Artists began coming to the Outer Cape -- Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet -- in the late 19th century when painter Charles Hawthorne started teaching classes about painting en plein air, with easels set up outside, making use of the famous Cape Cod light, an atmospheric quality local artists prize. Hawthorne soon opened the Cape Cod School of Art and later served as one of the founders of the Provincetown Art Association, formed as a gathering spot for local artists. Hawthorne's method stressed getting the crux of an image -- colors, shapes, and nuance -- rather than worrying about detail. His students' paintings of local Portuguese children are called "mud heads," as they show the children virtually without facial features, and instead use well-placed shadows or the tilt of a head to reveal the mood of the child.
Hawthorne's protégé, Henry Hensch, continued the school, also stressing the Impressionistic style of using soft colors to paint such images as flowers and streetscapes. In the 1950s, Hans Hofmann, an intimidating artist who had strong ideas about color and abstraction, came to the Cape. He was known to cut up a student's painting and reorder the pieces as part of his critique. Around the time Hofmann came to the Cape, other abstract expressionist stars of the period, such as Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell, also visited the area and acquired summer homes.
Today the legacy of Hawthorne, Hensch, and Hofmann still lives on in the Cape. John Grillo is a Wellfleet artist who paints large colorful murals of the opera, circus, and tango; his murals are on display at Café Heaven, on Commercial Street, as well as the Cove Gallery, in Wellfleet. The Fine Arts Works Center (24 Pearl St., Provincetown; tel. 508/487-9960), which awards residencies every winter, ensures that a new group of artists and writers are inspired by Provincetown every year. Wellfleet's reputation as an art center is as strong as Provincetown's and has even been called "the art gallery town," as there are about a dozen interesting galleries along Main Street and Commercial Street. In Falmouth there are several excellent potters within a few miles of each other along the road to Woods Hole -- just look for the signs for POTTERY and pull in to take a look.
The Cape and islands are also a great place to find crafts. On Martha's Vineyard, for example, sculptural iron weather vanes can be found at many local galleries. Historic crafts are also abundant on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Nineteenth-century sailors created crafts to pass the time on their long seafaring trips: scrimshaw, "sailor's valentines," and Nantucket lightship baskets (handmade reed baskets with mahogany tops and scrimshaw ornamentation) were all popular crafts created by sailors -- although sailor's valentines are now thought to have been purchased on Caribbean islands and brought back to New England. Today some artisans are crafting modern examples of these crafts using the old methods.
To find an artist's studio, pick up the invaluable guide Arts & Artisan Trails of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket from the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. It lists about 200 artists and their studios.
The Cape's architectural style is best known for its namesake Cape Cod House, a simple, wooden, shingled 1 1/2-story cottage with a central chimney. The first Cape Cod-style homes were built in the 17th century by European settlers. Since then there have been many adjustments to the classic Cape style over the centuries, but you can see early examples of this style, including charming half-Capes, along Route 6A, mostly in the village of Yarmouth Port.
A great way to see the history of early American architecture is to drive along the old stagecoach route, Route 6A, formerly known as the Old King's Highway. The narrow road winds along the north side of the Cape from Bourne to Orleans. Here you will see colonial homes of all styles, many of which belonged to wealthy sea captains.
Georgian Colonial homes were popular in the 1700s and tend to be square, symmetrical two-story homes that often have two chimneys, one on each side of the roof. You can find several fine examples of Georgian-style homes on Stony Brook Road, near the intersection with Route 6A, in Brewster.
Federal-style homes have classical elements such as columns at the entryway or a Palladian window (which is shaped like a half oval) above the front door. A good example is the Julia Wood House, from the late 18th century, part of the Falmouth Historical Society Museums on the Green property in Falmouth center.
The Greek Revival style accounts for the more elaborate homes popular in the mid-19th century. These two-story houses typically have a gabled roof, a columned veranda, and other "Greek" architecture elements such as doorways bounded by carved columns with friezes above. For a fine example of Greek Revival, check out the Dr. Daniel Fisher House, on Main Street in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard.
Inspired by the French houses with mansard roofs and elaborate carvings, the Second Empire (Mansard) homes are worth a closer look. Penniman House in Eastham hosts daily tours throughout the summer.
Homes built in the Carpenter Gothic style, or "gingerbread" homes, were popular Victorian homes and tended to be painted in playful, bright colors and adorned with elaborate woodwork carvings and cutouts on the roof and the trim. Visit Methodist campground in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard for examples.
On the Outer Cape -- particularly within the bounds of the Cape Cod National Seashore -- there is a movement to save "modern" 1950s houses belonging to the school of Walter Gropius, a leader of the Bauhaus movement. Think glass boxes and you'll have an idea of what these houses look like. The jury is out on whether this architectural style will be accepted as suitably historic to qualify for preservation, but there is no doubt as to its aesthetic value or its harmony with the land.
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