Early Beginnings from the Permanent Collection

December 6 - February 2, 2020

Curated by:
Christine McCarthy
Opening Reception:
Friday, December 6 at 6pm
Exhibition Checklist:
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About the Exhibition

This exhibition features some of PAAM’s earliest collection works and traces the beginnings and traditions of the art colony, which still serve as the basis for much of PAAM’s contemporary programming.

For the past century, Provincetown has welcomed, nurtured and inspired artists from all over the world—not just to create, but to connect with the town and its people. Only in Provincetown could this unique relationship between artists and community members become the defining experience of this fabled, outermost point of Cape Cod. Life in Provincetown has for the past 100+ years been charted by the interactions between these two groups—from destitute artists trading paintings for lodging from owners of local homes or guesthouses, to fisherman offering a share of their day’s catch to provide a meal for an artist who might otherwise go without, to the walls of local cafes and homes lined with artwork given in exchange for simple kindnesses. PAAM represents art and everyday life, constantly mixing and connecting. The Provincetown Art Association, formed in 1914, became the center of the growing art colony, which was established in the late 1890s. Placing works in its exhibits became the goal of most young artists.

The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) was established in 1914 by prominent artists Charles W. Hawthorne (1872–1930), Oscar Gieberich (1886–1954), William Halsall (1841–1919), Gerrit Beneker (1882–1934), E. Ambrose Webster (1869–1935), and several local business men and women including William H. Young. The donation of works by the organizing artists, and two juried exhibitions mounted in the summer of 1915, began PAAM’s traditions of collecting and exhibiting the work of the local community of artists. By then, the art community at the tip of Cape Cod had become the refuge of artists and expatriates returned from war-torn Europe, and Provincetown was firmly established as “The Biggest Art Colony in the World.” (Boston Globe, 8/8/16) PAAM consolidated its role as the anchor of that colony through the purchase and refurbishing of its present building in 1919 and mounting the first exhibition in its new space in 1921.

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, the philosophical wars being waged throughout the art world were also fought within the Association. Its artist founders had come out of the Impressionist tradition, and although a variety of styles had been represented in members’ exhibitions since the inception, PAAM’s “establishment” did not readily incorporate the modernist movement. Faced with aesthetic differences among its artist membership, PAAM maintained a balance. True to its mission, the organization represented both sides of the artistic argument, mounting separate “Modern” and “Regular” summer exhibitions between 1927 and 1937. Still, the conciliation reached in 1937 was only partial—instead of separate exhibitions, separate juries installed concurrent exhibitions on opposite gallery walls; a coin-flip determined that the modernists’ work hung on the left. Throughout this period, much of the artistic argument took place in forums and discussions organized at PAAM by one side or the other.

Image: Agnes Weinrich, Still Life, c. 1926, Oil on canvas, 18″ x 22″, PAAM Collection, Gift of Warren Cresswell, 1978