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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec
Provincetown History: Provincetown Art Association and Museum

The Provincetown Art Association was established on August 22, 1914 by a group of artists and townspeople; to this day, the officers and members are a mix of artists and supporters of the arts. The original membership numbered 147; by 1917 it had grown to 288. The first president, who held office for 22 years, was a local bank president; the five honorary vice presidents were artists. Their early stated goals were to build a permanent collection of paintings by local artists and to hold exhibitions to draw artists and people interested in the arts closer together.

Meetings were held featuring lectures and slides from the American Federation of Art shown on the Association's stereopticon lantern. The first session "British Paintings" was attended by 125 people. On July 3, 1915, the Association opened its first exhibition in Town Hall with 44 artists participating.

The Association needed a home and the present property was purchased in 1918 for $5,000. In 1921 F.A. Days and Sons remodeled the existing building to make space for the Seventh Annual Show that summer. Other gallery space was added in later decades: the Little Gallery (a portion of which is now the Library) in 1930; the Hawthorne Memorial Gallery in 1942; the Carl Murchison Gallery in 1960; the Moffett Gallery and the Herman and Mary Robinson Museum School in the '70s.

In the '20s and '30s the philosophical wars being waged throughout the art world were also fought within the Association. The artist-founders of the Museum came out of the Impressionist tradition and, although a variety of styles had been represented in their members' exhibitions since the beginning, the Association's establishment did not readily incorporate the Modernist movement. Divisions within the organization led to the mounting of two separate shows. For ten years, beginning in 1927, the "modernistic" exhibition was held in July and the "regular" one in August.

The Depression years of the '30s and the war years of the early '40s were difficult times for the town and for the Association. Although annual shows were canceled and the books at one point showed a balance of $3.60, volunteers managed to maintain a reduced schedule of exhibitions. By 1947 printed catalogs were again being published.

While the post-war boom brought increased membership and sales of art to the Association, some of the major artists of that time stayed away. The rise of the Abstract Expressionists and deep divisions within the arts community again buffeted the Association. In town, galleries were opening, new schools of art emerging and avant garde art flourishing. A fine arts museum opened in 1958, created with the wealth of Walter Chrysler, Jr.

When the Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1964 with a restrospective show, it focused national attention on the Association's considerable contribution to American art and seemed to revitalize the organization. Activities were increased, new galleries added and a storage vault built to house the expanding collection. Museum status was achieved, although it had always been a collecting institution. In 1967, the 100th juried show was held, the Association had 600 members and once again it served as the center of the local art world.

Three of several major theme shows held in recent times traced the relationship of the Provincetown colony to other important art centers. "Crosscurrents" (1986) presented works from PAAM and the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, Long Island; "The League at the Cape" (1993) was an historical exhibition of artists connected with both the Art Students League in New York and PAAM; and "New York-Provincetown: A 50s Connection" (1994) showed work of Abstract Expressionists based in both places.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Charles Hawthorne's summer art school and beginning of Provincetown's art colony, PAAM presented two major shows of Hawthorne's work in 1999 as well as a series of exhibitions showing the range of artists who worked there over the past century.

Today the Provincetown Art Association and Museum maintains a busy schedule of activities year-round with a paid professional staff and cadre of volunteers. There are member shows, both juried and open, and curated exhibitions, thematic and retrospective. Readings, concerts, dance, drama and film bring other arts into the main gallery.

In 1999 the Association staff completed five years of research, publishing a 152-page complete catalog of the museum collection in time for the Centennial celebration. Begun in 1915 with the donation of five paintings, the permanent collection has grown to include more than 1,600 pieces by artists who have worked in Truro, Wellfleet and Provincetown.

The collection continues to expand with donations from artists, their families and collectors, and is exhibited on a rotating basis. The annual consignment auction of art from Provincetown's past draws buyers from across the country and makes a significant contribution to the budget, but the Association still relies on the support of its members -- both artists and patrons of the arts.


from PROVINCETOWN: THE ART COLONY A Brief History and Guide by Nyla Ahrens, published by Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 1997. Revised edition published 2000. Available in print at Provincetown Art Association and Museum Store.

© Nyla Ahrens

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Provincetown Art Association and Museum Gallery

Provincetown Art Assocation& Museum Gallery, 1930.
Unknown photographer.
PAAM archives


Provincetown Art Association & Museum exhibition in Town Hall, 1916 Photographer: Walter Stiff, PAAM Archives


Edwin Dickinson, Ross Moffett and Karl Knaths on the steps of the Art Association, 1967. Photographer: George Yater. PAAM Archives.


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