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A Voyage Fueled by Vision

Forty years ago Harry Holl imagined a place where the art and artists of Cape Cod could shine. Today the Cape Cod Museum of Art celebrates a bright future.

Nestled in the crook of the arm of Cape Cod, along historic Route 6A, is the artistic enclave known as the Cape Cod Center for the Arts. Although the Cape Playhouse, the almost 100-year-old, venerable summer stock theater, was the original institution that grounded the park-like campus, by no means is it the only influential hot spot of arts and culture on the  23-acre property. The Cape Cinema, a 1930s movie house with its own historic influence, satisfies those seeking cinematic food for the soul. And tucked into the lush corner of the campus sits the shingle-style, columned structure of the Cape Cod Museum of Art (CCMoA), an architectural masterpiece whose story of creativity and design is established on the outside, but ever-changing on the inside. How the museum came to be at all, let alone how it found its forever home on the grounds of the Cape Cod Center for the Arts, is a story that began only a short distance down the road.

In 1981, potter Harry Holl along with his friend Roy Freed, a lawyer who was also an artist, filed articles of organization to form the Scargo Lake Museum. Once approved, the museum would exist on paper only for five years until it gathered enough grassroots support to open in a physical location. Holl and Freed both believed that while Cape Cod had long been a destination for artists, the area had been experiencing an art drain. CCMoA director Benton Jones explains that the Cape’s rich history of artists congregating here— to work, play, and learn–—spawned places such as the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, founded by renowned Cape Cod artist and educator Charles Hawthorne in 1914. They would create work that was intricately tied to the landscape, but their art would leave our shores for New York and other  more metropolitan areas. Aside from local galleries and private collections, little of the art stuck around; rather, it left like the tourists at the end of their vacations. 

The concept of creating an institution that fostered, learning and exploration was not a new one. In 1899, Hawthorne opened the Cape Cod School of Art, the first school dedicated to outdoor figure painting, a school which is still in existence today, and one that set the course for Provincetown to become the longest running artists’ colony in the country. According to Jones the bold vision that Holl and Freed set into motion 40 years ago was not only timely, but inspired. “There was no central resource or hub for artwork with a Cape Cod connection to be collected, celebrated, and researched— held in public trust for future generations. Dennis is smack dab in the middle of the Cape; this was part of the thinking behind the choice of location.” A charter membership drive led to over 1000 initial members, and in 1986 the museum moved into a storefront space in the Theater Marketplace, the small retail component adjacent to the campus. Holl’s father-in-law, Arnold Geissbuhler, a notable sculptor, donated 34 works of art, including sculptures, drawings, and collages, to get the museum up and running.

The Hope / McClennen Gallery is one of six exhibition spaces.

Harry Holl’s vision of creating cultural opportunities and destinations for the people of Cape Cod was both personal and extensive. He taught classes, mentored other artists, particularly potters, and he collaborated with his father-in-law for the rest of Geissbuhler’s life. Geissbuhler passed away in 1993 at age 96, while Harry died at the age of 92, in 2014. Holl was a founding supporter of many of the cultural organizations now an integral part of the Cape: the Cape Cod Community College, the Cape Cod Conservatory, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, and the Cape Cod Potters, inc.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the museum, and it seems appropriate that the theme of “Voyage” drives the year’s events and agenda. A robust schedule of events are intended to celebrate the four-decades-young museum, that serves to support, and promote artists and artwork created here—artwork that helps us to understand and celebrate this unique peninsula.

The museum has functioned as a vessel that has served the community of Cape Cod with important artwork. Exhibitions, classes, lectures, demos and a Sunday concert series have created a jam-packed calendar for the summer and fall of 2021, all with the focus on how the seeds from those humble beginnings, really little more than vision and conviction, have taken root as a thriving center of arts and culture in the creative heart of the Cape. 

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