Anne Packard never intended to become a painter, even though painting is in her blood. Her grandfather, Max Bohn, arrived in Provincetown in 1916 and established himself as a leading Impressionist. Although her grandmother, great-aunt, and mother were also respected painters, Packard did not plan to follow in their footsteps. When her husband left her and their five children, she needed a way to make ends meet. “At that period of time, women were nurses or secretaries,” Packard says. “I was neither, so I started to paint.”
After raising her children in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Packard moved to Provincetown in 1977. “As a child, the Cape got into me and never left,” she says. She started painting with acrylics on pieces of washed up driftwood and, as her latent talent swiftly blossomed, transitioned to oil on canvas. Four decades later, Packard has achieved unprecedented success. Her paintings sell all over the world and she has her own gallery on Provincetown’s Commercial Street, which she shares with her daughters, Cynthia and Leslie. “I’m 81 years old and I paint every day,” she says. “It’s my reason to get up in the morning.”
Packard’s paintings rarely feature people, yet resonate with viewers on a visceral level. “It’s not about loneliness,” Packard says. “It’s about solitude and nostalgia.” Her Cape landscapes are contemplative pieces that celebrate the simplicity of the past. “There’s a huge nostalgia for the Cape as it was,” she says. “I paint it as I remember it, not as it is.” Packard is a minimalist. She zeros in on her subject—be it a lone boat, a dune or a blade of grass—with a singular focus that invites the viewer to pause and reflect.
Along with people, sunshine and rainbows seldom find their way into Packard’s work. Her skies are often dark and ominous, subtly layered with grays and greens. “I think a bright sunny day is boring to paint,” she says. “I love it when a good storm comes through.”
While she is a Cape Codder through and through, Packard makes a point of painting in faraway locations. “Every now and then I need to travel to break the spell of the Cape,” she says. She’s painted in several countries: Spain, Italy, Greece, and Mexico—just to name a few—but at the end of the day, Cape Cod will always be her home. “My kids are all around me and we’re a very close-knit family.”
Packard cannot pinpoint the magical quality that has made her paintings so popular, but she acknowledges how lucky she is. “I’ve been one of the fortunate ones to have made a living and brought up my children on my work,” she says. “I never anticipated it. It just happened. And every year it happens a little bit more.”