the beauty and the as well as the inexpensive accommodations, the welcoming attitude of the townspeople, and the camaraderie of their peers.
Schools -- in the early years, Hawthorne's as well as those of E. Ambrose Webster and George Elmer Browne, among others -- attracted thousands of students and contributed to the richness of the art colony. After Hawthorne died, Henry Hensche (1901-1992) carried on his mentor's tradition. In 1935, Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) opened his school, with a modern, invigorating approach.
In the 1950s and early 1960s -- the "golden years" of the art colony, according to the artist Myron Stout -- New York galleries established satellite locations in Provincetown, exhibiting the work of major artists. With the social and political upheavals of the 1960s, Provincetown, always known for its openness, became a haven for a new generation of activists. Art was not, however, their focus, and creative pursuits faded into the background.
The Fine Arts Work Center
Recognizing the possible decline of the art colony, a group of people came up with a plan to revitalize it by establishing a place where artists and writers could have time, uncluttered by the need to make a living, to pursue their creative endeavors, and in 1968 the.Fine Arts Work Center was born. The founders included the artists Fritz Bultman, Salvatore Del Deo, Philip C. Malicoat, Robert Motherwell, Myron Stout, and Jack Tworkov; the poets Alan Dugan and Stanley Kunitz; the historian Josephine Del Deo; and the art patron and collector Hudson D. Walker. Since 1968 more than eight hundred fellowships have been awarded, and competition is keen for the twenty seven-month residencies.
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), who first went to Provincetown in 1942 and established roots there in the 1950s, was devoted to its legacy as an art colony. Although he was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists most involved in the town, many of those involved in the movement had gone there at one time or another. As we sat on the deck of his bayside home, Motherwell told me that Provincetown was the first place on the East Coast that filled him "with the shock of recognition." He was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and spent his childhood in northern California, which was a comparatively quiet place in those days, and he found the quaint fishing village a happy reminder of his seaside vacations on the Olympic Peninsula.
Motherwell spent most of his summers in the 1940s and early 1950s in East Hampton -- the home of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning -- but he left in 1953 because of "all its high pressure and status consciousness." Provincetown became his summer home until he died there. It was welcoming and egalitarian; he enjoyed the easy lifestyle, and the numerous artists provided a stimulating social and intellectual milieu. Motherwell talked about the special light and the active street life. "All painters are voyeurs," he said that summer day as he watched the passersby on the beach along Cape Cod Bay. Although in the off-season Motherwell lived in Manhattan and later in Greenwich, Connecticut, he considered Provincetown his "neighborhood."
In the early 1940s Motherwell's work had a figurative element, but he soon moved on. He had little training in studio art, which at that time would have been representational, so there was little to deter him from abstraction. His enigmatic series Elegy to a Spanish Republic (begun 1948) has the vigor of America's postwar spirit. The organic forms are connected to automatism, which Motherwell adopted from the Surrealists who had left Europe for New York during the war. The large, black oblong and oval shapes have been variously interpreted as architectural or sexual. The word "Spanish" in the title refers, some say, to the losses in the Spanish Civil War, to bullfighting, or to death. Motherwell loved the black that dominates his Elegy canvases (cat. no. 82). It was as beautiful to him as ultramarine blue (the blue he saw in Provincetown), bright yellow, or bold red.
He used that blue, as well as red and brown, in his Open pictures (begun 1967), which are composed of a "U" shape on a field of color. The "U" can be seen as a window or a door opening onto a light-filled space. The influences for the series lie in Mondrian's geometric forms and Matisse's colors. Motherwell's lyrical collages, with their broad areas of juicy colors, are punctuated by items of everyday life: a scrap of sheet music, a pack of cigarettes, a commercial label, a photograph fragment, or a theater ticket.
Motherwell was not intent on searching for a literal translation of his art. He related abstraction in painting to music. One does not expect music to duplicate sounds heard in real life, though many expect canvases to represent the known world. He believed that a picture should be seen as a unique entity, with its own "internal logic." Motherwell was fascinated by the process rather than the end result -- the viewers' experience. Creating art can be sheer joy or very hard work, he said. "It's everything from agony to ecstasy," but, he added, it was mostly "ecstasy."
Jack Tworkov (1900-1982) summered in Provincetown in the 1920s and 1930s but stopped visiting in 1935. "We thought it was ruined," he recalled. In 1954, however, he returned, and four years later he and his wife, Wally, bought a house in the West End, where they spent half the year.
After World War II, Tworkov was part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, which so effectively symbolized the vitality of a new world power. His work at the time had an impulsive intensity. His canvases were lively, with a calligraphic energy that captured the frenetic character of urban life. In the 1960s, contrary to the unruly nature of the era, Tworkov's work turned orderly. He was searching for structure. He wanted to remove personal feelings and look toward a universal, hoping to attain it by focusing on geometry. He began to simplify, reducing the elements in his paintings and limiting the use of color. His pictures took on a formality defined by grids and mathematical precision. The grid enabled him to establish specific spatial relationships, which suggested shapes to pursue. He drew diagonals within the grid that acted as further limitations on the shapes. In that way, he took control of his compositions, which became ordered and meditative; at the same time they were also robust, spatially inventive, and evocative. Tworkov looked to Paul Cézanne, whose works, he said, were not always beautiful, but were "true paintings." In comparison, other artists have made beautiful works, but they are not "true." Those that are true, like Cézanne's, stay with the viewer a long time.
Tworkov's pictures give little indication of the Provincetown where he spent so much time, but he was probably aware of the unconscious influences. "As an abstract painter," he observed, "you're continually involved in ideas that are quite aside from the things that you see." He did not believe that the paintings he did in Provincetown were different from those he created in New York. "A lot of the things I paint are evolving over a long period of time, quite regardless of where I was," he said, reflecting on the process and its various influences.
Unlike many artists who spent only part of their time in Provincetown, Salvatore Del Deo (b. 1928) has been a full-time resident, not only as an artist but also as a restaurateur, who owned (with Ciro Cozzi) Ciro and Sal's in the East End and later Sal's Place in the West End. Del Deo came to Provincetown in 1946 to study with Henry Hensche and has remained committed to the town. His pictures of fishermen have a sober aspect and a heartfelt tenderness, enlivened by bold colors. Manuel, Doryman (cat. no. 24) is a fine example of his work, which relates to the industry that once was central to the local economy. "I've always had a strong affinity with the fishing community," he said. "I fished for two winters myself, so I know what's involved in the process, and to me it was as exciting as painting to go out fishing." Del Deo lovingly paints the boats and wharves, the land and sea. He considers himself "a general painter. I love to paint people, landscapes, still lifes, figural compositions, whatever."
He imbues his canvases with a quiet drama and a strong sense of community. He conveys an understanding of the roots and the realities of the fishing village. His landscapes are light filled and reveal his love of Provincetown. His bright colors give his works a buoyant quality. When these colors explode in a spectacular sunset or one a view of a village street, the glories of Provincetown are palpable.. Del Deo paints from memory and sketches and also goes outdoors with canvas and easel, never tiring of the scene or the motifs that Provincetown so generously offers.
Philip C. Malicoat (1908-1981) also established deep roots in Provincetown. He had heard about Charles W. Hawthorne's summer classes there while studying at the John Heron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and went in 1929 to study with him. As a Midwesterner, Malicoat had never been to a seaside town and was captivated by it. He returned the following summer to study with Hawthorne and settled there full time in 1931. He went on to study with Edwin Dickinson, and in 1932 he married the artist Barbara Brown. The couple remained and raised their children there, and Malicoat, became an active member of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
Malicoat's paintings are noted for their loose brushstrokes, muted colors, and subtly rendered forms, as in Cape Split (cat. no. 72). Clearly enamored of the sea, he painted sometimes robust, sometimes tranquil, views. The waters and beaches around Provincetown were a constant inspiration, and he captured the placid dunes, quiet bay, and volatile Atlantic were painted within a variety of expressionsmoods, from dramatic to serene. he painted views of the placid dunes, quiet bay, and volatile Atlantic in a variety of moods from dramatic to serene. An attraction to the water drew this Midwesterner to coastal Maine to paint and then to Europe. Some of the canvases of that period, such as Trees & Rocks -- France (1967; Acme Fine Art and Design, Boston) and Athens Balcony (1967; Acme Fine Art and Design, Boston), verge on the abstract.
Jim Peters and Paul Bowen are two artists who benefitted from the founding of the Fine Arts Work Center and maintained homes in the area for many years. Jim Peters (b. 1945) completed a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in the early 1980s and was one of nine artists out of two thousand selected for the "New Horizons in American Art: 1985 Exxon National Exhibition" at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. A modest man, he downplayed the honor. He felt it was dangerous to have success too early because an artist can be swept away by the accolades and paint just to sell. He thought it was better to spend time in an isolated place like Provincetown and discover his own inclinations than kowtow to the marketplace.
Peters's paintings of nudes -- mostly women -- in gritty settings have changed subtly over the years. It is the relationships between men and women that propel his art. He usually balks at references to his pictures being erotic; rather, he depicts his figures naked "to increase their vulnerability," he said. He sees his paintings as stories but not with specific meanings. In Bed Tent (cat. no. 89) the woman is in an awkward position, in physical pain or perhaps emotional distress. Half the room is dark and bare. The figure and the bed are lit as if by a spotlight. Peters hopes his viewers will become involved in the picture and supply their own scenarios. His canvases have erratic surfaces, scrubbed with texture and animated brushstrokes. At different times, you may feel his work expresses lust, loneliness, jealousy, tenderness, or tension. He has described his subject matter as "mysterious and oftentimes dark" as well as "deeply, painfully emotional."
Although Peters and his family left Provincetown for upstate New York in 1989 because of rising real-estate costs, he returned five years later to build a home in Truro, as he missed having contact with the artists. In 2009, when we last spoke, he had left the Cape again and was living in Rhode Island but was still connected to Provincetown as a member of the cooperative gallery artSTRAND. He thought of Provincetown as "a little piece of New York City" with "a punk sensibility." He saw it become gentrified, and, in the process, it "lost of a lot of the edge," but he still found it to be "crazy and wild." Wealthy people buying multi-million-dollar homes had changed the town, making it more difficult for the counterculture to go there, but the ocean and the dunes would always give Provincetown its special appeal, he maintained. Artists would continue to be inspired by the natural elements, whether they painted its beauty or reflected its spirit.
A two-year fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center brought Paul Bowen (b. 1951) to Provincetown in the late 1970s, and he remained until 2005, when he and his wife moved to Vermont because of a lack of affordable housing. When he left, he took some of the town with him: in his truck was a load of scavenged wood that he had been collecting from local beaches for years. Like Peters, he is a member of artSTRAND and maintains his ties to the art colony. "The Fine Arts Work Center changed the course of my life," Bowen said. Growing up in the Victorian seaside resort Colwyn Bay, in Wales, he has a visceral connection to the water and feels a "magnetic draw" to the town and its artists.
Bowen's wood constructions are abstract and reference Cubism, yet they embody the realistic connections to the found materials from which they are made: fragments of fish boxes, remnants of the wreckage of a boat or a deck, or pilings washed up during a storm. Scavenging the beaches, he collects the detritus of the age-old fishing industry and the remnants of the action of sea and wind.
His work is dominated by the circular shape, which takes the form of a sphere, a disk, or a cylinder. His Untitled (Redwood) (cat. no. 10) is a good example of how he creatively manages the symmetry of the circle. Two half- circles and several rods of wood are sliced through a large disk that looks like a giant wagon wheel. There are no moving parts, yet a sense of movement is produced by the forms that intersect the dominant circular shape, which is tilted at an evocative angle and seems to be precariously balanced.
An element of the wood's attraction for Bowen, he said, is its history. He added, "It's there, it's free. It functions as a material that you resonate with in some way. Wood is fairly easy to manipulate if you have the right tools. There's plenty of it. . . . . It's fairly down-to-earth stuff. It gets used in all kinds of things, in brooms, in chairs and all of those things have form, and sculpture is about form."
Long Point Gallery
Long Point Gallery was a cooperative enterprise established in 1977, when the town was looking to revitalize its integrity as an art colony. The gallery occupied the second floor of the American Legion Hall on Commercial Street in the East End and was a gathering place for art aficionados and others who wanted to rub shoulders with its members, including Robert Motherwell and his coterie. The gallery prospered and developed an international clientele until 1998, when the American Legion sold the building and Long Point lost its lease.
Leo Manso (1914-1993), a founder of Long Point, had summered in Provincetown since the 1940s. His studio behind his East End home was filled with old books, documents, and photographs, antique quilts, and piles of painted cloth and paper that he brought together to create striking, often mysterious collages. Although he expressed reverence for the elements, ultimately, he said, the totality of the work transcends the materials. "I am trying to express a state of mind," he explained. Early in his career, his art was linked to nature and influenced by light and Impressionism, yet he brushed aside those works saying, "If you haven't lived much, you can't say much." Searching for something more permanent than the fleeting sensation of nature, he pursued images associated with the myths of past civilizations. "I am trying to achieve some linkage with major myths which run through mankind's experience," he said.
In the 1960s Manso's art was based on geometric shapes -- circle, triangle, and square. He used these forms as personal expressions with mythological references. In the mid-1970s his art became freer, influenced by his travels to Nepal, Tunisia, and Italy. Manso had a natural affinity for color, which he used both structurally and psychologically. "To find the form for the feeling -- that's what it's all about," he said.
Manso was inspired by ancient Roman, Greek, and Etruscan civilizations and Eastern art and philosophy. He liked what some consider the laid-back approach of Eastern thought, yet he could not transcend his Western orientation -- could not avoid feeling the pressures of daily life. Art was his "escape hatch," as no doubt was Provincetown, which provided a haven far from the frenetic pace of New York.
His abstract collages are composed of large areas of flat color that are often the background for a fragment of an old letter or a stamped envelope. The uneven edges of ripped paper add an element of surprise, as the viewer follows a line seemingly made by a random twist of the wrist. Daring contrasts of color and unusual shapes add drama. Manso was always searching for the "unexpected solution" in his work.
Unlike his stirring collages, his acrylics are subtle and introspective, yet the unpredictable gesture is still apparent. He said that he did not have a specific direction when he began a painting or a collage -- the theme evolved during the process. "It's like setting sail without a destination and building the ship as you go." The ship must meet both an aesthetic and psychological standard. "If it's just aesthetics, then the entire picture is a design or decoration. If it's just a psychological connection, then it's a tantrum, a catharsis. For me, it has to be both."
As an original member of Long Point, Varujan Boghosian (b. 1926) has fond memories of his colleagues and spoke especially warmly about Manso. Grounded in found objects, the work of the two artists also shares a mysterious quality. Yet while Manso's collages are serious and meditative, Boghosian's pieces often have a whimsical or humorous element. "Leo was very instrumental in honing my sensibilities, regarding material and color. He was a great mentor," Boghosian said.
Boghosian creates images with objects he finds in antique shops, yard sales, and flea markets. His work includes two-dimensional collages composed of diagrams and pictures from books and old photographs. He also builds three-dimensional constructions with antique toys, blocks, hat forms, wooden shoe trees, miniature mannequins, wheels, bells, and various tools. These pieces project ambiguities and paradoxes that reach back to memory or myth. "Nothing is really thrown away. Memory is never thrown away," Boghosian observed. He delights in juxtaposing ordinary, old, and weathered objects to express new ideas, forms, or meanings. He creates unusual images by putting together common, everyday objects.
Boghosian went to Provincetown in 1948 with several artist friends who wanted to study with Henry Hensche. He, on the other hand, discovered that the beaches were strewn with objects he could use in his art, and his assemblages came to life. He recalled Provincetown in the 1940s as "a beautiful club," but he thought of himself as an outsider until he joined Long Point Gallery. As a teacher for many years at several schools and finally at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, he found much of his artistic life took place away from Provincetown, but the fishing village was a marvelous place to collect material for his constructions.
Viewers looking at Boghosian's assemblages are likely to knit their brows in puzzlement, wonder, or surprise -- -or simply chuckle. Time -- past and present -- is periodically a theme in his work, yet he observed that this aspect is not related to age or a sense of his mortality but to timelessness. "It's a way of feeling part of things," he said.
The camaraderie at Long Point, which the artists often talked about, must have inspired lots of good humor, and the wit of the sculptor Sidney Simon (1917-1997) probably sparked many of the good times. He worked in a variety of media. He carved wood, cast bronzes, shaped terracotta, built mixed-media constructions, and created commissioned works for public places. His art encompasses abstract and figurative pieces and always seems to tell some kind of a story.
Although Abstract Expressionism dominated the scene after World War II, Simon was committed to representational painting, . In the mid-1950s, however, when he turned to sculpture, he did venture into the abstract. In the 1960s he revisited figurative works, but they were structured by abstract principles.
Simon adored puns and often incorporated them into his sculpture. Like the man himself, his work is full of humor, whimsy, and parody. "If you make somebody laugh, you change their life a little bit," he said.
In his Mirror sculptures, he used reflections to introduce ambiguity. Headstand (cat. no. 99), a six-foot black- walnut sculpture, depicts a man standing on his head, which is enclosed in a cube. On his feet, he balances another cube. It is an unbelievable -- and amusing -- acrobatic feat. Unlike Headstand, many of Simon's figures approach abstraction. Some pieces have a kinetic element. He also liked to invest his sculpture with literary references. "There's nothing better than telling a good story," he said.
Simon is also known for his public commissions: the 1989 Four Seasons fountain in Worldwide Plaza in Manhattan and the 1987 fountain in City Hall Plaza, Philadelphia. He made a good living working for architects. "It's completely different than the art world.," he said. He was not happy with gallery directors who "love redundancy and want you to repeat yourself" because they latch onto what sells. He would have none of that:. "How many landscapes can you paint? How many still lifes?" Art must always be changing, otherwise it becomes boring. Simon was able to vary his work with the shake of his quick wit. "I'm a maverick. If the wind blows one way, I go the other."
Sideo Fromboluti (b. 1920) and Nora Speyer (b. 1923) were the only married couple represented at Long Point. Having painted together for more than sixty years, it is not surprising that they employ a similar method, which Speyer calls "the two-man, thick-paint school." They met at Temple University's Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and were married while Fromboluti was in the army during World War II. Since the 1950s they have summered at their home on Higgins Pond in Wellfleet, where they paint the surrounding landscape. When they return to New York, their work focuses on figures. Although their subject matter may differ, the impasto on their canvases is similar.
Fromboluti's art is rich with a radiant light that emerges from his thick, expressionistic application of paint. Although he never abandons the image that inspired him -- whether landscape or figure -- there is an abstract element to his work. Pick out any spot on the canvas and you find yourself in a non--objective world of clusters and swirls of blues and greens, purples and pinks, yellows and mauves. Some of his canvases recall Monet's late paintings of his garden. Others are cloaked in an incandescent mist. Yet others appear as if they are still wet. Despite the excitement created by the application of paint, his canvases mostly evoke a sense of calm.
Fromboluti never tires of painting at Wellfleet. Pickerel Weeds on Higgins Pond (cat. no. 34) has a magical quality, and the colors seem to float through a veil of mystery. The pond is a favorite subject. It's about "experiencing a place," he said. "Living in it, day in and day out, watching, feeling, until you understand where you are." He is stirred by all the elements, mist, sunshine, rain.
Speyer's figurative works, with their serpents and demons, are haunting and threatening, very different from serene landscapes. Although Speyer claims never to have made a non-objective work, she does not deny the influence of the Abstract Expressionists, who gave her permission to treat the canvas "like a battleground." Pollock, she said, instilled a feeling of freedom, and the impasto -- so much part of her approach and that of her husband -- was inspired by that freedom.
Speyer's canvases are richly painted. By juxtaposing colors and building them up into textured hills and valleys, she creates little worlds within a painting where color and shape rule. She said that she is after "density and complexity without being specific." One senses that there is a story huddled into these figurative works, but the artist leaves the details to the viewer.
Although Motherwell was the leading Abstract Expressionist at Long Point, most of the other artists had different approaches. Early in his career, Abstract Expressionism fascinated Tony Vevers (1926-2008). But when he made his entry into the Provincetown art colony in the 1950s, he was among the Sun Gallery artists who were challenging the movement with an innovative approach to figurative art. Vevers had his first major one-man show, at the Sun Gallery in 1958. His compositions of loosely painted figures, often nude, set in a landscape or homey environment were done in muted colors with flat patterns. These paintings are softly focused, as if seen through a veil of memory, and .convey the sense that the artist wishes to tell a story. Hound Voice (cat. no. 109) is typical of his early works.
By the 1970s, when Vevers became associated with Motherwell at Long Point, he had taken up abstraction again. The elements of those abstractions filled Vevers's studio. Dozens of kinds of rope in various colors, buoys, fragments of leather shoes, and driftwood -- all scavenged from the beaches -- became part of his mixed-media works. The objects Vevers collected, which often included castoffs by beach walkers, are weathered and suggest the passage of time as well as its constancy. He affixed ropes and even buoys to sand-coated canvases to create rugged compositions. Intrinsic to Provincetown, the sand can be associated with broad spaces that stretch across Provincetown's Cape Cod Bay beaches, especially at low tide. Viewers may have the feeling they are looking at a beach from above and gazing on fragments of boats and the detritus of the sea -- buoys, rope, and driftwood -- washed up by the endless tides. Essentially abstract, these mixed-media works touch on a reality by using everyday objects. Vevers seemed to be playing with a paradox. Although abstract, these works have a physical connection to the real world -- to Provincetown -- that representational works art can only suggest.
Although Michael Mazur (1935-2009) did not arrive in Provincetown until the 1990s, he quickly became active at the Fine Arts Work Center, where he was co-chairman of the board, and he was a member of the Long Point Gallery. Early in his career, Mazur became known for his printmaking. He worked in etching, woodcut, and monotype and developed a reputation for his innovations and technical expertise. The representational approach that dominated his early art in the 1960s can be seen in the series of black-and-white etchings he did when he was working as an art therapist at Howard State Mental Facility in Providence, Rhode Island. They are dark and grim, revealing the emotional suffering of the patients.
Inspired by nature and the everyday objects he saw in his daily life, Mazur's world soon brightened, and he added color to his prints such as Chair and Bench (1972; Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, New. Jersey) and Carriage House II (Spring) (1983-84; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which depicts his Cambridge property.
In the early 1990s he produced a number of glowing, abstract oil paintings that erupt with fluid images of land, water, and foliage. These "imaginary landscapes," as he called them, grew out of his earlier depictions of calla lilies and poppies. The Abstract Expressionism he had known and rejected early on "had left a very strong residue," he said, that blossomed into these abstractions. Mazur found painting these works removed some of the pressure of capturing a preconceived image. Instead, the idea evolved during the process and allowed him more freedom.
In 2000 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibited a retrospective of his prints, along with several of his recent paintings. His.four-panel Seasons (1999; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), representing his turn toward abstraction and passion for color, was among the paintings on view.
Mazur was always exploring, and his paintings inspired by nature continued to evolve. He remained devoted to the power of line in his figurative printmaking; even when he moved on to painterly abstractions, line was not forgotten. His Rocks and Water series (cat. no. 76) introduced a linear component, which was so apparent in his prints. He recaptured that thread in his Rocks series. In these pictures, a circuitous line travels across the canvas, forming rounded shapes. "I keep moving on," he said. "I'm constantly looking for a new voice. Working is about momentum." That momentum had driven him along a continuum from his early black-and-white prints to the complex color prints of landscapes to the nature-inspired abstractions that defined his late period.
Beyond Long Point
Elspeth Halvorsen (b. 1929), Vevers's wife for more than fifty years, creates box constructions, which almost always have a theme. Like her husband, she often uses objects related to Provincetown, such as horseshoe-crab shells and sand,, as well as tiny nude torsos, miniature ladders and swings, photographs, and clock faces. Found objects -- a toy truck or model horse, a piece of driftwood, a small model of the Pilgrim Monument, iron grill work, a window-shade pulley -- are arranged into aesthetically innovative compositions that become little stage sets that tell stories often shrouded in mystery. The boxes may contain a sheet of aluminum or a mirror to reflect light. Or she cuts a hole in the top of a box to channel the light.
After the terrorist attack on September 11, some of Halvorsen's boxes focused on war. In The Whole World Is Watching (cat. no. 44), horseshoe-crab shells represent destructive devices, bombs, or airplanes, aiming at a replica of the Twin Towers. A model torso is lodged at the base of the tower, waiting for the inevitable. Halvorsen's somber, meditative pieces draw the viewer into a surreal world that subtly focuses attention on a stark and often very real landscape, a distant memory, or a dream.
In the 1970s, after working as a street photographer, Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938) became enamored of the Cape, enchanted by the beautiful light that had brought so many painters there. His color photographs of the Cape landscape and its cottages, beaches, porches, and picket fences were published in his book Cape Light (1979). These carefully composed photographs capture the changing effects of light and atmosphere. Interior images such as Hartwig House, Truro (1976), a view through a series of open doors, shimmers in shades of white and evokes a sense of infinite space. In Provincetown (1977), what at first appears to be a casual arrangement of objects in a bedroom grows into an artful composition.
Meyerowitz said that he actually found Cape views quite ordinary compared to the spectacular scenery in America's West, yet the simplicity of the Cape's terrain challenges his creativity. In making the photographs for Bay/Sky (1993), he found he was a witness to a rather straightforward scene -- sky, water, sand, and horizon line -- yet the changes of light and the ebb and flow of the tides presented unlimited opportunities.
With his large-format camera, Meyerowitz can achieve an incredible saturation of color. Shot with slow film, his landscape photographs have a contemplative quality; his street images, however, are made quickly with a 35mm camera.
A vast difference from his other books that speak of beauty and serenity is his Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (2006), which documents the devastation of the terrorist attack on September 11. Several months into the project, Meyerowitz needed a break and went to Tuscany to begin work on a book that provided a relief from tragedy. Tuscany: Inside the Light (2003), with its peaceful landscapes and images of country life, is eons away from the wreckage in lower Manhattan.
Recently, Meyerowitz received a commission from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to photograph the parks, shorelines, and forests of the five boroughs. These images were published in Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks (2009).
Anne Packard (b. 1933) considers herself a traditional artist, like her grandfather, Max Bohm, who influenced her, though she never knew him. Bohm, who was part of the Provincetown art colony in the early years, died before she was born. Packard was divorced when she moved to Provincetown with her five children in 1977 and took up full-time residence. The view from her Commercial Street home on the edge of Cape Cod Bay has been her inspiration ever since.
From her windows, she can see the panoramic sweep of long stretches of beach, calm waters, and placid skies, which she paints mostly with soft colors: blues, greens, and beiges. Sometimes she includes a solitary boat on the low-tide beach, as in Dory (cat. no. 86). "When I paint a boat, it's not a painting of just a boat," she said. "The boat is my vehicle to get to this feeling I have -- I love boats -- less is more. And the mood -- it's the mood I seem to paint over and over. It's solitary, it's not lonely."
A cottage, lighthouse, or wharf occasionally appears. The stretch of buildings that lines the Provincetown waterfront, softened by a haze, often finds a place on her canvases. Her horizon line shifts. When she moves it down, there's a big sky. Other times the beach rises high and the famous Provincetown dunes make their way into her pictures. At times the line between water and sky is lost in a blue mist. The mood is mostly quiet, meditative, and peaceful.
When she tires of painting the scene, she travels, looking for a mountain or a green field, an evocative street scene, or a rustic building, but she always returns. Her sketch books of drawings from travels in Italy, California, Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Mexico are done in strong colors: purples, greens, and corals. There are still lifes and portraits that sometimes approach abstraction.
"Most people think of me as a painter of the Cape," she said, but she has begun "reaching" beyond the sea, though she's not sure exactly what she's after. "I don't want to be just thought of as a regional painter. I want to be thought of as a painter, not just a painter of Provincetown and the Cape."
Although some say the Provincetown art colony has seen better days, it continues to flourish, despite its ups and down. Those invested in the community are determined to face -- and overcome -- the challenges. Artists continue to be drawn by its beauty; the vitality of its many education programs, including the Fine Arts Work Center and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum; its lively gallery scene; the commitment of the art institutions to continue its legacy; and, perhaps most important, the inventiveness of the distinguished people who revere its rich essence.
1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from interviews with the author.
About the author
Deborah Forman is an author based in Brewster, Massachusetts.
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.
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