The Legacy of Charles W. Hawthorne

Originally Published in Provincetown Magazine, Sept 23, 1999

Berta Walker Exhibit Pays Tribute to the
Founder of
Provincetown's Art Colony


In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Provincetown as an art colony, the Berta Walker Gallery has mounted an extensive exhibition of Charles Hawthorne and the legacy of his work and teaching through three generations of artists who have studied, lived and worked in Provincetown. Continuing through September 20, the exhibition traces that legacy through four of his students Edwin Dickinson, Henry Hensche, Ross Moffett, and John Whorf, and, in turn, their students Salvatore Del Deo, Phil Malicoat and Nancy Craig, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Ed Giobbi, Franz Kline, Jack Tworkov, Carol Westcott and Nancy Whorf. According to Walker, most of the current celebratory exhibitions in town feature younger impressionistic painters as the direct descendants of the teachings of Hawthorne.  In this exhibition, Walker has focused on artists who have descended from the Hawthorne and Hensche schools, yet who are not classically impressionistic painters.


When Charles Hawthorne (1872 - 1930) opened his Cape Cod School of Art in the summer of 1899, summer art schools had already achieved great popularity. Hawthorne himself had studied at the Shinnecock Summer School on Long Island with renowned New York artist William Merritt Chase, a disciple of Claude Monet.  He had served as Chase's assistant during the summer of 1897. When in 1898 Chase abruptly closed his school, Hawthorne came to Provincetown.  Here he found the spectacular contrasts of sand, sea and sky, and the clarity of atmosphere, unique quality of light, perfect for painting. .  He was at home on the New England coast, for he had grown up the son of a sea captain in the seaport town of Richmond, Maine.  Already the town was attracting increasing numbers of vacationers as a result of the railway, and the affordable accommodations, the "quaint fishing village with it's stately Captain's homes and magnificent harbor filled with schooners, and its friendly and outgoing Portuguese population, all provided an ample supply of subjects for the artists' canvases," according to historian Dan Towler.


Hawthorne was a charismatic teacher.  He "loved people" and "convivial occasions were numerous in the household."  The Cape Cod School of Art flourished.   He attracted students from all over the country, with as many as 90 enrolled in a session. He advocated painting outdoors as the French Impressionists had done, the movement initiated by Monet, driven out of doors by the limitations of the gloomy gaslit studio.  Nature was Hawthorne's classroom.  He wanted his students to experience the color changes -- depending on light, time of day and weather conditions.  He often held classes on the wharf or beside the bay, posing his subjects against the bright sun and brilliant water.  Students were urged not to finish, but to do as many studies as possible.  Some of these paintings set against the blazing sun are called "mudheads," for in the shadow, the features are indistinct, muddied, but powerfully suggested.


He emphasized color over drawing.  He was an exceptional demonstrator and captivated his students as he painted before them, demonstrating his basic principle...."the mechanics of putting one spot of color next to another -- the fundamental thing."  One famous student, Edwin Dickinson, said, "Our belief that we were learning important things created an atmosphere of security and hope." 


The many facets of Hawthorne’s artistic identity have defied any easy critical consensus.

In his own work, Hawthorne was primarily a figurative painter.  His work in oils is in a darker impressionist style and palette than he taught his students.  


This exhibition starts with Hawthorne's late watercolors, painted very loosely and with a bent towards the abstract, proceeds to some of his more famous students -- Dickinson, Moffett, Whorf, and Hensche, and takes a surprising turn when viewing the next generation of students.  These include leaders of different important abstract movements -- Richard Anuszkiewicz (leading living Op Artist), Jack Tworkov (Intellectual Abstraction), Franz Kline (Abstract Expressionist) -- and brings us through to present-day artists living and working in Provincetown. 



Among Hawthorne's most influential students was Edwin Dickinson (1891 - 1978).

Dickinson became one of the finest painters associated with the early art colony in Provincetown. He first came to Provincetown at age 20 in 1911 to study with Hawthorne.   He shared with the generation of abstract painters a commitment to emphasizing the process of painting, the gesture. How to paint, not what to paint, was paramount. Yet Dickinson was never carried away by the shifting currents around him; rather, his work remained intensely his own. Like his teacher Hawthorne, he often painted out of doors. In 1950, the height of abstract painting in New York, Dickinson was 59.  Art critic John Ashbury compares Dickinson, the only figurative painter allowed to be associated with the abstract expressionists, to these younger contemporaries:


[Dickinson's] smeared and throttled pigment coexists with passages of a virtuoso realism, as in some of De Kooning's early figure paintings.  But it is even more a question of mood, I think.  There is an otherworldliness in Dickinson that also appears in Rothko and Pollock, even though the physical resemblances are slight and fortuitous.


Dickinson was an active and admired and influential teacher throughout his career, both at The Art Students League, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, and the Art School of the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and here in Provincetown.  He shared the building at 45 Pearl Street with Henry Hensche, each painter taking half as his studio.


A third generation of Hawthorne's influence as presented in this extraordinary exhibition is realized in Dickinson's students Salvatore Del Deo, Phillip Malicoat, and Nancy Craig.


Salvatore Del Deo was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1928.  He attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. Del Deo came to Provincetown to study with Hensche at the Cape School of Art and later studied with Edwin Dickinson at the Art Students League in New York.  He settled permanently in Provincetown in 1954 upon his marriage to Josephine Couch.  Del Deo speaks of his development under the guidance of the leading students of Hawthorne:  "I had a chance to study with painters who stressed the basics: form, color, composition and content.  I'm from the school of Velasquez, Rembrandt and Goya.  I think about the way light hits a form and then I take it from there."  He remains one of the art colony's most respected and sought after teachers of painting and drawing.


Philip Malicoat  (1909 - 1981) spent his childhood in Bedford, Indiana and Oklahoma and after high school, studied at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis.  Charles Hawthorne put on a demonstration at Herron, and Malicoat was so taken with it he set out east to further his studies.  He worked with Hawthorne and Dickinson in New York.  He first came to the Cape to study with Hawthorne during the summer of 1929, and by 1931, he had settled in Provincetown. With him came his two friends George Yater and Bruce McKain, and the three of them studied with Henry Hensche, as Hawthorne had died the year before, living in studios that Hensche let to students. Malicoat's work has been described as both "realistic" and "abstract". He painted landscapes and seascapes in oil and, when traveling, in watercolor. His work reveals the influence of Dickinson in its abundant brushwork and gray pallet, his acute attention to atmosphere.


For Nancy Craig, like her fellow expressionists, painting is an active, physically exciting activity.  The paint is loosely applied wet on wet. The figures emerge from fantastic, dream-like backgrounds to dominate the foreground with vigorous action.  Even when the sea is calm, the boat steady, the fishermen seem invigorated with intent.


Craig could always draw, from earliest childhood, but she learned painting technique from Edwin Dickinson and Hans Hoffman and Frederic Taubes.  She studied at the Art Students' League in New York and the Académie Julien in Paris.  She has lived and worked in Truro for 30 years, going out into the world, as necessary, to complete portrait commissions.  She is, in fact, an internationally renowned portraitist and has painted royalty and celebrity clients around the world. When she is home, every afternoon she rides her bike the 2 miles to the same studio she has had for 30 years and paints until the light fades. Even in winter, when there is snow on the ground and it is so cold she has to warm the paint on the little gas heater before she can begin, she paints. 





A longtime student of Hawthorne, Henry Hensche (1901 - 1992) also became an extraordinary teacher himself, and has had a powerful influence on the continuing legacy of the art colony.  Hensche was born in Chicago, the son of a banker, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Beaux Arts Institute of Design and National Academy of Design in New York. Hensche was perceived as a very gifted young painter, attracting the attention of older painters and winning many prizes as a young man.  He came to Provincetown in 1919 to study with Hawthorne and became his assistant for three years.  He was highly praised by Hawthorne.  In the early years, he shared a studio with Edwin Dickinson at the old Days Lumber Yard, now the Fine Arts Work Center.  It was here in Provincetown that he met his wife, painter Ada Raynor.


Hawthorne's school closed on his death in 1930.  Several years later, Henry Hensche opened his own school, which he called the Cape School of Art (according to Walker, the Hawthorne family was not willing to have Hawthorne's name or school affiliated with Hensche's or any other artist's school.) From that time, Hensche proceeded with unparalleled verve and vigor in his dedication to teaching the techniques of seeing color and light -- at first as originally postulated by Hawthorne, but over time, moving further toward a more Monet-like approach.  A deeply committed impressionist, Hensche had little appreciation for the growing influence of modernism in American painting.  According to painter Salvatore Del Deo who studied with both Dickinson and Hensche, Hensche "felt that Monet had brought Western painting to its highest point." Yet, through his students Richard Anuszkiewicz, Edward Giobbi and Franz Kline, Hensche has had a surprising influence on the development of modern American art. 


Art historian Sandra Langor referred to the work of Hensche student Richard Anuszkiewiczr as 'Cosmic Genesis.'  In painting, she says, “he is a bridgehead who lays before us essential realities that we overlook in the press of ordinary life." Anuszkiewicz studied with Josef Albers at Yale from 1953 - 1955.  His paintings could be called reveries on color relationships that seem both unexpected and inevitable.  To the logistics of color interaction, he added line and field to create space through color.  This work was diametrically opposed to the action painting that dominated the art scene during the fifties.  During the next decade, painters turned to "cool" strategies as an antidote to the heated abstract expressionism.  Anuszkiewicz was conceded to be the country's leading exponent of Optical art and was included in the 1965 "The Responsive Eye" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.  Unlike Albers's "handmade" paintings with obvious brushmarks, Anuskiewicz's surfaces have an industrial precision.  "For sheer color excitement," says Charles Le Clair, painter and art theorist, Anuskiewicz's Temple paintings, are most impressive. "They are among the most brilliant examples of color vibration you will ever see." Walker, who first exhibited Anuszkiewicz in 1984 at the Graham Modern in New York, said, "his paintings radiate with the light of spiritual omnipresence." 


Ed Giobbi has produced a commanding body of work. In the mid-forties, Giobbi he studied five years with Hensche in Provincetown.  His work has striking historical precedents.  In his statement in the catalog for his 1994 retrospective exhibition, Giobbi says, "I have always felt that I have one foot in America and one foot in Italy.  One might expect a schizophrenic result, but I have found both cultures nurturing."  Indeed, in all of Giobbi's work -- painting, sculpture, drawing, collage -- one is keenly aware of the dual embrace of the rich heritage of Italian art and architecture and the "glittering hard-edge technique" and inventiveness of modern American art.  The formal problems Giobbi sets for himself and the extraordinary and rigorous intelligence with which he approaches these experiments can be a serious challenge to the viewer -- deep perspective, mathematical proportional arrangement, the complex multiplication of color, and not least, dramatic narrative content, often autobiographical and private.


Franz Kline (1910 - 1962) was among the heroes of the pioneering first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters.  According to art critic April Kingsley in Provincetown Arts, 1985, "he was firmly embedded in just about everybody's concept of the excitement of Provincetown as an art colony in the fifties." Henry Hensche was Kline's first painting teacher, in 1931 or 1932. In fact, Kline was instrumental in bringing Hensche to teach at the Boston Art Students League in 1932 where he continued to study with him.  In 1960, Kline purchased a house on Cottage Street, regularly coming and going between Provincetown and New York.  In those days, according to Kingsley, he was wrestling with color "and it was a desperate struggle."  Kline is most know for his black and white works, painted with huge, energetic brushstrokes, treating both black and white areas of his painting with equal force.  Until the late 40's, Kline painted figures and urban scenes in a relatively conventional, realist style.  He began to experiment with abstraction around 1946.  A turning point came in 1949 when he viewed his black and white sketches enlarged with the aid of a projector, and he realized the expressive power of his graphic style in large scale.




Ross Moffett (1888 - 1971) born on an Iowa farm, began to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1908 and soon came east to Provincetown to study with Hawthorne.  The influence of Hawthorne's basic principle, the direct color statement to delineate form, can be observed in Moffett's early paintings.  Moffett rented a studio next to Edwin Dickinson at Day's Lumber Yard and the two painters often shared models.  In time, Moffett began to paint less from the model and more from his intuitive response to life in Provincetown as he observed it on his daily walks. He conceived the figure and landscape as inseparable. Moffett painted with an intense personal focus, composing canvases, which inevitably reflected the character of his native American West, and the life of the common farmer, transposed to the life of the Provincetown fisherman.  Noted biographer of Ross Moffett, Josephine Couch Del Deo, notes that Moffett's "figures exist as monumental forms posed timelessly in attitudes of human endeavor.  They do not illustrate the spiritual life of the painter; they are the spiritual embodiment of man. He painted a world of bleak strength, fateful mood and stark poetry."


Moffett's student Jack Tworkov (1900 - 1982) spent as much as six months a year in Provincetown.  Like so many others, he found inspiration in the light, colors and textures of the ocean and dunes, although he is not considered a nature painter.  Yet Tworkov himself said that in front of nature, one is either an abstractionist or a Corot.  ArtNews in 1949 reported that "his triumph seems to be that in choosing abstraction, he has not betrayed nature."  Widely read in philosophy, theology and poetry, Tworkov's search for order and his fascination with chess, geometry and the golden section led him to his grid works in the late 50's and his subsequent abandonment of Abstract Expressionism.   Quoted by Stanley Kunitz in Provincetown Arts, 1985, Tworkov explained that his painting "had reached a stage where its forms had become predictable and automatically repetitive.  Besides, the exuberance that was a condition of the birth of this painting could not be maintained without pretense forever."  Tworkov was known to be highly ordered and perfectionistic in his life and work and kept disciplined hours in his studio.  Robert Motherwell remembered this trait as keeping "the highest standards that you can imagine for himself."  Tworkov was born in Biala, Poland in 1900 and came to this country at the age of thirteen. Tworkov's formal art studies took place at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design.  He taught at Black Mountain College and later, until 1969, at the Yale School of Art and Architecture.  He was actively involved in starting the Fine Arts Work Center.




John Whorf (1903 - 1959) is the youngest of Hawthorne's students represented in the exhibit.  His roots were deeply embedded in the Cape soil.  His English ancestors first arrived on the Cape in 1650.  They were fishing captains and coastal traders.  Whorf's grandfather, Isaiah Whorf was a shipbuilder and prominent figure in the boom days of Provincetown fishing. Part of Whorf's childhood was spent exploring the dunes and narrow streets of Provincetown.  He decided to be an artist at a very young age, and at 14, enrolled at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School.  It turned out that Whorf's "independent-minded outlook" was not well suited to the expectation of the school and shortly, he left school and came to Provincetown to study and live.  It was 1917 and the town was filled with bohemian artists who had abandoned Paris in the face of WWI and brought with them their experiences in exotic places and their incredibly varied artistic techniques. Whorf studied with Hawthorne.  In time, he traveled to the exotic places of the world he had heard about. During this period of travel that Whorf began to devote himself to watercolor as his medium of choice.  Whorf responded well to the spontaneous quality of watercolor.  He had his first one-man show in 1924 at 21 at Grace Horne Gallery in Boston.  It was an astounding success.   John Singer Sargent purchased his work.  Whorf went on to study with Sargent in 1925 and 1926.  John Whorf became a great favorite of the critics and the public. His annual exhibitions were eagerly anticipated, as those of his daughter Nancy Whorf are today.


Whorf taught his daughters, Nancy and Carol who continue to live and work in Provincetown.  Painter Nancy Whorf is known for her vibrant, expansive Provincetown scenes. Her many views of the town, the narrow sunsets, streets, the harbor and boats, snowy walks, hidden gardens, sunsets and storms are a testament to her love of this storied seaside town where she grew up.


As a small child, Whorf painted at home with her father. At 14, she began her formal art study as an apprentice folk artist decorating furniture for Peter Hunt.  She spent a year at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Museum School, where she studied with Karl Zerbe.  The influence of Charles Hawthorne passed through her studies with both Vollian Rann and her father.  Whorf continues to develop her expressive emotional content and the narrative element through both subject and technique. Over time, Whorf has refined her knife stroke to the merest twist of line, the touch of color, to express the mood, to suggest the whole world of Provincetown.


Carol Whorf Wescott also began her studies with her internationally known father, who always painted at home. When he was finished for the day, Wescott relates, he would ask if she wanted to come and paint.  Her formal education includes attendance at the Cape Cod School of Painting and the Rhode Island School of Design.  As a teen, she, too, painted furniture with Peter Hunt. For a number of years after she married, Carol traveled around the country with her husband during his career in the Marine Corps, rearing six children.  While they were stationed in Washington, DC, she resumed painting at the Corcoran School of Art, and during the summer she studied with Henry Hensche in Provincetown.  With her move back to Provincetown, Westcott began to paint full-time.  Bathed in soft light, Wescott's paintings reveal an acute sensitivity to color and form.  Her subjects often reflect a past time of greater simplicity.


Even though these artists represent, for the most part, a departure from the impressionist school with which Hawthorne, and particularly Hensche, are associated, one must be wary of the notion that art movements become extinct as new ideas take center stage.  Rather, what comes before informs the next development; there are many incarnations spreading out in different directions and often a second or third life in a revisionist movement or revival. The capacity of the Provincetown community to open to and absorb and encourage multiple developments and directions has been the crucial factor in her continuing vitality over a century of art. This exhibition pays due tribute to that extraordinary community.

©2007 Rena Lindstrom All Rights Reserved