Into the Great Wide Open
The Eastham Painters Guild heads outdoors to capture nature on the canvas
Of all the members of the Eastham Painters Guild, Robin Wessman might look the most like “a painter”—or at least a bohemian version thereof. He wears old jeans and a paint-flecked fleece; he even has some paint specks on his neck. A resident of Eastham, Wessman, 62, enjoys working with oil and the process involved in his craft. “Painting takes you to a different place,” he says. “[Once you get] bit by the bug, it stays with you.”
Since 1980, the Eastham Painters Guild has served as a gathering point for locals with the shared passion of painting. The guild consists of 15 permanent members, most of whom live in Eastham. An active group, the guild meets for en plein air sessions once or twice a week at Fort Hill, First Encounter Beach, and other scenic spots around Eastham as well as at locations in Orleans and Wellfleet.
On a warm Wednesday morning in June, Cape Cod LIFE dropped in on the guild’s painting session at Nauset Light. The dozen or so artists spread out around a grassy field that looked more August-burnt than June-green, easels sprouting like the dandelions they shared the field with. To capture the best light, the painters began their day early, before 8 a.m.
Willow Shire, 67, is the guild’s president. During the two-hours-plus session, she divides her time between the following activities: guiding, encouraging, painting, laughing, telling stories, introducing people, and smiling. Humble and self-effacing, she offers warm encouragement to her fellow painters.
A member of the guild since 2000, Shire says she began painting about 15 years ago when she came to the realization that life is finite. She felt she was not being mindful enough and maybe letting important things slip by. “There are only so many lilac seasons [still to come],” she says. Art, she adds, is a way to connect to, hold on to, or capture that slipping-away feeling. “I look at everything differently now—more intensely,” says Shire. “It’s about being aware, paying attention to the natural world.”
On the day of our visit most of the painters set up facing the lighthouse’s red and white tower, but not June Havens. While most of the group is scattered around the lighthouse at various angles and depths, Havens, a botanical artist, is off in her own corner of the Nauset Beach parking lot, painting pink beach plum flowers on green vines. The flowers she paints are beautiful—fully realized and loaded with rich detail. She attempts to capture their essence in her work.
Havens, 78, is a gardener turned painter. When her knees were no longer game for all the bending demanded by gardening, she picked up a paintbrush. She has always been artistic, though. Even before she started painting, she recalls filling any available scrap of paper in her house—from napkins to old newspapers—with sketches and drawings.