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Cape Art Classes

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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