A Look at Wellfleet Printmakers
by Rebecca M. Alvin
“We need to have a Wellfleet museum like PAAM… the Wellfleet Print Museum,” enthuses Arthur N. Gilbert, co-curator with Tom Broker of the new exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), Down the Road: Wellfleet Printmakers from the 20th Century. Gilbert is quite serious in his vision of a kind of sister museum to PAAM in Provincetown’s neighbor to the south, another art town, albeit with a much lower profile.
“Of course there’s Provincetown,” Gilbert says, but “there’s always been a strong New York – Wellfleet connection, too, with artists spending summers there and working there.”
While the show features printmakers specifically, there is a wide range of styles. The work comes from the curators’ private collections and include works by artists as diverse as Claire Leighton, George Grosz, Peggy Bacon, and Stow Wengenroth, among others.
Gilbert, a professor of international relations at the University of Denver, has been collecting art for more than 40 years. Although both he and Broker spend summers in Wellfleet, they only met recently and found that they shared a love for Wellfleet printmakers. In this show there are a number of works by acclaimed printmaker Claire Leighton, a British-American artist whose woodcuts are known around the world for their bold impressions. In this show, we see some subjects that will be familiar to any Cape Cod art enthusiast, such as in her Clam Diggers. Her piece Oyster Houses, Cape Cod gives a wonderful sense of the motion of the sea and that ragtag quality to wharf buildings that look as though they may just collapse into the sea at any moment.
Another included printmaker, Peggy Bacon, was more of a caricaturist, with a somewhat humorous approach to her lines, offering prints that are lighter, but no less astute in their reflections of the town.
George Grosz, a German artist who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s, also worked with caricature, often satirizing notable politicians in Germany as part of the Dada movement, before becoming a key member of the New Objectivity movement. His Wellfleet work, at least those prints that will be seen in this exhibition, are not as political. Rather, they offer unique views of our landscape on the Outer Cape.
Gilbert says it’s a shame these works are not on permanent view in Wellfleet, where they were created. His love of art keeps his apartment crammed full of work, but he lives in Colorado, and the interest in this work is particularly keen right here on the Outer Cape. “It really should be in Wellfleet,” he says. “We just need to find some people with some money to fund a museum.” Perhaps the show at PAAM will awaken the philanthropic urge in someone. In the mean time, this looks to be an incredible show of rarely seen prints.
Down the Road: Wellfleet Printmakers from the 20th Century runs through May 21 at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown. For more information call 508.487.1750 or visit paam.org.