One of the first works that you see upon stepping off Commercial Street into the Bakker Gallery is a graphite drawing by the artist Agnes Weinrich. It shows a woman, seated in a chair, her hands clasped in her lap. Her polka-dot sweater clashes somewhat with the seriousness of her expression. Her face is half in shadow; her eyes, mouth, and nose are chiseled like a Roman statue. A few flyaway strands of hair encroach on her forehead.
The drawing is a portrait of Agnes’s sister, Helen, a pianist who was married to the artist Karl Knaths. One of the first Americans in Albert Gallatin’s Gallery of Living Art, Knaths’s cubist work was significantly inspired by music.
In what sounds a bit like a premise for a situation comedy, the three of them — Agnes, Helen, and Karl — lived in the same house at 8A Commercial St. in Provincetown starting in the 1920s. (The chronology quickly becomes confusing because Helen, though Karl’s senior by 15 years, lived to 102, outliving Agnes, who died in 1946, and Karl, who died in 1971. Helen died in Provincetown in 1978.)
Right next door, at 8B Commercial St., lived a man named John Hord. Little is known about Hord — he was probably a park ranger and amateur artist — but he was a friend of the Knathses. Somehow, he ended up with over 100 works on paper by Karl Knaths and Agnes Weinrich.
Through a consigner working with Hord’s surviving family, gallerist Jim Bakker recently rediscovered these works — which are currently on view at Bakker Gallery through Aug. 1.
“They were in a stack about this tall,” says Bakker, holding his hands about a foot apart. Some were in poor shape, on the backs of repurposed scraps of paper — magazines, newspapers, envelopes. This makes them easier to date, says Bakker, as well as adding to their air of mystery.
For example, there are four drawings on the back of a page from Coronet magazine, which had been cut into quarters, dating from 1953. The drawings must date from sometime afterwards. There is also one drawing, called Hunter in the Dunes, on the back of a mailer from The Lamp, a magazine from the Standard Oil Company. It is addressed to “Karl Knaths, 8 Commercial St., Provincetown, Mass.” At the time, the postage from New York was five cents. Looking at the drawing, mounted and framed, one would never guess its humble origins.
Many of the works in the show are more polished. Agnes Weinrich studied with French cubist Albert Gleizes. (She later studied with Charles Hawthorne and Blanche Lazzell in Provincetown.) This influence is apparent in Houses With Figure and Laundry, the only painting that was in Hord’s cache.
Bisected by a gnarly, twisted tree, the painting manipulates the viewer’s sense of perspective, with multiple viewing planes. Colorful houses with shuttered windows are crammed together in a scene that could be Provence or Provincetown. A slender woman in a pink skirt and yellow top hangs laundry outside. One wonders if she is a bit dizzy.
Tea Pot Coffee Pot, an oil on paper by Knaths, is exquisitely simple. Rendered in shades of gold and gray, it captures the essence of a pitcher and sugar bowl with minimal strokes. Knaths appears to have thinned out the paint, or used some watercolor, so that it settles, drippingly, into the paper. It’s one of the few works in the show that is signed.
Other highlights by Knaths are Woman With Fan, Clam Digger With Rake, and In the Kitchen, three small works on paper that appear to be part of a series. Together, they have a storybook quality. Woman With Fan shows an elegant, porcelain-skinned opera attendant wearing a green dress and red rose. In Clam Digger With Rake, an imposing figure — reminiscent of Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac — sports an oil-slick coat, bucket, and rake. In the Kitchen shows a woman tending the hearth on a cold winter’s day, the family dog looking on, nonplussed.
Though it’s impossible to say whether this last domestic scene took place at 8A Commercial St., these works at Bakker Gallery provide a small window into the day-to-day lives of Karl Knaths, Helen Weinrich, and Agnes Weinrich.
The event: Works by Agnes Weinrich and Karl Knaths
The time: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday, 2 to 8 p.m.; through Aug. 1
The place: Bakker Gallery, 359 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free