The year was 1916. It took four hours to travel from Boston to Provincetown on the steamer Dorothy Bradford, arriving at the tip of Cape Cod in the tiny Portuguese fishing village where rooms rented for $14 per week and less, and the Boston Red Sox were in the hunt for a World Series trophy.
Norman Rockwell, who studied in Provincetown, had just published his first illustrated cover of the Saturday Evening Post, as the Town Crier strolled through the streets of Provincetown announcing the latest news.
Meanwhile, theater-goers headed to the wharf to see new plays written by emerging playwright Eugene O’Neill, often joined by his summertime housemate and writer John Reed.
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum’s (PMPM) fascinating new exhibition, “The Great Provincetown Summer – 1916” offers you a first-hand look at these images and more, while painting a narrative of this pivotal time in the town’s history.
A visit to the exhibition is an immersion into the year 1916, when Provincetown was put on the map as the largest and most influential art colony in the world and the birthplace of the modern American theater. It was a year when bohemians, radicals and free thinkers joined writers, artists and others who came together in the tiny town at the tip of Cape Cod.
Provincetown was, and continues to be, a haven for artistic freedom and expression and has led to the town’s rightful designation as “the world’s longest continuous art colony.”
“In the summer of 1916, there was a great convergence of international political and cultural voices in Provincetown,” said John McDonagh, Executive Director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. “The town saw an influx of writers, radicals, bohemians, actors and artists who were all influenced in part by the outbreak of the First World War and the resulting displacement of people. The exhibition will give visitors a real sense of what was happening at that snapshot in time,” McDonagh said.
Curator Sam Tager says two major pieces inspired the exhibition: an article in the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, written by A. J. Philpott, published on August 27, 1916 with the headline “Biggest Art Colony in the World in Provincetown,” and by an unpublished essay written by artist and poet Marsden Hartley, many years after spending the summer of 1916 in Provincetown.
“Historians often characterize the people who arrived in Provincetown following the outbreak of the First World War and during the summer of 1916 as bohemians, radicals, liberals, freethinkers, and members of the avant guard. What this really means is that Provincetown was a place that was struck and transformed by the powerful currents of modernism. Not just with regard to making art but also in challenging and transcending historic political and social systems, religious institutions, and perspectives on gender and identity,” Tager said.
Tager collaborated with a variety of scholars and experts to depict the year 1916 and what set it apart from any other artist haven in the U.S.
“Everyone has their own Provincetown whether they are a visitor or a local. I want people to delve into the exhibition, to reflect on how their Provincetown has been shaped by the remarkable men and women who came to Provincetown in 1916 to make art, not war,” Tager said.
A visit to the Exhibition will also bring you back in time through an original newsreel of scenes filmed in Provincetown that depicts what the town was like during the early 1900’s. The film is courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society/Gene Stueller Collection. You can view it here.
The exhibition is currently on display at the PMPM throughout the 2016 season. For more information please visit pilgrim-monument.org.
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