Violets, Ferol Sibley Warthen

In conjunction with my second post on the New England Home Design Blog which is a visitors' guide to some of Provincetown's best art galleries, I wanted to do a post on why I love Provincetown, the art and the artists that have spent time in this historic artists' colony. 

A few years ago, I did a post on Ferol Sibley Warthen, an artist who made white-line prints, a process invented in Provincetown.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend some time in what had been Warthen's studio.  Next door neighbor Robenia Myrer Smith was an animated storyteller and she brought Warthen to life for me.  Robenia grew up on Louisberg Square in Beacon Hill and the family summered in Provincetown her entire life.  Her mother was an artist and had an amazing collection of artwork that had been passed down.

Photo:  Flickr

On special afternoons, Robenia would invite everyone for cocktails on the lawn by the wharf house (with the flag).  As we gathered by the harbor to watch the evening tide go in or out, she served up her delicious stories along with the best chipped beef and martinis I've ever had.  

Fast forward several years when, at a local frame shop, I saw a postcard with this painting:
Fritz Bultman, Heat of the Sky

I couldn't wait to get home to do research on this artist and see more of his work.  

As a high school junior, Bultman studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich.  Hofmann moved in the same circles as Picasso, Braque and Matisse and he brought his knowledge of Modernism to America.

Fritz Bultman, Still Life Study from Hans Hofmann class
Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hofmann is said to be the father of Abstract Expressionism and if Abstract Expressionism was born in New York, it summered in Provincetown.  Hofmann went to Provincetown each summer and flocks of now legendary artists followed.  I could do an entire blog on the artists of Provincetown.  It's hard to even narrow one person to a single post.  I could easily do four posts on Bultman alone.

Hans Hofmann art class, Provincetown, MA circa 1945
Archives of American Art

I was able to find quite a bit of information about Bultman but it was hard to stay on track.  Each article would mention one artist after another that branched out like a family tree of Who's Who in American Art.  Bultman was part of a group of artists referred to as "The Irascibles" in a 1950 Life magazine article.  

The "Irascibles" photograph by Nina Leen

This group of American abstract painters, including Willem deKooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko, wrote a letter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art basically accusing them of ignoring American artists.  Although Bultman signed the letter, he was studying sculpture in Italy so was missing from the now famous photograph.  Bultman always felt his absence from the photograph prevented larger success.

I would never get my chance to meet Bultman who died in 1985.  When I had exhausted all the internet information, I wrote a letter to Bultman's widow Jeanne explaining I was a big fan of her husband's work and asked if I could visit her sometime to ask some questions.  She called me a few days later.  "Any fan of Fritz's work is welcome anytime you want to visit, you just let me know," she said.  I was planning to take a week-long printing workshop at the Provincetown museum in a few weeks so we made a plan to meet while I was in town.

Fritz Bultman in his studio circa 1945                                                The Bultmans in Provincetown

Even in her '80s, Jeanne Bultman was stunning.  We met as she was getting her mail.   We walked up the hill to her cottage and took a seat on her porch to talk.

She came to Provincetown in 1942 where she met Frtiz and she stayed for the summer to work as a model for Hans Hofmann.  They married in 1943.  I recalled Robenia Myrer Smith's talking about German submarines being in the water off Provincetown during WWII and this put Jeanne in town at the same time.  She admitted it was a scary time.  "We never saw German submarines but we were told they were out there.  There were blackouts at night and all of the artists would go to the A-House and dance all night."

Drawing from Hofmann class by (I believe) Lillian Orlowski with inset sketches by Hans Hofmann

I asked about some of the other artists that spent time in town like Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko.  She seemed to love Franz.  "He always had a smile on his face and recruited all the artists to play baseball games.  "Of course they were horrible," she said, "but they all played and everyone laughed."

Fritz was also friends with Tennessee Williams.  I've seen several accounts of Tennessee's shenanigans but I think once Fritz and Jeanne were married and had kids, she wasn't having it anymore.

After I'd exhausted all of my questions, Jeanne asked if there was anything else she could help me with.  Imagining any artist from this period would have an amazing art collection, I asked if I could see her house.  She politely gave me a tour....and I was right.  Not only did she have an amazing collection of paintings, it was rounded out by interesting furniture and objects that I'm sure had their own stories.

Photo:  PAAM

After Jeanne's death in 2008, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum held an exhibition of the Fritz and Jeanne Bultman's collection including some of their furniture and objects.

Although my afternoon with Jeanne Bultman is another chapter closed, there are more yet to be discovered.  Other artists and their sons and daughters who experienced this exciting time in America's history are still there.  And new generations of artists carry on making art and creating new chapters in the story of Provincetown.

The estate of Fritz Bultman is represented by Albert Merola Gallery.
Another great source of vintage Provincetown artwork is Acme Fine Art in Boston.