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70 years of art and community

Plein air painting

Plein air painting on Mayflower Beach in Dennis is one of the offerings of the Cape Cod Art Center.

Cape Cod Art Association celebrates its past and looks forward to its future as the Cape Cod Art Center

In the spring of 1948, the Barnstable Comedy Club was staging “Apron Strings,” Puritan Clothing was advertising men’s work shirts for $1.69, and the Cape Cod Art Association held its first organizational meeting.

Today, “Apron Strings” has been forgotten and $1.69 shirts are unheard of, but the art organization that began with six members seven decades ago is a thriving year-round operation that nurtures artists and makes art accessible to the community at large.

As part of its 70th anniversary celebration, the Barnstable nonprofit has undergone a name change and is now called the Cape Cod Art Center. The change was in response to a survey that revealed many people in the community thought the art association was more of a private organization, according to Executive Director Roberta Miller. “Their perception was it wasn’t open to the public because of the word ‘association,’” Miller says. The new name was announced last December and since then, “We are getting some new people coming in the door,” she says.

Cape Cod Art Center is located on Route 6A in Barnstable, just east of the village center. Built in 1972 on donated land, the center’s headquarters is slated for an expansion to both reflect and accommodate the organization’s increased role in the community. Plans call for doubling the contemporary building’s current size to 7,000 square feet, adding a third floor and a rooftop deck; enlarging and connecting the two main galleries; and adding elevators, classrooms, storage space and additional restrooms. The $2 million project will also include improvements to the heating and cooling system and to lighting systems in the studios. With plans designed by Lineal Architects in keeping with the modern style of the original building designed by noted architect Richard Gallagher, the organization hopes to begin the expansion project in the next couple of years.

Before building its permanent home, the organization had two different locations in Hyannis and a temporary location in Barnstable. It all began, however, in the Osterville home of Dr. Fritz Talbot, who was head of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and had a home in Osterville. “He wanted to paint, and there was nowhere around here for artists to meet,” Miller explains. A newly created exhibit at the center pays tribute to Dr. Talbot and his vision.

Cape Cod, at that time, had one art institution: the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, established in 1914. “We were the second one on the Cape,” Miller says, noting, “There was crossover—well-known members of the Provincetown Art Association exhibited here,” including Robert Motherwell, Henry Hensche and Hans Hoffmann. “It really was an explosion of artists, and this area finally had a place for them to meet.”

In researching the organization’s history, Miller and others pored over artifacts that included a 1948 ledger with handwritten notes from early meetings, including the very first one on May 21, 1948. The group began with just six members, who each paid $3 a year for a membership. It began as a seasonal organization, Miller says, and held “maybe four exhibits a year.”

Mastering Your Mark Conference

Mastering Your Mark Conference offer hands-on demonstrations.

Now open year-round, seven days a week, Cape Cod Art Center offers classes and workshops, major exhibits, special events and annual community events like Art in the Village, held the third week of June in Barnstable. One relatively recent development is the center’s photography program, launched by Miller, a photographer herself. She says it has been very well received and has become a magnet for local shutterbugs.

Fine art photographer John Tunney has been part of the organization for more than 10 years. “When I first got involved, I think they had just started accepting fine art photography as a juried entry in exhibits,” he recalls. “Then the Camera Club started, and it just took off.” The Cape Cod Art Center Camera Club has about 100 members and meets twice a month.

Tunney says the Cape Cod Art Center is more known now than it was in the past. “For years it was sort of a quiet little affair. Now it has been taking a more high-profile role,” he says. The center is an important part of the community, and especially important to artists, he says. “It really gives people an outlet to start and grow their artistic lives. Particularly on the photography side, there’s nothing else like it on the Cape.”

Having served on the board, including a year as president and several years as chairman of the Photography Center, Tunney still teaches at the Cape Cod Art Center. He notes the center offers a great variety of classes, in terms of both medium and skill level. “There’s a lot to choose from,” he says, noting the photography courses alone at the center cover “everything from basics to software and digital darkroom.”

Miller, who was president of the organization before taking over as director a decade ago, says the Cape Cod Art Center has grown a lot over recent decades. “There were about 200 to 300 members when this building opened,” she says. “Now we have close to 1,000 members. I’m proud of that. I think it’s an important home for a lot of artists.”

Members have included a number of well-known artists, including Vernon Coleman, best known for his murals. “We really made a difference to some of these artists who went on to stellar careers,” Miller says. Well-known contemporary artists involved with the Cape Cod Art Center include Karol Wyckoff, Robert Douglas Hunter and Marieluise Hutchinson.

Hutchinson joined the Cape Cod Art Association in the 1970s, and she appreciates the way it brings artists together. “It’s always fun to be with other artists and see what people are doing,” she says. Hutchinson, who lives in Yarmouth Port, notes there were no other artist organizations in the Mid Cape area 35 or 40 years ago. “Other things sprang up later, like the Yarmouth Art Guild, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod and the Cape Cod Museum of Art,” she says. “But the Cape Cod Art Center was certainly one of the first.”

Back when Hutchinson first joined, “I wasn’t really an established artist,” she says, and showing at the center helped grow her career. She is now represented by a number of galleries, both on Cape and off. She is still involved with the organization, and one of her oil paintings won first prize in a recent show there.

Hutchinson is one of many artists who will be featured in the center’s upcoming anniversary exhibit. The invitational “One Building, Many Artists” retrospective will showcase the work of artists who have been involved with the organization through its history. Miller is especially excited about this exhibit, which will be on display June 18 through July 15 and will have an official opening on June 22. “I think it will be a terrific example of art through the ages,” she says.

Other anniversary events include ongoing history exhibits, an online monthly photography show and a lecture series. On July 7, the center will throw a “Birthday Bash,” and the community is invited. The center is also publishing a book about its history. Hutchinson says Cape Cod Art Center is clearly thriving. “There are a lot of new people involved, a lot of new ideas, and I can see a lot of excitement there.”

Happy birthday, Cape Cod Art Center! Here’s to the next 70 years of nurturing and supporting art on Cape Cod.



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