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Watercolors from the Permanent Collection

An untitled watercolor on paper by John Grillo from 1948

Review by Rebecca M. Alvin

What’s interesting about this new exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) is the diversity and range of approaches to watercolors. Watercolor can be illustrative, abstract, near cartoonish, finely detailed, or loose and watery as in Dorothy Loeb’s Fantasy Landscape. Their only common denominator is the actual paint, but the results can be starkly different from our expectations, such as Peter Busa’s cubist-like piece Sport. The rich, deep tones of John Grillo’s untitled piece seen above (echoed also in Lester Johnson’s work), the sparse painting with loads of white space in Helen Frankenthaler’s Provincetown Series II and —to a lesser degree and in the wildly different style—Edwin Dickinsons’s Coffee Pot with Fruit, made close to 40 years earlier in a very different approach, or the lyrical Karl Knaths paintings that seem to dance in their watercolor fluidity; they’re all watercolors.

In addition to the artists mentioned, there are also works by Oliver Chaffee, Hans Hofmann, Edgar Corbridge, John Dos Passos, Charles Hawthorne, Gerrit Hondius, Josephine Hopper, Blanche Lazzell, the under-appreciated John Whorf, and on the cover of this magazine, Helen Walcott’s Schooner at Wharf, among many others. All told, the show features the work of over 30 artists, each putting their own stamp on the medium. And this is only a small selection of artists connected to Provincetown. The world of watercolor is vast.

So, why curate art by its medium if there is nothing else in common? For that exact reason: because they are distinct pieces that demonstrate the fact that an artist is not the tools they use—an artist sees and then expresses in any medium. It’s why the writer and the dancer and the painter and the filmmaker are all collectively joined under the title “artists” no matter what we call them. What they make is art: reflecting as well as penetrating the world they witness, the world we share. It is reflective as well as expressive. It produces an additional dimension through which we can see the unseen, hear the unspoken, viscerally feel that which we either have or have not experienced directly.

The artist begins the conversation. And in the best case scenario, we continue it, as curator Christine McCarthy has invited us to do in this exhibition. And in very special cases, we are inspired to take something from that dimension and bring it into our own realities, as full of meaning and power as our own dreams.

Watercolors from the Permanent Collection is on view at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown, now through November 12. For more information, call 508.487.1750 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

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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