Cape Art Classes

Cape Cod Art  /  ART Annual 2019 / ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

There’s a Class for that!

these local arts centers are sure to bring out the inner artist in you

At the heart of the reason people love the Cape and Islands are the splendid vistas and iconic subjects that stop us in our tracks, where we catch our breath and pause for just a moment to, at the very least subliminally, take in our surroundings. It isn’t anything new. The recognition of this area as a place of dramatic, yet simple, beauty has been understood for centuries. So the creative impulse to funnel that inspiration through an artistic outlet is a very natural response.

The Cape’s history of artistic proclivity is perhaps best understood when examining the early art colony of Provincetown. Origins trace back to when Charles Webster Hawthorne opened his Cape Cod School of Art in 1899. With the completion of the railroad to the outer tip of the Cape, the region became a destination for tourists and affluent society who had the luxury of leisurely pursuits. Hawthorne’s school allowed students—numbering over 90 within a few short years—to practice in the style of impressionism, a French style that had come into vogue just a few decades before. And classes were conducted outside, or “en plein air” as the French would say. By the 1930s, a Boston Globe headline would declare, “Biggest Art Colony in the World at Provincetown.”

As the Cape, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard grew, and the middle class of American society started to incorporate travel and vacations into their lifestyle, the seaside New England region became a destination for artists. Across the region, the small villages were the perfect backdrops for small galleries, which began as places to find a memento of a special vacation, but have now evolved into showcases for work by some of the greatest talent around. 

With all of this inspiration, and all of the interest and support dedicated to the artistic endeavors on the Cape, a question comes to mind. What do you do, where do you go, if artistic exploration is on your bucket list? Luckily, we are literally surrounded with a plethora of options across the region. No matter what your passion is, which medium may interest you, how flexible your budget may be, or where you are located, there is a class for you.

Sandwich Arts Alliance

After forming barely five years ago, the Sandwich Arts Alliance has grown into a diverse resource for the Upper Cape. An ever-growing curriculum rolled out over 60 classes, for both adults and youth, in the last year, in all three categories of visual, performing and literary arts. Set up as a seasonal schedule, the Alliance offers classes and workshops throughout the year, with some of the more popular courses repeating in multiple sessions.

Pauline Tessein, classes coordinator at the Alliance, says that the response to the robust offerings put forth by the organization has been met with both positive feedback and high rates of enrollment. “The community seems to be responding positively. We have grown a bit more each session and with every new class we add to the schedule; people immediately express interest.” Membership of the organization has grown to over 300 members, and a new building space (124 Route 6A) with two classrooms and a gallery will be open for the 2019 summer season.

Examples of some of the unique offerings found within the Alliance’s curriculum include a painting class with locally renowned painter Elizabeth Mumford. Mumford, whose whimsical, iconic paintings depict Cape Cod life, leads a five-week class of students with a wide range of artistic ability. Mumford encourages the students to create something that speaks to them on a personal level: a favorite pastime, a familiar vista, or an event in their family such as a wedding or a birth. Utilizing technique and insight, she is able to guide the students through the nuances of painting with watercolor or gouache, all the while sharing her life’s stories as a painter. The opportunity to not only spend five weeks with an artist of such note and talent, but also be able to connect on such a personal level, are just some of the benefits of the kind of classes offered by the Alliance.

A lampwork bead workshop, conducted by Cape glass craftsman Michael Magyar, is sure to be a popular offering. The workshop includes not only the unique instruction by a true master but also supplies each student with a kit to be able to continue the practice on their own.

Tessein says one of the most unique classes they offer is the Art Sampler Class. “Students are exposed to a wide variety of mediums, everything from drawing to mixed media, and since it is underwritten by a grant from The Fund for Sandwich, we provide all of the materials as part of the class fee. That way anyone interested in art can explore what appeals to them without it becoming a budgetary issue.”

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Cotuit Center for the Arts

Their tagline is “Do it at Cotuit,” and at Cotuit Center for the Arts, that “it” is just about anything you could imagine. After initially opening in 1993 with a heavy focus on live theater, the center has morphed and grown into a lively campus of rich interdisciplinary activity. Christine Ernst, the director of education, says that she finds herself in the midst of her dream job. “Don’t get me wrong,” she explains, “I work hard. But this has been one of the most exciting times I could ever imagine. We have so much going on. Basically if someone can dream of a class, a workshop or a course on any topic, we will find a way to present it.”

In fact, Ernst adds barely any exaggeration to her claim. With nearly 250 courses over the year—ranging from photography to songwriting to live model painting to ukulele, and almost everything in between—Cotuit’s syllabus spans the creative imagination. And the robust curriculum shows no signs of slowing down. In 2017, the center acquired an abutting 1.5 acres of property, which will be transformed into a ceramics studio, and there are plans for further expansion—including an “education village”—on the 7.5-acre campus. “It’s very exciting to see how it is growing,” Ernst says. “It has been sort of a persistent growing dream for us. Each little acquisition has grown the dream a little bit more. Ultimately our goal is that it will be community transforming.”

Ernst continues: “We’re lucky that we have a super strong ukulele program, a super strong tap dancing program, as well as strong painting and drawing offerings. And around that I’ve started to pack new offerings, like bonsai, stained glass and furniture painting. If someone had told me last year I would be selling out stained glass I wouldn’t have believed it. It has been neat to see what sticks.”

The diversity of the programs can be credited to both instructors and students of the local  community. Ernst confirms the prevailing belief that people take classes where they live. So as a result, she says she welcomes ideas from the local resource of students and practicing artists. “If you are passionate about something and you want to share that with our students, send me a course description,” she says. “I’m not as interested in your CV as whether you are passionate and you can create a fun learning environment.”

Ernst is also extremely proud of the center’s mission that states they are “a welcoming hub,” and the commitment to that mandate to provide access for those who can’t otherwise afford the curriculum. She explains, “We have a scholarship program that I think sums up what Cotuit is all about—we never want to turn a student away. Sharing the arts with all those who have an interest and a desire is our goal.”

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Creative Arts Center

Celebrating their 50th year in 2019, the Creative Arts Center in Chatham has consistently provided instruction in the visual arts to students and professionals who not only want to learn a new technique, but also want to gain support and feedback from an impressive network of accomplished working artists. Executive Director Angela Zoni Mault says, particularly with the center’s workshops—which generally run two to five days—that the caliber of the instructors is what sets the Creative Arts Center apart. “Nationally known artists, like the Cape’s own Bill Davis, come to the center and share their expertise with other very talented artists,” she explains. “People from all over the United States, who are at the top of their profession, come to give a workshop. And then people from all over the country travel here just to take the workshop.”

It’s that kind of high-quality and in-demand expertise students at the Creative Arts Center have come to expect, and they are rarely disappointed. The center’s distinctive offerings include classes and workshops in painting, drawing, pottery and jewelry. Their building, which spans two floors, contains two main painting studios, and a very large jewelry room with eight individual stations. “We do sterling silver fabrication, including pierced work, hammered work, stone setting, bezel setting, as well as precious metal clay,” Mault explains. “We also have the largest student pottery studio on the Cape. We have 12 wheels, two kilns, a slab roller, a pugmill, a glazing room; it is quite extensive.” Mault says the pottery classes, offered to both children and adults, fill up every session.

Mault also cites the repeat enrollment among students that want to continue with a favorite instructor with whom they have developed a rapport and relationship. Classes are offered year-round. Summer offerings include both six-week classes and mini-classes to meet the needs of students’ varying schedules. “If you want to take a watercolor class and really get into it, there is a class that might meet three mornings, with the same instructor, and it will be an intensive class,” Mault explains. “For some people that’s a good schedule; they can get three mornings off.” She continues to say that the three-day classes also have appeal for some people who may not know if they want to make a multi-week commitment to a six-week new endeavor.

One of the hallmarks of the Creative Arts Center’s reputation is grounded in their popular art shows and exhibitions. At least once every month of the year, the center presents juried shows, faculty shows, student shows, invitational exhibitions and shows exclusively representing the work of their hundreds of talented members. Mault also emphasizes the welcoming environment of the entire organization: “It is such a friendly organization. Everyone, from the teachers to the members to the student body, is completely supportive and happy to celebrate what everyone loves doing—creating art!” Repeating their tagline, she says, “Enrich your life, invigorate your soul. . . Take an art class!”

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Cape School of Art

Originally founded in 1899 by Charles Webster Hawthorne, the Cape School of Art has continued to present Hawthorne’s original tenets of oil painting for 120 years. Henry Hensche, who learned how to paint from Hawthorne, took over the reins of the school in the 1930s and passed on the distinctive style to hundreds of students for almost six decades. Two of Hensche’s students, Hilda Neily and Rob Longley, reorganized the school in 2010 as a nonprofit organization, and it is considered the through line of theory, technique and practice, from both Hawthorne and Hensche, for today’s students.

What makes the Cape School unique is not only that it is the oldest art school in America, but also that its primary focus is plein air oil painting. A robust schedule for the summer of 2019 includes 18, week-long classes, whose majority of instructors are Hensche-taught. Another distinction of the school is its unique offering of drop-in classes.

A small shed on MacMillan Wharf, representing the school, greets visitors arriving on the Boston ferry as well as large crowds that are staying in Provincetown for as little as a day. Inside the shed, art created by instructors and students graces the walls and is available at reasonable prices. But perhaps the most valuable item in the shed is the drop-in class list. Three days a week, anyone, regardless of talent, experience or understanding, can take a three-hour plein air oil painting class, for about $50. All of the materials are included, and the opportunity to learn is guaranteed.

“The classes are designed for everybody; it doesn’t matter what level you are at, because what we are teaching is color,” Neily says. “We are teaching people how to see color. I have plenty of professional artists who have been painting for years, but they come to the class to learn what they can about seeing color.”

“In addition,” Neily continues, “after doing a quick demo in the beginning of the class so that people have a visual and know where they are going, I provide one-on-one instruction. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses—that’s what Henry said—so you have to do individual instruction with this kind of work.”

Neily doesn’t discount the other half of the interaction: the value of the group. She has endless stories about novices learning from professionals and seasoned artists recalling their first-time reaction as they see a new painter achieve success or solve a challenge. 

If you ever dreamed about setting up an easel, creating a scene in the style of the Old Masters, in the same stomping grounds of the original art colony, then you can turn that dream into a reality at the Cape School of Art.

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Julie Craven Wagner

Julie Craven Wagner began her experience with Cape Cod Life in 2010 when she joined the sales team after 10 years of working with local businesses on the Cape and Islands with WMVY. In addition to sales, she is the Associate Publisher/Editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. Growing up on the Outer Cape has given her a unique perspective of life on Cape Cod, from tip to bridge, and that is reflected in her appreciation and presentation of stories found within the pages of our publications. Julie lives in North Falmouth with her husband, Eric, and their yellow lab, Enzo. When she finds free time, she enjoys her Cape Cod life sailing on Buzzards Bay, spending time on the beach in Wellfleet, or exploring Martha’s Vineyard.