LETTER FROM PROVINCETOWN:
High, Low, Off… The Season Turns
It’s a beautiful Thursday morning in late October. I’m standing outside the Art Association and Museum, closed during the week now, so I ring the bell and wait. I’ve come to take another look at an extraordinary collection of the paintings of Mary Hackett, worldly wise, wry, and yet, so poignant in their domestic truth, her world. She painted on Nickerson Street for more than fifty years. In a WOMR interview with Jay Critchley in 1983, she talked about having to escape from Provincetown in the summer, sometimes driving to New Bedford or Boston in the middle of the night. She said that the minute she got away, the weight of the world would fall from her shoulders.
Artists who live here year-round can relate to Mary’s feeling. Mostly, we’re those who find existence tolerable almost nowhere else in the world. The thousands come in the summer, filling the streets and bringing the jangling world with them. Now we’ve come to the low season; there are still things happening, weekends mostly, but the community begins to turn inward and tend itself. There’s still work, but less of it. In the silence, nature fills the void. We read; we cook; we walk. We gather in kitchens. We feed the work to come. Today, winter on my mind, I’m drawn to Kitchen, c. 1948. The bare tree beyond the window and the snow on the neighbor’s roof amplify the protected, comfortably messy, interior life of winter we love most.
At the museum, I find Jim Zimmerman hanging an amazing group of drawings by Blanche Lazzell. Then fifty-nine and already highly accomplished, she made these drawings while studying with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and New York in 1937-38. It is fascinating to see the instructional markings, arrows, numbers, insets Hofmann made on these working studies to give his student strategies for animating the planes within the picture. This exhibition will hang through January 7, and I plan to return often between now and then. I feel lucky to live in Provincetown and to have access to such work, work created in the fulcrum of modern art.
Leaving the museum, I run into Dan Cleary, clothing designer by day, playwright by, well, by early morning, actually, and by winter. Dan runs a studio/ shop on Shank Painter Road where he crafts his simply structured men’s clothing in gorgeous fabrics. He writes every day, summer and winter. The hardest part, he says, is when he has to leave the writing in the morning and go to work. He’ll close the shop in February and March and give himself two months to immerse himself in writing his screenplay. In the meantime, he works with the New Provincetown Players playwrights’ lab which meets every Sunday afternoon at the Provincetown Theater where the plays are read and acted in the close community of a theater scene that is much more serious in the wintertime. As hard and as creatively as he works in summer, Dan’s writing is his major commitment, and “only in Provincetown can I have that choice of both going out into the world and retreating.” Other off-season activities at the Theater include the greatly anticipated fall and spring Playwrights’ Festivals which bring writers, actors, and directors from around the country to develop and present their work.
I round the corner past Napi’s Restaurant (open all winter) and encounter my good friend Polly Burnell, painter and ceramist, whose work can be seen at Berta Walker Gallery. Her work (“pays unemployment, thank god”) at a local hotel ends soon and come winter, she will be walking the woods and dunes and beaches, reflecting, examining, considering. “I go crazy when I’m not making art,” she says. “The winter gives me the undistracted time to reflect. It feeds me. The landscape changes. The animals change. I miss that in the summer. I’ve got to get some work done this winter.”
We’re saying a lot of goodbyes these days, to friends returning to New York and Boston, or Buenos Aires, or going to South Beach for the winter. We’ll welcome their return next summer. In the meantime, back to work.