​A walk in Provincetown

A century ago, Provincetown's beaches were crowded with aspiring artists. "If you were in the front row of your painting class, one of your jobs was to keep mosquitoes off the model," said Chris McCarthy, executive director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday.

An exhibit at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. CBS News

"If you look at American art history, Provincetown has hit every mark, from Impressionism to Post Impressionism, to Abstract Expressionism, to Modernism, to Contemporary," said McCarthy. "The gamut of American artists at one point or another came through Provincetown. ... It was a required stop."

A Philip Malicoat painting. CBS News

There was so much art being produced, at one time it was used as currency. "The town doctor amassed an incredible art collection because he swapped artwork for services," said McCarthy.

"Wow," said Rocca, "now that is an insurance plan that that doctor was happy about," when a Robert Motherwell or Milton Avery artwork is your copay.

Artists like Philip Malicoat painted year-round, bringing even the dead of winter to light.

"You can feel the wind, the bluster, the cold through the palette, and the way that he created the composition in this painting, which is beautiful," said McCarthy describing a Malicoat.

"The message is, don't be scared of Cape Cod winter," said Rocca.


"Some of the finest pictures have come out of Cape Cod winters, as far as I'm concerned," McCarthy said. "If you are bold enough to be here in the wintertime, you get to experience this firsthand."

Rocca met Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Cunningham in October, when the town was already going into hibernation.

"Come February, we could be walking right here and not see a soul," Cunningham said.

Thirty years ago, Cunningham survived his first Provincetown winter, barely. "I went a little crazy," he said. "I mean, I got cabin fever, almost required hospitalization."

Still, Cunningham's book about Provincetown is nothing short of a love letter:

"This is another of those strangely potent places. Everyone I know who has spent any time on the dune agrees that there's, well, something there, though outwardly it is neither more nor less than an enormous arc of sand cutting across the sky."
From "Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown" by Michael Cunningham

"It's an eccentric's sanctuary," Cunningham said. "It's one of the very few places I know of that actually prefers peculiarity. They would actually rather there be something a little off about you."

The default here is eccentric? "Exactly, exactly, exactly," he replied.

Dave Roberts may not be eccentric, but when he's in Provincetown, he's all about the creative. "I love it when I do this, 'cause everybody's an artist," he said. "You know, everybody has a little art in 'em."

"If someone who had never been to Provincetown asked you to describe it, what would you say?" asked Rocca.

"I'm gonna quote my beautiful granddaughter. She had pigtails, and she said, 'Provincetown's like this: If I had six pigtails, and every one was a different color, no one would even look at me!' Isn't that beautiful?"

"I should stop disturbing you," said Rocca, "because the light's changed 14 times since we began chatting."

He asked Cunningham, "Can you draw a line between the Pilgrims, Eugene O'Neill, Robert Motherwell, and you?"

"You know, it's slightly mysterious, Provincetown's allure. And I'm perfectly content with it as a mystery. It's remote. It's a little bit wild. There's something about it that's hard to put your finger on."

Rocca said, "I have a feeling there are gonna be a lot of people watching at home saying, 'That's it -- on Monday, I'm quitting my job, I'm moving to Provincetown, I'm gonna become the artist I always wanted to be!"

"A lot of people have done that, believe me!" said Costa.

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