Part 1 - Art in America’s First Art Colony
By Steve Lyons | March 04, 2011
In the first installment of this two-part article, ONE tours the best galleries of America’s first art colony.
One hundred years after Charles Hawthorne established Provincetown, Massachusetts as America’s first art colony, this cultural jewel located on a sand dune fifty miles out in the ocean continues to deliver world-class art to tourists and locals alike. You’ll find much of it in the long line of galleries that run from the West End of town to the opposite side. The multitude of venues offers plenty of opportunities to check out the talents of the town’s painters, sculptors, hand-crafters, photographers and everything in between.
Here are a few places you’ll want to stop by on your next trip to the former fishing village some dub “Little New York” for its intoxicating mix of high culture and high energy.
Julie Heller Gallery
It’s hard to say which I like best of Julie Heller’s two galleries, the one on the East End or West End. While the inventory is similar, in so much as they’re chock full of enough art to keep you feasting for a week or two, each also has its own vibe. Maybe it’s the way she divvies up her growing collection or just the lighting.
Whatever the case, you need to see both locations if you intend to call yourself familiar with the Provincetown art scene. On her website, she divides her collection into three categories: Early Provincetown Art, Contemporary Art, and Archives - but the categories don’t always represent what you’re liable to find here.
On any given day you’re as likely to be charmed by a Hawthorne “mudhead” hanging in the West End gallery as by a Milton Avery landscape hanging in the East End gallery.
Regardless of which location you’re in, the mash-up leaves you breathless from oohing and aahing. Julie’s usually close at hand, willing and able to answer your questions. If she’s not, one of the assistant gallerists will happily call her for you.
However, don’t come expecting a huge bargain. Julie knows what she has and prices it accordingly. While haggles are entertained, it’s best to keep in mind she’s a gallery owner, not the starving artist. Find out more at www.juliehellergallery.com.
Berta Walker Gallery
If there’s competition for which Provincetown gallerist impacts the art scene most, the fight is definitely between Julie Heller and Berta Walker, (though both would be loathe to admit it).
Walker, like Heller, has an astounding collection, yet she’s a lot less showy. Her gallery, located on Bradford Street is a pleasant retreat from the craziness of Commercial Street, and the way the gallery looks and feels brings to mind a casual sophistication. Even from the street, where paintings are showcased through huge plate glass windows, there’s an orderliness to the space and, as it turns out, the person who owns it.
Represented painters include some of America’s finest, like Paul Resika and Selina Trieff. Berta’s also not afraid to educate her art-loving fans with historical exhibitions, like last year’s show of works by the abstract expressionist, Hans Hoffman, who taught art from his local studio for decades. The grounds surrounding the gallery are also a treat, showcasing the work of sculptors, part of the lifeblood of the Walker family. Check it out www.bertawalker.com.
William Scott Gallery
This smallish space carries a big wallop throughout town and the region.
Home of John Dowd, one of the region’s most respected artists has been gaining national recognition slowly but surely for his Hopper-esque take on architecture.
he gallery also represents a diverse group of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists from around the country, each expressing themselves in a variety of media and subject matter.
The gallery features painting, photography, sculpture and works on paper. The Provincetown location opened in 1995, and continues to be an anchor of the East End Gallery District and one of the hot-spots on of the Friday night gallery hop. Find out more at www.williamscottgallery.com
Here’s one of those small, unassuming galleries that can, on occasion, just blow you away with its choice selections of local talent.
The gallery’s featured artist is Joerg Dressler, who never ceases to inspire a “Look at that!” from passersby.
Although he’s a trained graphic designer, he has managed to break through the limitations of his profession and let loose with palette knife, brushes and colors that coalesce into modern twists on German Expressionism tackling a recurring subject visible in much of Provincetown’s art: the landscape.
Dressler is full of surprises and probably deserves a bigger venue to showcase everything he can do, but then again it’s nice to know that he and his work can be found in this approachable and manageable gallery in Provincetown’s East End. A go-to destination all year long, it is also one of the shining beacons of Friday night’s weekly gallery hop during the summer.
More often than not, you’ll find Stephen Syta, one of the owners, and Joerg entertaining tourists and locals alike - not to mention collectors from New York, L.A. and Europe. Syta is always on the lookout for new talent and willing to lend wall space to what he finds. It’s enough to keep you coming back every week. Learn more about the collection at www.aldengallery.com.
This space is always a surprise, most notably for Steve Bowersock’s willingness to display fresh faces and styles in the Provincetown art scene. Here you’re just as likely to find new talents as you are a painting executed in an unexpected medium. Bowersock is equally unafraid of sculpture, which makes his gallery a rare find by the seashore.
For art lovers and artists alike, Bowersock is offering a juried exhibition in encaustic (hot wax) work for 2011 - everyone is encouraged to apply. Entitled Wax in Motion, the exhibition is set for June 2–28, 2011. You can learn more about it at www.bowersockgallery.com. Tell him Steve at OneNewEngland sent you.
TJ Walton Gallery
More than anyone perhaps, TJ Walton has raised the ire of established painters in town with her self-taught style and subsequent success. She’s taught at the local art schools, been copied by many and become one of the most collected artists in town.
Just as her style - heavy layers of paint that appear as much sculpted as they do brushed and applied - is fresh and new, as is her constantly changing round of topics. She established herself with Matisse-esque still lifes, including florals that had buyers lined up for a decade. Then, just when everyone was getting too comfortable, herself included, she shifted to abstract expressionism.
Some of the work was quite obviously an artist experimenting - how do you differentiate one line from another with a monochromatic palette? How does color increase or decrease the depth of field? Most notable during this period was her take on horses in one of the fields not far from her studio, which she depicted as elongated creatures decorated with circles and crowned with flowers.
Another outstanding series was her series of birch trees. Instead of one big painting, Walton dissected the subject - lone, spindly tree trunks - and then, to abstract it even more, painted the forest in multiple panels that the owner mounts next to each other to form one long painting. The fact that the series is in black and white makes them all them all the more comforting and confounding.
Now Walton is experimenting with collages (forced on her when a neighbor proved highly allergic to oil-based paint fumes). Nevertheless, she’s always willing to work with buyers, collectors and those wanting a commissioned piece. You can see some of the work at http://tjwaltongallery.com.
In part 2, Steve Lyons continues his tour of Provincetown’s premier galleries.
All images are copyright their respective owners.