Seaside Artistry: The Rich Art Scene of Provincetown
For over a century, artists and art lovers have flocked to Provincetown, attracted to the beautiful dune and ocean landscapes, inclusive and bohemian culture, and thriving galleries in Provincetown. Our town holds a special place as the oldest continuous art colony in the country, beginning at the turn of the 20th century when Charles Hawthorne formed the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899. His inventive techniques – like using a putty knife instead of a brush to add nuance and texture – and passion for teaching created a buzz, with waves of artists making pilgrimages to P-Town to paint, socialize, and put on exhibitions. Hawthorne was one of the founders of the Provincetown Art Association in 1914, which has been a stalwart for supporting the local arts ever since, and the tradition continues today with over 45 galleries spread throughout the town.
When you stay at our Provincetown hotel, you’ll be within walking distance of seemingly endless galleries – each with a unique focus and curational bent – where you can explore the past, present, and future of art in Provincetown.
Provincetown – A Creative Haven for Artists Over the Decades
Much like the changing tides off Race Point Beach, the artistic trends in Provincetown shifted and evolved over the decades. The early 1900s showcased realism and expressionism, with artists trying to capture Cape Cod’s delicate “quality of light,” where the Atlantic ocean meets the expansive dunes of the National Seashore, and sunsets bathe centuries-old lighthouses in soft hues. Later, the mid-20th century brought abstract expressionists like Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Helen Frankenthaler, inspired by the natural landscapes surrounding Provincetown but deconstructing them into newfound forms. It wasn’t just painters, as photographers like Walker Evans spent time shooting here, and a school of primarily women printmakers was so influential that a specific type of white-line block print is now named the “Provincetown Print” for their inventive method.
The best place to dive into these different artistic eras is the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) – their collection of over 4,000 works will give you a sense of the breadth of artists that have called Provincetown home and found inspiration here. Every Friday night at PAAM is free from 5-8 p.m., with an upcoming reception party on October 6, 2023, opening the exhibition of the works of Salvatore Del Deo. Del Deo is one of P-Town’s artist legends, living and painting out of a dune shack for eight decades, focusing his work on the town’s Portuguese families, fishing culture, and iconic dune landscapes.
Strolling the Galleries – From the East End to the West End and Everything In Between
After visiting PAAM, stroll back toward the marina on Commercial St. – which might be more aptly named “gallery row,” as you’ll pass by one gallery space after another – and stop in at Rice Polak Gallery, which you can’t miss with the modernist and massive head sculptures in front. For over 30 years, owner Marla Rice has featured contemporary artists of all persuasions, always spotlighting emerging talents. Stop in next at the Bakker Gallery, which heralds back to Provincetown’s past with its extensive collection of early and mid-20th-century paintings, watercolors, and block prints. You may even see a piece from Charles Hawthorne, the previously mentioned father figure during the early days of art in Provincetown.
Grab a latte and croissant at Wired Puppy, a favorite cafe of locals, before heading next store into the ever-eclectic collection at Bowersock Gallery. Steve Bowersock curates with an inclusive eye and broad taste – you’ll find the finely carved wood sculptures of Joe Lupiani, photos of harbor sunsets printed on metal from Allan MacKinnon, and a varied selection of oil, charcoal, and wax paintings from Marc Kundmann. Get a rare and up-close glimpse of Kundmann’s multi-layered, mixed-media style in action on October 7th, 2023, when he will paint live at Bowersock Gallery from 1-2:30 p.m., followed by the opening reception for his “Beneath the Surface” show from 3-5 p.m.
Take in the views near the harbor and grab a midday lobster roll snack and refreshing drink at the Canteen (one of our favorite Provincetown restaurants) before heading into the Cortile Gallery, whose roster of 30+ artists may be the most comprehensive collection of Provincetown’s varied artistic styles. Owner Kerry Filiberto shows everything from wood etchings of Hemingway by Jack Coughlin to 15 picturesque oil paintings of nearby dunes by Catherine Skowron and modernist geometric works by Lenore Diamond Robins. Rated the best gallery on the Cape by Cape Cod Life, it’s a must-visit gallery that spreads its curation wings far and wide.
Finish off your gallery tour on the west end – easy to incorporate into a stroll to the town dog beach with your pup or an adventure to see one of the nearby Cape Cod lighthouses – by stopping into the Gary Marotta and Adam Peck galleries. You’ll find cutting-edge contemporary art on Marotta’s walls, with his past exhibitions of artists like Manuel Pardo featured in Provincetown Magazine. Peck’s gallery trends more toward sculptures and paintings with stark, clean lines and a calming austerity – many of them are of boats, seaside cottages, and lighthouses, perfectly capturing scenes of the outer Cape.
Shining a Light on Photography at Gabriel’s
Although paintings take center stage at many galleries in town, photographers have also focused their lens on Provincetown over the decades, drawn to the same breathtaking scenery and seaside landscapes.
We’re thrilled to have the photography of Gabriel’s owner, Elizabeth G. Brooke, exhibited on-site at our new gallery space, adding to the artistic ambiance during your visit. A Provincetown resident for nearly 50 years, Brooke captures the Cape’s natural beauty in her shots, whether it be the morning light in Wellfleet and bustling nightlife along Commercial Street or the sloping, majestic dunes in Truro.
She also sets her sights on everyday people, always seeking to “explore what lies beneath,” and finds equal inspiration in taking shots of stunning wildlife in Africa as she does vibrant street scenes in Cuba. Bring one of her photographs, available as museum-quality pigment prints, home with you and add a touch of Provincetown’s artistic spirit to your walls.
Stay with us, where art in Provincetown continues to flourish, constantly evolving and inspiring!
Photography by Elizabeth G. Brooke