Provincetown's White Line Prints

At the Museum of FIne Arts

By: - Jul 12, 2023

On the northern tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown has long been regarded as a refuge for artists and a vibrant hub of experimentation and innovation. In 1916, Boston Globe critic A. J. Philpott described the small fishing village as “the biggest art colony in the world…one of Nature’s laboratories in which creative minds and artistic souls can work.”

Among those creative minds and artistic souls, a group of artists, many of whom were women, achieved national prominence for their experimental color woodblock prints—the so-called Provincetown Print. Today, many of the printmakers remain underrecognized despite their contributions to the history of printmaking and modern art in America.

Drawing from the collection of the late Leslie and Johanna Garfield, this exhibition focuses on the work of six artists: Ada Gilmore Chaffee, Maud Hunt Squire, Ethel Mars, Mildred McMillen, Juliette Nichols, and B. J. O. Nordfeldt—the first pioneering group that came together in Provincetown to practice color woodblock printing. Generous in spirit, they trained other artists and shared their innovations, helping turn Provincetown into a renowned center for printmaking.

The nearly 50 inventive prints on view build on the traditions of Japanese woodcuts and European modernism, using bold colors and dramatic lines to illustrate coastal houses, fishers at work, and other scenes of daily life on the Cape. A salon-style wall featuring work by students and successors to the original nucleus of printmakers, including the key figure Blanche Lazzell, reveals the persistent creative energy that continues to make Provincetown an artistic destination.

Of the 12 artists featured, all but one are women. Visitors can explore the leading role women played in the creative explosion that occurred in Provincetown in the first half of the 20th century and the catalyzing vital force of a such a tight-knit artistic community.