Close this search box.

well established and here for you

independently owned and operated since 1977

A Mermaid’s Tale : Julia Salinger at PAAM

Artist Julia Salinger in her signature attire

 by Steve Desroches

When Julia Salinger was only a few months old her parents took her on a trip to the Outer Cape. Just an infant, her parents placed her in a basket and brought her to Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, putting her down in the sand. As the tide came in the water began to lap at her impromptu beach bassinet as her parents weren’t paying attention. As the basket began to float and the salt water hit Salinger’s skin she grew a green iridescent tail, becoming one of the mermaids bobbing in the surf of the North Atlantic. When her parents plucked her from the surf, they noticed her new appendage and thought it a fitting omen for their baby daughter and her future. And that tale, and tail, brought Salinger back to the shores of the Outer Cape. And she considers that story her very first memory.

Gravity’s Rainbow (2023, detail from a larger multimedia work by Salinger not included in the current show)

“I think about memory a lot,” says Salinger. “Why do some things get remembered and others forgotten? I have a younger sister and she has no recollection of things I remember so well. Is it just nostalgia? Is some of it dreams we remember as real? Is it just what’s important to us? What we want to hang onto so we don’t lose it completely?”

Salinger smiles and gives an existential shrug. Perhaps it’s more a question to live with rather than answer. And that exploration is at the heart of The Insistence of Memory, an exhibition curated by Susie Nielsen, on display now at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM). As Salinger sits in the Patrons Jalbert Galleries looking out on Commercial Street she’s very much in the now. She gleefully grapples with the surreal feeling of an upcoming major solo show, her first since shifting from her work as an art historian to an artist in 1999.

America’s Ribcage (2021, painting on raw canvas, paint, gel, ink, 6’x45”)

Salinger is a multi-disciplinary creative force working not just in the visual arts of canvas and paper, but also writing, the creation and curation of objects as well music and cooking, all of which is conjured at Mermaids Grange, her Wellfleet studio and gallery. A bohemian cabinet of curiosities, the Grange reflects Salinger’s penchant for collecting, something she says is rooted in her parent’s divorce when she was quite young and her need to document and, of course, remember. Her mermaid memory, enshrined in the name of her gallery, is only part of fulfilling a benign siren’s call to an artist’s life on the Outer Cape. It is also an invitation. When she bought her property in Wellfleet, which includes the barn in which she creates and features her work, Salinger became attracted to the idea of a grange, which in American history was often a community center of sorts. The Mermaids Grange is of course stationary, but its spirit is not. Salinger is well known throughout the Outer Cape for her flair for fashion as well as her elaborate headdresses and other adornments she creates, making her a staple of art openings and events like Oysterfest each October.

Hide and Seek (2019, paint, print on canvas, collage elements, 9’x6′)

“My world is like one giant installation,” says Salinger. “I don’t plan what I’m going to wear. They’re not costumes, but installations. I love seeing how people react. Most people love it and want to talk to me or touch me. It seems to bring a lot of people joy. Everything is so homogenous now. Everyone is trying to look like everyone else. We live in a world where machines keep us apart. We need more creativity and connection. It’s all a reflection of who I am in this world, this crazy world.”

And that will be on display with The Insistence of Memory, which will feature objects, drawings, poetry, paintings, prints, and video installation. Salinger holds her open hands up to her cover mouth, most fingers punctuated by a vintage ring, creating a colorful mosaic. She’s excited to see these works in a spacious setting like PAAM. She can’t recall a moment when her work had so much space to occupy, giving it an intense spotlight like never before. They’ll exist on their own rather than in the space where they were created. And while she worked closely with Nielsen she also gave her carte blanche and wide open spaces to create the show Nielsen wanted. So much so that Salinger says the show will actually be a bit of a surprise to her when she sees it hung for the first time. And in conjunction with the exhibition is the publication of the book Mermaids Grange: A Curious Visual Adventure on the Scenic Route, available at PAAM’s bookshop. While not a retrospective, the show does have Salinger thinking about it as an inflection point for her work and life.

Nomadic Nature (2023, painting on cloth, paint, ink, collage elements, sumi, 5’x27”)

“I’m trying to figure out my—well, I don’t like to say what my next chapter is going to be,” says Salinger. “It’s really more about where I want my art to go.”

Julia Salinger: The Insistence of Memory is on exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), 460 Commercial St., May 10 through July 7. An opening reception will be held on Friday, May 10 starting at 6 p.m. Admission to the museum is $15, free to members and children 16 and under, and to everyone Fridays after 5 p.m. For more information call 508.487.1750 or visit

Recent Posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Scroll to Top

Sign up for our Newsletter

Graphic Artist

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

Keep in touch

Fill in your details and I will get back to you in no time.

Phone: + 1 508-487-1000 ext 6
[email protected] 14 Center St. Provincetown MA, 02657