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Exhibits show Provincetown’s role in U.S. history

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By Eir Lindstrom-Holmy
Considering the town’s tiny size, a lot of events related to important American history and culture have happened at the end of Cape Cod in Provincetown. That was the thinking behind the theme for the new season at the Provincetown Museum, which opens Wednesday.
The exhibits for “Small Town, Big History! Provincetown’s Role in American History and Culture” will bring together 400 years of history under one roof. The season includes two new exhibitions — one on Wampanoag history, the second on an art style developed there – alongside permanent exhibits on the Pilgrims landing and an extended special exhibit on whaling and conservation.
“Captured 1614: Our Story (A Wampanoag History)” is a traveling exhibition that uses video and text to explore how the kidnapping of 27 Wampanoag natives affected the tribes, and later contributed to the survival of the Pilgrims. Commissioned by Plymouth 400, “Captured 1614” was conceived and produced by Paula Peters through her company SmokeSygnals Marketing and Communication, with the Indian Spiritual and Cultural Training Council.
According to Peters, an active member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the exhibition is groundbreaking, because “the Wampanoag story has never been told in our own voice.”
Four hundred years ago, the area that would become Plymouth was the village of Patuxet, home to a community of nearly 2,000 indigenous Wampanoags. In 1614, six years before the Mayflower arrived off the coast of Provincetown, 20 Wampanoags from Patuxet and seven members of the Nauset tribe from Cape Cod were kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt to be sold as slaves in Spain.
Hunt took the men in defiance of orders by fleet commander John Smith, who lamented ”after my departure, he … betrayed twenty and seven of these poore innocent soules.” The “Captured 1614” exhibit tells the story of the captured men and those they left behind.
Those captured included Squanto, the only one of the 27 Wampanoag to return from Europe. Squanto returned to Patuxet five years later, to find his home devastated by plague. He eventually came to act as a vital liaison for the Pilgrims who settled on the abandoned site.
Panels outlining these events will be accompanied by six short videos, in which present-day tribe members play the roles of their ancestors. These videos were produced entirely by Wampanoag tribe members. According to Peters, the idea was to humanize the events that occurred, and the production process began with ceremonial gatherings honoring tribal ancestors and immersing the role-players in history.
“It’s been great for the community,” she explains about the project.
In “I Must Save Hope,” for example, Christian Wessling plays the kidnapped Squanto, and in “Who Will Teach My Son To Be A Man?” Nitana Hicks Greendeer plays a young wife left without a husband. “Season of the Corn” features John Peters, Jr. as a tribal leader, who relates how the men were tricked.
Through June 30th, the “Captured” show will be installed in the museum’s Mayflower Gallery, alongside permanent exhibition “The First Landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown.” Through that juxtaposition, visitors will be able to make connections between the events of the past.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom it was (in Provincetown) that the Pilgrims first landed and interacted with Native Wampanoag before they discovered Plymouth,” notes John McDonagh, executive director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.
Along with an 18-foot replica of the Mayflower ship created by Truro artist Courtney Allen, “The First Landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown” exhibit includes several mural-scale paintings created by Chatham artist Al Whittaker. They depict the experiences of the Pilgrims during their explorations of the Outer Cape.
The second exhibition that’s new this season is “Fine White Line: Faces Behind the Prints,” which shifts the focus to Provincetown’s history as an important art colony in the 20th century. In 1915, Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt developed a new process in white-line woodcut prints, allowing the artist to create a full-color print with a single block. These became known as “Provincetown Prints,” and the practice was adopted by a group of prominent local artists.
To commemorate the centennial of Nordfeldt’s innovation, curator Bill Evaul, a contemporary master of the woodblock print and an art historian, has created a series of 16-inch x 20-inch white-line print portraits of the printmakers. According to Evaul, the process, which involves applying watercolor paint to the woodcuts, offers a full palette and is “ the most like painting of any kind of printmaking.”
Every print produced is unique, and the exhibition will feature side-by-side displays of prints made from the same block employing different color schemes, including four versions of Evaul’s portrait of Agnes Weinrich. Other artists depicted include Blanche Lazzell, Ethel Mars, Maude Squire and Edna Hopkins. The exhibit also includes a video demonstration by Evaul and a block used in the printing process.
Completing the quartet of exhibits is “Forgotten Port: Provincetown’s Whaling Heritage,” which opened last year and tells the story of how Provincetown evolved from hunting whales to saving whales.

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