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From the Forest to the Sea

by Steve Desroches

Jim Peters just got out of the woods. He’s been spending the past couple of days searching the forests of Western Massachusetts, not far from his home in North Adams, looking for the perfect natural materials for an arbor he is building for his daughter’s upcoming wedding, to be held at low tide on the flats in Wellfleet. He’s ended up in Pittsfield and found a parking lot where his phone gets reception. He laughs. Now, if he could only figure out how to shut off the van he’s rented. Like everything else these days, it’s a computer and how to turn it off is not readily apparent. They call it progress.

The Artist (2017, mixed media, 12x17x12”), courtesy of Berta Walker Gallery.

While he’s clear on the other side of the state, a stone’s throw from the border with New York, Peters very quickly slips back into Cape Cod mode, a place where his career as an artist took off. As a boy he’d lived a short time in West Yarmouth, and visited Provincetown now and then. But he came back as an adult and saw a poster about the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC). While he was in the Navy serving on the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, he began to paint to pass the time. And while he attended the United States Naval Academy, followed by a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from MIT, when he left the service he used the GI Bill to earn an MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute, College of Art. But it was Provincetown that changed his life as an artist for good, and for the better.

When he visited Provincetown in 1981 and saw that FAWC advertisement, he applied for a fellowship on a lark, and received one of the coveted slots. It was the very first time he could work solely on his art without having to have another job or two. That kind of time proved invaluable. So began a relationship with the Outer Cape, a place he lived and worked in for many years. Now he lives with his wife in a big Victorian house with a 30×40-foot barn “in the sticks” in a part of the state affordable to artists. But his heart is still in Provincetown.

The Woman, the Beach and the Library (2016, wax, wire, oil, wood, gouache, 38x16x 12”), courtesy of Berta Walker Gallery.

“It’s still a great place for artists,” says Peters. “People will see your work from all over the world as people come from all over the world. There is a squeeze on artists, especially finding studio space. That’s where institutions like the Fine Arts Work Center are so helpful. It’s still the best place in the world, though. I’m around mountains now and they’re okay, but I miss the ocean. I’ll always be an ocean person. I’m a Cape Cod person.”

Peters, and his work, return to the Cape this weekend in an exhibition at the Berta Walker Gallery, an esteemed artistic institution in Provincetown with which he has shown throughout his career, but not in quite some time. And while celebrated as a painter, he will be showing his constructions, mixed media pieces in part inspired by Russian constructivist theater design and performances of the early 20th century. At the time before the Russian Revolution and World War I, theater design in the Russian Empire and Eastern Europe was radical in its thought and execution, providing a major moment in art history, says Peters.

A trip in his mind to the final days of Tsarist Russia doesn’t last too long as he reflects back on wintertime in Provincetown, his favorite for its stark contrasts. He’s never been a colorist, so the grays and bleached tones of winter light on the Cape tip suited him just fine. Plus, it’s here that Peters experienced a bit of the kind of synchronicity that some call Provincetown magic. One of his paintings was featured in a FAWC brochure, which was then seen by a gallery owner in New York, which led to him being included in a show at the Marisa Del Re Gallery on East 57th Street. He had jammed so much work into his Volkswagen that he asked friend and fellow artist Jon Friedman if he could store the paintings in his studio in the city rather than bring them all back to Provincetown. When curators from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum came to see Friedman’s work, it was Peters’ paintings that caught their eye, and he ended up in the 1985 exhibition, New Horizons in American Art. Peters lets out a laugh and sigh all these years later. Call it luck, call it kismet, call it divine intervention; whatever it was, he’s still grateful.

Closehauled (2018, oil on canvas, wood, lead, wire, 24x32x4”), courtesy of Berta Walker Gallery.

It’s fitting that his very first show featuring his constructions is both coming to Provincetown and to the Berta Walker Gallery, since both gave him a boost early in his artistic life. He’s been making constructions for years, but rarely, if ever, showed them, having his much celebrated paintings take to the walls of galleries instead. Even as one of the founding members of the former artStrand, an artist cooperative gallery here in town, he still stuck to showing his paintings. So as he ventures into new territory, at least with this first public showing of this medium, he knows Provincetown is exactly the place for not only him to do so, but for any other artist who can see what the town has to offer.

“I know it’s much harder today for artists in Provincetown, but it’s harder most everywhere,” says Peters. “But if you’re willing to tough it out, you can figure it out there. It’s worth it. It’s a great place to create your work and have it seen. You just have to do the work and have it be seen. You have to communicate, and Provincetown is a great place to do that.”

Jim Peters’ constructions will be on exhibition at the Berta Walker Gallery, 208 Bradford St., August 31 through September 23. There is an opening reception on Friday, August 31, 6 – 8 p.m. For more information, call 508.487.6411 or visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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