‘Get in the Water,’ said Harry
To the editor:
Having read the recent reminiscences of the Poet of the Dunes, Harry Kemp, and now having read about the gentleman who braves the cold in Truro for a daily swim that opens up his nasal passages [“Herschenfeld and His Ushanka Brave the Current,” Jan. 20, page B7], I had to bring Harry, who also took an invigorating swim every day, back into the conversation.
My dad, John Whorf, was something of a kindred spirit with Harry, knew him well, and understood his soul. Too many others, especially later in Harry’s life, unkindly dismissed him as a pathetic character and a drunk. When Dad died, we used Harry’s poem “Dune-Revenant” on his prayer card:
“I said ‘when I’m alive no more/ And my soul at last goes free,/ You’ll find me walking on the dunes/ And down beside the sea./ So, if you glimpse a wavering form,/ Or front a vanishing face,/ You’ll know that I’ve come back once more/ To my accustomed place!”
Dad had drummed that poem into my head. He said it captured the hold that a place like Provincetown has on people. But I digress.
Dad constantly reminded me of a piece of advice Harry had repeatedly given him back in the day: “Always swim with your eyes open. Salt water improves the vision.” Whether there is any science behind that, I don’t know, but Dad took it one step further and was convinced that salt water was the remedy for anything that ailed us. Whether we had a summer cold, poison ivy, headache, sunburn, scrapes from barnacles, or had stepped on a rusty nail, the prescription was always the same: get in the water — and keep your eyes open.
Amy Whorf McGuiggan
Wellfleet’s Fiscal Problems
To the editor:
After reading “Two Towns May Collaborate on Finance Work” in last week’s Independent [page A1], I got the feeling that Eastham and Wellfleet won’t be sharing finance departments. Instead, Eastham’s town accountant and town treasurer will fill those positions for Wellfleet, too.
If that’s the case, I imagine it won’t be long before those folks start having night sweats thinking about the additional workload and problems they’re in for.
In that article, Mr. Sumner, the interim Wellfleet town administrator, was quoted: “With housing costs on the Cape — which I don’t need to talk to you about — it’s just going to get increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff.” But I think the problem of high staff turnover goes deeper than that.
Many have asked, “What’s wrong with Wellfleet?” as the town’s accounting problems went off the rails. Who wants to hop aboard that train these days?
Wellfleet’s fiscal problems could have been averted altogether if they hadn’t been allowed to fester for years.
Walking on King’s Day
To the editor:
Last week, ArtPeaceMakers toasted Wellfleet’s 20th community celebration of Martin Luther King’s legacy: drummers drummed and more than 100 masked walkers of all ages carried a rainbow of homemade signs and banners down Main Street, many in defense of voting rights.
Since Covid put the kibosh on indoor gatherings, we’ve skipped the usual multimedia program and potluck that always packs Preservation Hall after the walk. Instead, we play recordings of King’s speeches outdoors. But we continue to collect donations in his memory for the Food Pantry; we still spotlight children’s art (see “Creating Beloved Community” at the Hall until Jan. 28); and we still sponsor nonviolence education and training.
Why a silent walk? Our first “WalKING” meditation, on the brink of the Iraq War, was a tribute to King’s friendship with Thich Nhat Hanh, who died on Sunday. A master of engaged Buddhism and a renowned teacher of mindfulness and walking meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh had a profound influence on King and on many of us who are feeling his presence now more than ever.
The ‘Network of Mutuality’
To the editor:
Following an inspiring virtual breakfast program organized by Nauset Interfaith’s MLK Action Team, I was lucky to be able to take part in Wellfleet’s wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. Day walk. After a windy and snowy morning, the sun broke through as if on cue, shining on the parking lot full of masked marchers at Town Hall. We did not know that Zen teacher, poet, essayist, and MLK friend Thich Nhat Hanh would die just five days later.
At two retreats I attended with the Buddhist teacher, seating was reserved at the front for young people, and the sessions started with children’s songs. One of the treasures of the Wellfleet event every year is that, as families participate and parents attempt to honor the silence, the only sounds heard during the half hour walk are the younger children, in hushed voices, a balm for those of us who don’t have young ones in our daily lives.
Something about the “interrelatedness of all communities” can leave us overwhelmed and discouraged when we follow the national and international news of the day. What can we do? Many Outer Cape Codders came together this year to remember that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and to celebrate the holiday. Finding ourselves “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” as King wrote in the Letter From Birmingham Jail, we might as well rejoice and get back to work!
Questioning Provincetown’s Status
To the editor:
A longtime fan of Provincetown, I am nonetheless calling into question its claimed status as America’s oldest art colony.
To quote the town’s tourist authority: “Provincetown is a haven for artists and art appreciators alike. As America’s oldest continuous art colony, it offers everyone different ways to enjoy the local art throughout the calendar year.”
The town can lay claim to being one of America’s oldest art colonies but by no means the oldest. And the choice of the word “continuous” is curious and very hard to prove.
Charles Hawthorne arrived in 1898, according to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. The Cape School of Art reports: “By 1915, Provincetown would grow into one of the largest art colonies in the world, attracting such luminaries as Childe Hassam, William Paxton, and Ernest Lawson.” Note there is no claim of its being the oldest.
If 1898 is the agreed-on founding year of the Provincetown art colony, it beats Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, N.Y., which dates from 1903. But the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester, founded in 1850, is likely the oldest in America. Others in the older-than-P’town category are Monterey-Carmel, Calif., which dates continuously (according to the Monterey Chamber of Commerce) from 1875 and Monhegan Island, Maine from 1890. The Eagle’s Nest Colony in Oregon, Illinois (near Chicago), dating from 1898, is tied with Provincetown.
I remember well the venerable and lovely Provincetown of my childhood. (My parents were students of Hans Hofmann and we spent 12 summers on Capt. Jack’s Wharf in the 1940s and ’50s.)
What all the older colonies have in common is patronage by American masters like Edward Hopper. Still, I recommend that the town adopt a more historically accurate appellation as “one of America’s oldest art colonies.”
Douglas I. Sheer
The writer is president of Artists Talk on Art, founded in 1974.
Remember Joan Pereira
To the editor:
I write to thank Tom Recchio for the accurate and sensitive obituary of Joan Pereira [Jan. 13, page A13]. In my opinion, Joan is one of the great Provincetown painters of her generation.
I first met her when I was a teenager in 1966. Her honesty in life and on the canvas had an unforgettable impact on my young mind. Joan’s work, whether it was drawing, painting, sculpting, or teaching, always knocked it out of the park. Her best quality was she never compromised her art and she didn’t apologize for it.
May the art world take a good look and recognize one of this region’s best.
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