In 2014, Breon Dunigan and Mike Wright curated the Women Pioneers exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to highlight the important roles that women played in the history of the museum.
“Often, women artists in Provincetown married men who got a lot of attention,” says Dunigan, who is a fourth-generation Outer Cape artist. Her grandfather was the well-known painter Philip Malicoat, and a number of women in her family were also artists, including her great-grandmother Florence Bradshaw Brown.
“If you look at photos of art classes at the time, they’re packed with women,” says Dunigan. “But the guys got all the attention. I think that most of the big-name male artists did not take women seriously as professional artists.”
Dunigan and Wright’s research also revealed that, in 1915, 11 of the 44 works that hung in the first PAAM exhibition were created by women despite significant barriers. In their text for the exhibition, they discuss Tony Vevers’s history of the art association, which located its genesis in the rooms of the Nautilus Club, a women’s group. Years later, George Yater, an artist who served as PAAM’s director from 1947 until 1961, photographed some of Provincetown’s leading women artists in a portrait project.
During this time, PAAM became a center for the sale of local artwork, and the portraits were made as publicity shots. Of the 34 photographs included in a 1992 exhibition, Artists and Their Art: The Yater Years, six are of women. It’s a record of the inequity of the time — and the women whose talent and determination were a part of it.