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A half-century of canvases, characters, & color

Falmouth Artists Guild, Cape Cod Art Annual 2016

By 1999, the historic building required substantive repairs, and the guild had vacated the structure; in the next few years it would set up shop in Falmouth’s recreation center, then at a storefront in the mall, and then in the prone-to-flooding basement of another local building.

Tired of moving in and out of temporary homes, the guild’s leaders began to consider buying or building their own facility. Local architect and urban planner Ralph Partan and a housing committee created by the guild searched around Falmouth for potential properties. Helping the cause, the guild received two anonymous donations totaling $800,000, and in 2004 Chris Wise, a developer from Chatham, donated land in Falmouth at the corner of Gifford and Dillingham for the guild to use. During the next four years, the guild requested grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund and other private foundations, and held various fundraisers with the goal of building a brand new arts center, mortgage-free.

Construction of the center got underway in 2008, and within a year the first stage of the project—including the main gallery, a classroom, offices, and a kitchen—was completed. The building was designed so that it could be expanded, and the build-out would be completed in stages; the building’s lower and upper levels would be finished later, when additional funds were raised.

In January of 2014, the lower level was finished with a classroom for printmaking and weaving, a ceramics studio, and a kiln room. In January of this year, the second floor, featuring a large classroom, weaving studio, and a conference room, was completed.

“It’s a wonderful location and it’s big enough,” says Carolyn Partan, Ralph’s wife. “It let us have a fresh start.” Partan says she initially got involved in the guild’s fundraising effort because she wanted to see the work of her husband—who died in 2005—completed. Achieving that goal, she says, involved a great deal of “incredible” and “serendipitous” acts of generosity from many in the community. Among these were numerous grants issued over a 12-year period by The Francoise Hermann Foundation. Today, the art center’s main gallery is named for Hermann.

Partan says it’s amazing the guild survived through those challenging times. One thing she’s particularly proud of is that the guild does not have a mortgage. “No one,” she adds with a laugh, “would give us one.” Once she became involved, Partan says she learned how great the center was, signed up for a few classes, and has since participated in woodcarving and jewelry making classes.

“It was hard raising the money,” adds Ruth Leech, “but we did it.” Leech, who enjoys painting portraits of many of her artist friends, joined the guild about 20 years ago and served on the board of directors during the fundraising years.

Since the move to the new art center, Bergmann says she has noticed that a lot of former members are coming back, attending classes, and rejoining the guild. In the past few years, the membership has grown in size from about 200—when the new art center opened its doors—to 650. “They come in here and their eyes just bulge,” Bergmann says. “They’re so thrilled for the organization.” The members hail mostly from Upper Cape communities, but the center’s juried shows draw entrants from all over Southeastern New England.

Bergmann says the center always has something fun going on, from regular lectures and demonstrations, to monthly opening receptions on Fridays, with wine and refreshments. Partan says the simple goal is that art should be celebrated and enjoyed.

Hanagan, who is currently teaching four classes, enjoys working with his various students, and seeing them get into the creative mode. “It is,” he says, “exciting to see.”

The Falmouth Art Center is located at 137 Gifford Street in Falmouth. For more information, visit, or call 508-540-3304.

Matthew Gill is the editor of Cape Cod LIFE magazine.

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