Charles Webster Hawthorne built the barn in 1907 atop a sandy bluff in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. He opened it as an art school. Outfitted with wooden cupboards, a gambrel roof, and a glorious 15-by-15-foot window on its north end, the Cape Cod School of Art quickly lured hundreds of students from around the country. Hawthorne taught them to paint outdoors, “en plein air.”
Hawthorne died in 1930. Four years later the barn was reborn when Hans Hofmann, a master of Abstract Expressionism, assumed its lease from the Hawthorne family. Hofmann reopened the school, training the artists who continued to flock to Provincetown in his “push-pull” theory about the tension of space, line, color, and form. In time, however, the school closed. And as the decades passed, the barn became less an incubator of art than an object of art itself—its wood bearing the vestiges of the classes it held, the handprint of painter Henry Hensche coloring a slat in the loft.
Hensche was just one of the dozens of prominent artists and writers who studied or otherwise spent time in the barn. The list includes Norman Rockwell, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Tennessee Williams and Norman Mailer. Little surprise then that in 1979, the barn joined the National Register of Historical Places.
In the years that followed, the barn passed from Hofmann to the painter Morris Davidson to the pop artist Peter Gee. Despite their best efforts to revive the barn, it was a landmark in dire need of a physical upgrade and a new champion.
In 2012, our 501(c)(3) organization, Twenty Summers, found a buyer to renovate the barn. The buyer renovated the barn beautifully. And we took out a lease on the barn that enables us to host events and classes in the barn annually, from mid-May to mid-June, and to share them — both in person and online — with the rest of the world.
Twenty Summers launched its annual programming in May 2014, returning art to the barn for a second century.