The light and natural coastal beauty of the outer beach of Cape Cod has attracted tourists and inspired artists for over a century. Unsurprisingly, this area is the home to the oldest continually operated artists colony in the country. 

Producer Dave Fraser visits Provincetown to learn the history of this arts colony and meet up with Susan Tilton Pecora, a Western Mass artist who has been painting on the outer Cape for close to 30 years.  

This story originally aired on August 20, 2021. 

Watch more of our series on the Cape Cod National Seashore. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The light and natural coastal beauty of the outer beach of Cape Cod has attracted tourists and inspired artists for over a century, and as such, it should come as no surprise to find out that this area is also the home to the oldest continuous arts colony in America.

Producer Dave Fraser visits Provincetown to learn the history of this artistic community and to meet up with a western Mass artist who has been painting on the outer Cape for close to 30 years.

Susan Tilton Pecora, Painter: When I look back on on my life, and I think this is this is my job, I’m always telling people that. You know, I’m at work right now!

Julie Tremblay, Photographer: I feel really fortunate that I get to go out and photograph. And every so often I step back and go, “man, people like — people are buying my work. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool.”

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: With its incredible light and colorful surroundings, the outer beaches of Cape Cod have been attracting artists for over 100 years.

At the tip, the town of Provincetown, an eclectic community that has been described as a place of contrast — rugged and rural, with a vibrant town center. It simultaneously provides artists with opportunities for both solitude and socializing.

Christine McCarthy, Provincetown Art Association Museum: If you ask people if they know about Provincetown, Massachusetts, they’ll usually say, “Oh, that’s that gay place where people come for carnival,” and this and that.

What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that this is the oldest continuous art colony in America. No one else can say that except Provincetown. And when you cross that line into Provincetown, you’ve entered into an art mecca.

Julie Tremblay: The tip of the cape faces north. And that north light is what you know, what artists are always seeking.

So if you go back, when there were no artificial lights, artists would build studios with skylights and windows facing north to get that really even, beautiful light.

Dave Fraser: Julie Tremblay didn’t set out to be a photographer. But during her undergraduate studies at UMass Dartmouth, she took an elective in photography and recalls the first time she looked through the viewfinder of a camera and found it was like looking through the window of another world.

Julie Tremblay: I like really clean compositions. I don’t like a lot of complication. So, for me, it’s about negative space. It’s about getting the essence of the — of what I’m seeing and trying to get the viewer to understand what I’m seeing. And I mean, if it’s quiet, I want it to be quiet. And if it’s vibrant, it should be vibrant.

People come here for art. And so just being here, I get to benefit from all the people that came before me. And they were, you know, big, big artists that came — to playwrights and writers — that came before me.

It’s just great to be in that sort of an environment.

Dave Fraser: To be an artist in Provincetown means you are part of a colony. Charles Webster Hawthorne opened his Cape Cod School of Art in the summer of 1899 and taught his plein-air method right on the town’s waterfront.

Christine McCarthy: He had an influx of students that came primarily women who would come for a few weeks or a week, and they would paint on the pier.

They would paint in plein-air, which means painting out of doors.

Dave Fraser: Often as many as 100 people watched as he dramatically demonstrated his theory of color and effects of light on an object, something artists today still recognize.

Susan Tilton Pecora: The way the light bounces off the sand, the sand dunes, and the sand bars on the Bay, so you just get this abundance of sunlight hitting the area and then just spreading out and it’s beautiful.

Dave Fraser: Susan Tilton Pecora grew up in Marblehead, a seaside community on the North Shore of Massachusetts. She now calls Western Mass her home, but has a love for the outer Cape and shows her work regularly in galleries along Commercial Street in Provincetown.

Susan Tilton Pecora: I like architecture and nature together, not just pure nature. If I paint a seascape, I tend to look for some architectural elements in that, and I just love the combination.

This is an attractive spot because you’ve got the sky, man-made structures, which I love, and the water and the reflections and the beach. You have all the elements to make a beautiful painting.

I’ve painted this scene at sunrise, sunset. I’ve painted this scene and had people come and buy it right off my easel.

Town Crier, Historical Actor: Oh, greetings from Provincetown, Massachusetts!

Dave Fraser: Art is everywhere in this small three-square mile town at the tip of the Cape. And artists who come to Provincetown today are still looking at the same things that artists were looking at 100 or so years ago.

How they depict it depends on their style and interpretation, but the landscape and the light remains the same.

Christine McCarthy: Any place you walk into in Provincetown, there’s original artwork. Whether it’s a restaurant, the — one of the 50 or 60 galleries in this town. And if you’re here to go to the beaches or go out to the dunes, that’s what the art was was inspired from.

So, the art is the connector between everything in Provincetown.