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Provincetown art colony: Where light, water, and art meet

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I notice tidy pocket gardens with huge roses in bloom, some the diameter of salad plates. The much-celebrated summer light that first brought painter and teacher Charles Hawthorne here in the 1890s must also be good for flowers. Hawthorne and his students came here to paint the ever-changing landscape , as the French Impressionists were doing. The interplay of light where water meets sky inspired Hawthorne and still inspires artists today.

The particular brilliance of the light is a frequent topic. Contemporary artist John Dowd paints images of the town's architecture in an atmospheric style that calls to mind American realist painter Edward Hopper. I ask him if he will ever run out of buildings to paint. "I can look at the same building five times a day, the light is never the same," he says.

Painter and teacher Selina Trieff came to Provincetown in the 1950s when she was a 20-year-old student following Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), a hugely influential teacher considered the dean of abstract expressionism in America. She quotes Hofmann as saying, "the light of the lower Cape was the nearest thing to that of the Riviera."

As I walk to dinner, I spot a woman with an easel set up on the beach facing the harbor, painting, while a man in a battered hat sits next to her on a driftwood log. Their poses appear timeless, as if at any moment in the history of this art colony I could walk out onto the beach and come across a painter absorbed in work.

After dinner, I stroll along Commercial Street and indulge in the popular Provincetown pastime of people-watching. I pass Town Hall, where ticketholders for the annual international film festival are waiting. The street, though busy, has not reached its crescendo of activity, because it's only 8 p.m. on a weeknight and the high season for tourists won't start until July 4.

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