Another side of art

Daily, artists labor to capture Cape Cod's quality of light, expanse of sky and sweeping seascapes.

The resulting paintings, watercolors, photographs, pottery and sculptures have shaped the Cape's sense of itself and the world's sense of the Cape. Surely those efforts deserve more attention, reasoned a small group of collectors and artists.

And so 20 years ago, the Cape Museum of Fine Arts opened, becoming the third member of an arty trio that includes the Cape Cinema and the Cape Playhouse. Of the three facilities on the 27-acre arts compound, only the museum is open year-round.

With the recent completion of a $1.5 million expansion and renovation project, the museum intends to court higher-caliber exhibits.

"We were a dog chasing our tail four or five years ago," said museum executive director/curator Gregory F. Harper. He explained that the museum struggled to lure the kind of exhibits that might raise its profile and boost fund-raising efforts but was stymied by facilities reluctant to work with the museum until it was improved.

"Now we're getting on a lot more exhibit lists," Harper said. And the museum is getting more attention. Last summer, The New York Times labeled it "a star museum," and AmericanStyle magazine named the Cape "the top arts destination in the country."

The museum is showing the 12th "National Exhibition of the American Society of Marine Artists" through July 15. A week later, it opens the eagerly anticipated sequel to a previous exhibit with "Stealing the Show II: Cape Playhouse Set Designs by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond," which continues through Sept. 9.

The show spotlights "sets, sketches, costumes and memorabilia linked to (Senn and Pond's) more than 300 productions at the country's longest running professional summer theater," the newsletter said.

The museum's mission -- to convey the role that Cape Cod and the Islands have played in American art since the turn of the last century -- means that the exhibits resonate in the year-round community and educate vacationers and people less familiar with Cape art lore.

Artists who have found inspiration and a home, even temporarily, on the Cape include Charles Hawthorne,

Milton Avery, John Singer Sargent, E. Ambrose Webster, Childe Hassam, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Edward Hopper, Red Grooms, Elaine DeKooning and Man Ray.

This impressive roster can be attributed, in large part, to the vital Provincetown Art Association, New York's too-hot summers and wars that made it too dangerous to work in Europe.

The region's art history is surprisingly unknown off-Cape, Harper said, but the museum is helping to change that. The museum also offers a schedule of lectures, tours, film on art, art-discovery trips, kids summer art programs and other interpretive programs.

Another exhibit at the museum this summer, "Drawn to the Light" showing from July 22 to Sept. 9, includes pieces from the collection that illustrates the Cape's attraction to artists. Like the French Riviera, the Cape drew professionals and amateurs who sought to capture its "painters' light."

First-time visitors might find finishing touches to the museum still in progress. Contractors are swarming the property, readying the sculpture garden and finishing the outdoor function area in front of building. The official ribbon cutting is planned for July 6.

Inside, the glassed-in sculpture gallery and the light-filled primary galleries -- including a room with a vaulted ceiling that looks like an inverted ship hull -- are inviting and comfortable.

It's enough to make you wish for a rainy day.The Cape Museum of Fine Arts is open daily, except national holidays. For more information, call (508) -385-4477, or visit