Modern Mix: Selections from the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Cahoon Museum of American of Art

  • July 12, 2020 11:18

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Betty Lane (1907-1996), Gay Head, 1947.
Cape Cod Museum of Art
Agnes Weinrich (1873-1946) Clams.
Cape Cod Museum of Art
Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) Island Hay, 1945.
Cape Cod Museum of Art
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) Untitled, 1950.
Cape Cod Museum of Art

Modern Mix: Selections from the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Cahoon Museum of American of Art is a collaborative exhibition between two of Cape Cod’s esteemed art museums presenting colorful, bold artwork from the modern art period. Spanning works from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the exhibit, at the Cahoon Museum (reopening August 1) in Cotuit, Massachusetts, showcases artists who broke with traditions of the past in a spirit of experimentation and explored various movements including abstraction and expressionism. 

In Modern Mix, on view August 1 to Sept. 5, 2020, the Cahoon Museum of American Art and the Cape Cod Museum of Art highlight modern works from their collections. Featured in the Cahoon Museum's Trustees Gallery, works of art from the Cape Cod Museum’s collection include paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by Alexander Calder, Sam Feinstein, Arnold Geissbuhler, Hans Hoffman, Betty Lane, Blanche Lazzell, Claire Leighton, William Littlefield, Robert Motherwell, and Vernon Smith, among others. A selection of Cahoon Museum artworks grouped from early additions to its collection to new acquisitions fills the Hearth Room Gallery in the Cahoon Museum's historic Crocker house.

Modern Mix tells the stories of the visionary collectors and community supporters who founded these two museums to preserve and present the work of artists from Cape Cod and beyond. Both the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Cahoon Museum of American Art share an educational mission and both have a special focus on the art and artists of the region. Says CCMoA Director of Art, Benton Jones, “We are the libraries of these artworks -without us as fixtures of the community, there is no place for them to live.”

The Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Cahoon Museum play an essential part of preserving the region's collective history and celebrating the beauty and joy of art.

In 1981, Harry Holl (1922-2014) a Dennis potter and sculptor, and his good friend, Roy N. Freed (1917-2014) envisioned forming an art museum in Dennis, Massachusetts to collect and exhibit the work of Cape Cod artists. They wanted to create “a home for the great art made on the Cape and to hold exhibits of work borrowed from other museums.” 

They enlisted the aid of a group of visionary artists and community members who, like them, felt too much regional art was leaving the Cape and being sold and collected outside the region. Holl’s father-in-law, the Provincetown sculptor Arnold Geissbuhler (1897-1993), a vocal advocate of the cause, offered to donate 34 of his sculptures, ceramics, and works on paper to create a seed collection. In 1982, a Board of Trustees was established and the Cape Museum of Fine Arts was founded.

Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) Abstract Long Point, 1933.
Cape Cod Museum of Art
Nancy Maybin Ferguson (1872-1967) Provincetown Waterfront, c. 1930s.
Cahoon Museum of American Art
Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982) Portrait of Ship Captain, n.d.
Cahoon Museum of American Art
Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982) Portrait of Ship Captain's Wife, n.d.
Cahoon Museum of American Art

In the early 1980s, Cotuit resident Rosemary Rapp, an artist and art historian, dreamed of establishing an art museum for the cultural benefit of the community. She and her husband, Keith, had been collecting 19th and early 20th century American art
since the late 1950s, and their collection included notable landscape, maritime, and still life paintings by artists such as William Bradford, James E. Buttersworth, Benjamin Champney, Levi Wells Prentice, the American impressionist John J. Enneking, and Alvin Fisher of the Hudson River School.

When the historic Crocker house, which had also been the home, studio, and gallery of well-known folk artists Martha and Ralph Cahoon, came on the market, the Rapps quickly decided that the antique building “would lend itself beautifully as a museum.” They embraced the possibilities of sharing their collection of American art with the public, preserving a very important part of Cotuit’s architectural history, and providing a permanent home for Martha and Ralph Cahoon’s art and archives. In 1984, the Cahoon Museum of American Art celebrated it’s “artful debut” and the Cape Cod Times concluded, “another jewel has been added to Cape Cod’s treasure chest of delightful intimate Museums.” 

"Because the Cahoon Museum has a small, but growing, collection of over 400 artworks, the Museum leads with its strength in exhibitions," says Cahoon Museum director Sarah Johnson. "Over the years, the museum has gained a reputation for curating creative, high-quality exhibitions on individual artists as well as group and themed exhibitions. Most recently, the exhibitions have combined historic American art with contemporary art in conversation."

Martha Cahoon (1905-1999) Still Life Bouquet, 1965.
Cahoon Museum of American Art

Johnson notes, "This interchange of old and new is directly connected to our facilities, as the museum is housed in a historic building with a modern gallery addition."

The Cahoon Museum of American Art’s collection of art represents nearly every medium, including paintings, three-dimensional art, works on paper, and furniture dating from the 18th century to the present. The Cahoon Museum has a strong connection to Ralph (1910-1982) and Martha Cahoon (1905-1999) because the historic building was once their home and art studio. Not only were the Cahoons good stewards of the historic home, they had a deep love of American history. Mixing the Museum’s collection of American art with paintings and painted furniture by the Cahoons works well because of their nostalgic references to history.

"The Museum’s collection of artwork by Ralph and Martha Cahoon adds a strong folk art flavor, which I really enjoy," says Johnson. "I consider the Cahoons’ sense of whimsy and nostalgia for American history very important ingredients to the Cahoon Museum’s uniqueness. There is a license to collect and exhibit artwork that falls outside of traditional genres, either in terms of subject matter or material; keeping in the spirit of the Cahoons gives us permission to be unconventional and have fun with surprising combinations of historic reference and pure imagination. The Cahoons’ story is also deeply connected to a specific time and culture in Cape Cod history, which – along with the Crocker home –delivers a strong sense of authenticity. It is a special and very unique connection to Cape Cod and New England."

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