'The Tides of Provincetown' Chronicles the Life of an Art-Rich Town

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 2, 2011 | Go to article overview
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'The Tides of Provincetown' Chronicles the Life of an Art-Rich Town

Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When American painter Charles W. Hawthorne founded his Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Mass., in 1899, he likely never dreamt that more than 100 years later, Provincetown would still be a draw for artists.

Over the past century, legions of artists came to the tiny coastal town, and many stayed. With its sun-filled beaches and quaint small-town feel, Provincetown proved to be a perfect spot for esteemed artists such as Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, even Andy Warhol, to not only visit, but to choose to create artworks there.

Works by these artists and more are in the traveling exhibit "The Tides of Provincetown," which opens Friday at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, with a free public reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The exhibit, which first appeared earlier this year at New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn., contains more than 100 paintings and several sculptures, that together offer "a tremendous slice of American art history," says Westmoreland Museum curator Barbara Jones. "It covers every aspect of it. It just cuts through an entire 112 years, and it's all there."

As one might expect, the exhibit begins with the work of Hawthorne, who had studied under American Impressionist William Merritt Chase. Hawthorne's "The Fisher Boy'' (1908) and "The Fishwife'' (1925), with their stoic lone figures against moody, muddled backgrounds, both exude Chase's influence as well as the works of the 17th-century Dutch masters, another major influence.

But it's Hawthorne's "Girl With Parasol'' (circa 1920), with its sketchy quality and sunlit hues, that typifies Hawthorne's own influence as a teacher. Indeed, next to it is a small snapshot of Hawthorne painting it, on a pier beachside, for some students as a teaching exercise.

"He used to paint out in the open, and that's what he taught," Jones says. "And, of course, he brought that from Chase. Chase used to do the same thing at his Shinnecock Hills Summer School on Long Island."

Before arriving in Provincetown, Hawthorne had established key connections to art schools in both Boston and New York City. So, getting students to come to the beachside town was, shall we say, a breeze.

In fact, Hawthorne's hunch that Provincetown was a perfect place for art proved so popular that in 1914 the Provincetown Art Association was formed to serve the needs of the expanding lively and innovative community.

"It wasn't just artists," Jones says. "It was actors and authors, playwrights and poets even musicians. There was this huge influx, primarily because Europe wasn't as accessible at that time because of the war."

Though much of the painting at this time was more traditional in nature, by 1916, Modernism began to take hold in Provincetown, much like it had in New York City by then.

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