Art Exhibition Focuses on the Women of the Provincetown Art Colony
by Steve Desroches
Just next door to the Berta Walker Gallery Ilene Mitnick and Alli Baldwin, owners of Roux Bed and Breakfast, were thinking of ways to expand on Bride Pride, their attempt to create the world’s largest all-women wedding ceremony and get in the Guinness Book of World’s Records (see feature on page 36 of this issue). So they approached the Gallery asking if they might consider hanging a show in conjunction with the event, encouraged by Walker’s commitment to supporting women in the arts. They received an enthusiastic yes.
As Berta Walker Gallery curator Grace Hopkins began to think about exactly what kind of show to present, she drew on her deep artistic and Provincetown roots, as the daughter of writer and art critic April Kingsley and artist Budd Hopkins, as well as a photographer herself. Honoring her mother’s work is what inspired Hopkins to stage a “Women Choose Women” show, based on an exhibition by the same name in 1973 at the New York Cultural Center where female artists chose anther female artist to show along side them, which her mother wrote about for Artforum. Sadly, Kingsley has dementia and remembers little to nothing about her life as a writer.
“I want to keep her words alive as best I can,” says Hopkins. “I thought it would be fun to have the Berta Walker women choose women who were not Berta Walker women to hang next to them.”
In this Provincetown version of that landmark show in New York, Women Choose Women features 26 contemporary artists who work in a variety of mediums, showcasing the right now of art that is being created in the Outer Cape. The show is curated by Hopkins along with fellow artist Megan Hinton. However, in showing the full breadth and achievement of women artists over the history of the art colony, the show Historic Women of Provincetown will hang simultaneously, featuring work by female artists throughout the 100-plus years of the art colony.
This companion exhibition is based on a show at the Gallery earlier this summer titled Bound East for Provincetown, which celebrated the Great Provincetown Summer of 1916, based on an essay by artist Marsden Hartley about that magical time when art, theater, writing, and radical political thought all coalesced into a period of intense creativity that changed America forever. It was the summer when the Boston Globe declared Provincetown the biggest art colony in the world, as the Provincetown Players created a uniquely American theatrical voice, communists and socialists like John Reed and Louise Bryant energized left-wing political thinking, and feminism began to form into it earliest incarnations, at least compared to modern-day thinking.
However, despite it being a period of revolutionary thought, women in the arts were often ignored in that time, or at the very least viewed as not as serious as their male colleagues. Although women were included in art exhibitions at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in 1916, at the same time women artists were only allowed to sell art on Sundays in Provincetown. And as time passed, their legacies and work were often cast aside by art historians and critics. So, as Hopkins looked through her mother’s archives and found a story she wrote for Provincetown Arts magazine in 1988 titled “Women Artists at the Frontiers of Modernism,” she knew she had found the resource she needed to expand on the early women artists in Provincetown with those women who were on the vanguard of modernist art.
In addition to early Provincetown artists like Blanche Lazzell and Agnes Weinreich, the Historic Women of Provincetown show also features modernists like Maud Ainsley, Lucy L’Engle, Marguerite Zorach, and Marian Campbell Hawthorne. The show comes up to the more contemporary work by artists to follow those women like Lena Gurr, Selina Trieff, Nancy Whorf, Nancy Craig, and Norma Holt, who is perhaps best known now for the photographic installation They Also Faced the Sea at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf.
What really struck Hopkins while curating both shows was how often women her mother wrote about appeared as the artists chosen by other artists, or as Walker and others suggested work for the companion show, mirroring her mother’s sentiments.
“Its just kind of like this weird, full-circle thing that just happened by kismet,” says Hopkins. “It was just weird. It’s going to be a beautiful show.”
Women Choose Women and Historic Women of Provincetown are on exhibition at the Berta Walker Gallery, 208 Bradford St. through Sunday, November 6 with an opening reception on Thursday, October 13, 6 – 8 p.m. For more information call 508.487.6411 or visit bertawalkergallery.com.