Provincetown is a town that developed, as so many Cape Cod villages did, from an economy based in the fishing industry to a thriving tourist center. Provincetown, however, offers more than many of its neighbors, in its culture, in its daily life, and especially in the fact that it remains America’s oldest living artist’s colony.
Provincetown is located not far from Boston, a tourist attraction in and of itself. Famous mainly for its role in the history of the United States – the location of such events as Paul Revere’s famous ride and the Boston Tea Party – Boston is also a hub for several respected and well-known museums and galleries, as well as a good place to base yourself should you decide to devote a day trip or even a few days to this seaside town on Cape Cod.
Boston is home to several major museums celebrating American art including the Boston Children’s Museum, the Harvard Art Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts. Along with all of the historic museums and sites that Boston has to offer, like Old South Meeting House, Old State Meeting House and Freedom Trail, Boston has more than enough attractions for art-lovers and history buffs alike.
Serious art lovers, however, should be sure to make more time for Provincetown itself which, contrary to the somewhat sleepy quality that so many small New England towns have, is actually buzzing with activity.
Provincetown is home to at least four bike-rental locations, which make for an excellent way to get around the small town. Not only can you get a bit of exercise and see the layout of Provincetown, but you’ll also blend in with the hundreds of locals who use a bike as their primary form of transportation. Ptown Bikes offers both TREK and Gary Fisher bikes for rent, as well as a free helmet, cable lock and emergency roadside assistance. You can reserve a bike online or by telephone, recommended especially during tourist season. Other companies that offer bike rental services are Gale Force Wind Bikes, which also offers beach cruisers and fat tire sand cruisers for rent, Arnold’s Where You Rent the Bikes and Nelson’s Bike Rental.
Aside from being a beautiful New England seaside town, Provincetown has long been known within the GLBTQ community as a gay-friendly location buzzing with activity. Hand-in-hand with the development of Provincetown from typical New England fishing village to infamous art colony came Provincetown’s acceptance and then embracing of the gay culture and community, and today, gay families, couples and singles mill about Provincetown, whether as their home or a vacation haven.
With this widespread acceptance of gay culture, it’s no wonder that so many B&Bs in Provincetown are gay friendly. Christopher’s by the Bay is highly rated by many guidebooks like Fodor’s and Out and About. Located in a 19th Century Victorian house in the heart of town, Christopher’s by the Bay is a great choice for gay and straight individuals alike.
Somerset House Inn is a self-declared gay-friendly B & B with free breakfast as well as a nightly cocktail; Wednesday night is love potion night, also known as frozen margaritas. Somerset House is a great place to meet people and the perfect location for your stay while discovering Provincetown.
Gifford House is one of the original hotels in Provincetown, in a historic building with guesthouse accomodations as well as a restaurant and piano bar. Gifford House identifies as a “resort for gay and lesbian travelers,” one of the premiere New England B & Bs in the area. Dave Wallace, manager of the Gifford House, says that “the freedom to be yourself and feel accepted” is what makes Provincetown such a great location for gay visitors. “We see many people being the person they cannot be at home,” he says, “And that makes this town special for them.”
Once here, visitors — whether they be gay or straight, families or singles — can find many ways to enjoy themselves in this quaint Cape Cod town. Provincetown, like other locations on the Cape, is known for its beaches, with a different one for every brand of tourist. Herring Cove, for instance, is Provincetown’s most popular gay beach. It offers a women’s section to the left of the main parking lot. During the day, partial or full nudity are often tolerated by the National Park Service, though problems with inappropriate behavior have caused more and more tickets to be doled out over the past ten years.
Aside from this famous – and somewhat infamous – stretch of shore, you will find several other beaches: Race Point is pristine and perfect for nature-lovers, and Long Point Beach is a hidden one, only reachable by boat. Its location on the very tip of Cape Cod makes it one of the best beaches in the area.
In addition to its variety of beaches, Provincetown is also home to the highest concentration of independent bookstores on the Cape, including several stores geared towards the GLBTQ population. Now Voyager Books is one of the most well known: it sells a mix of new and used queer fiction and non-fiction. Planet Rainbow lives up to its name, with queer books as well as jewelry and music. Tim’s Used Books is the perfect store not only for its location on a quaint cobbled street, but also for its low prices and homey environment that encourages shoppers to pull up a chair and stay for awhile.
However, while beaches and bookstores abound, Provincetown is known, perhaps best of all, for its art scene. Home to the oldest art colony in America, it seems appropriate — poignant, even — to know how much time and effort goes into making and displaying art that is not only made in this small, New England town, but also devoted to it. What is intriguing is just how many artists over several generations have devoted their work to capturing this town that unites them, and, in turn, how many galleries celebrate just this aspect of artists’ work.
Featured at the Henry Philips Gallery, for example, are the works of Sol Wilson, who captured daily life scenes in Provincetown by means of his nearly Impressionist style throughout the 20th century. Works like Low Tide, East End Provincetown create a feeling based on conservative use of color, while On the Wharf takes an opposite approach, suggesting activity, not through form, but through bright and vivid reds and blues. Wilson spent summers from 1947 onwards in Provincetown, and it was here that he developed his self-defined “expressionist realist” painting style, drawing inspiration from his surroundings.
Today’s artists like Steven Katz and Tracey Anderson continue in this tradition. Steven Katz uses the medium of photography to capture the town that became his muse, selling his works through his own gallery. His profound use of color is used to portray meaning; be it through photographs of rainbow-colored chairs, a burnished pink and red Provincetown sunset over the sea, or local hangouts like the Lobster Pot, Katz uses his camera to capture the mood and feeling that others come back year after year for. Anderson, on the other hand, allowed Provincetown itself to restore the will she had lost when the desire to paint had seemed to abandon the artist. She had come to the Provincetown art colony to create, and create she did, when she traded paint and brush for pencil and eraser. Today, she is the Artist-in-Residence at Gallery Ehva, where basic shapes make up the works that her time in Provincetown has inspired her to produce. While her peers and forebears often concentrated on the town itself as both muse and subject, Anderson has taken a different approach to the environment that has fostered so many artists.
It is this environment, after all, that makes Provincetown such a wonderful place for the creation of art. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) has taken this one step further in creating art-based youth programs to encourage and educate the children and adolescents of Provincetown to create and flourish in this unique atmosphere.
Tracey Anderson herself has become involved in the program as an Art Reach Teacher. “Young people understand that this is the place to be,” she says. “They take ownership of the museum and the museum school and see it as a place to create in, to meet and make friends.”
Amanda Carreiro, one of the Provincetown youth who had the opportunity to take advantage of the program, said that the experience helped her understand “how people my age become artists, and their journey through their own art.”
Not only does the museum give students and youth in Provincetown an occupation, but it also rejuvenates the artistic community of the town. The youth programs “employ local artists and provide these practicing professionals a forum to impart their joy in the creative process and share their expertise,” says Lynn Stanley, Curator of Education. “Exhibiting and supporting youth helps PAAM — which will celebrate its 100 birthday in a few years — stay fresh.”
It’s not only the museum that benefits from these programs, but the entire artistic community and, through this, the Provincetown community in general. “If there’s one thing an art colony needs, it is constant refueling to stay vibrant and relevant,” says Tracey Anderson. “Working with and welcoming young artists to PAAM does just that.” This, in turn, helps the Provincetown community, once based upon the humble profession of fishing, to continue to thrive and grow.
– by, Emily Monaco
Written for Texas Travel and Leisure
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