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Background photo by Tom Lyons

Elizabeth Rowley

Creative Champion

I’m from Enfield, Connecticut, but I don’t really remember anything about living there—I went to a boarding school outside of Boston. But all of my childhood memories are of Cape Cod, and I’ve spent all of my adult life here. Cape Cod really is home for me.

It was really my mother’s initial influence that brought my family here. She was an artist, a fiber artist, and she really wanted to be surrounded by the arts community. But she also loved to go clamming—she loved making homemade clam chowder. She was a brilliant cook who was really into what the Cape had to offer in a culinary sense, too.

Elizabeth Rowley

We came to Harwich every summer—as a matter of fact, my father, who’s 94, still lives there. And I worked every summer, just like any kid on Cape Cod. In Harwich, everyone worked at Thompson’s Clam Bar. I went from there to the Wychmere Harbor Club. There probably isn’t a bar or restaurant from here to Provincetown that I didn’t work at during the summertime (laughs).

I’ve always had a love for the arts, but I don’t think opening a gallery was an intentional choice. There must be a gene in there somewhere—my grandfather was a sculptor, my mother was a fiber artist. But 40 years ago, I didn’t know that this was what I’d be doing today.

•••

My father was a jeweler. The sales part of it interested me and came from my dad, the art part of it interested me and came from my mom. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think that’s how I came to this profession after bumping around, doing other things for a number of years. Later on, after I spent a number of years working in Boston and the North Shore, I got married, moved back here, and had a son.

After my son Brewster was five years old, he was off to nursery school, and I was ready to start doing something outside of the house. My father-in-law had retired from his medical practice. He offered me his sun porch, which had been the waiting room, for whatever I wanted to do. It was right on Route 28 in Harwichport. And I thought, I’d like to have an art gallery. I never even thought of doing anything else.

I went around to all of my friends from art school, all people I knew, to collect paintings, and I hung them up. Back then, I was so naïve—I just called every artist whose work I liked and I said, “I’m opening a gallery.” But it was a success, and that’s what launched the Rowley Gallery. 2012 was my gallery’s 25th year on Cape Cod.

We were on that sun porch as a seasonal gallery for five years before I got a call about 15 years ago from an artist on the north side of Route 6A in Dennis, in the complex with the Cape Playhouse and Cape Cod Museum of Art, asking if I had any interest in moving there from Harwichport. I thought, Yeah, the time has come. Then it became a year-round operation.

Doug Johnson is an old friend of mine, and he runs a gallery on the other side of Emack and Bolio’s Ice Cream in Orleans. After my lease ran out in Dennis, he asked if I would be interested in coming to Orleans and taking a space in his gallery. I thought about it, and I decided that I’d like to get further down Cape. A lot of my time is spent going back and forth to Provincetown, where a lot of the artists I represent have their studios. Orleans feels closer to the source of the work.

I always have my eyes open for new artists. Having said that, I have no desire to be a mammoth gallery with 20 or 30 artists. I’ve known the 11 artists that I exhibit for such a long time. We’re all friends, and we all work well together.

Decorating, designing, and keeping the gallery as nice as it looks is my form of creativity.

•••

Orleans has the bay as well as the ocean—Skaket Beach, which is absolutely beautiful for sunsets, on one side, and Nauset Beach on the other. If you have four-wheel drive and a permit, you can just drive on the beach, drive and drive all the way down to Chatham, all the way until you see nobody. It’s the most wonderful feeling to be out there all alone, or with your friends, in raw, raw nature.

There are so many nice galleries here. And there’s a variety of wonderful restaurants here, from the Orleans Inn to the Captain Linnell House, and you can pretty much walk between all of them. We have the Academy for Performing Arts, which has been wonderful for plays. And there’s a wonderful library here—the Snow Library is just fantastic.

The stretch between Orleans and Provincetown is truly loaded with a phenomenal amount of enormously creative people. And I don’t mean that just in terms of the artists—I mean the writers, the poets. It’s just a tremendously creative community.

When you go around the rotary, you know you’re on your way. That rotary signals a lot.

About

Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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Main Street, Orleans, Cape Cod, Mass

Main Street, Orleans, Cape Cod, Mass