A strong provincial art scene is often indicative of a compelling local culture with a strong sense of identity and history.
Interestingly, the term “provincialism” is often used as a pejorative term denoting a closed culture stubbornly locked onto the values, ideas and aesthetics of a specific region. The term is sometimes used in that sense to inaccurately label the art scene in South Coast Massachusetts.
Perhaps critics are referring to the influential nautical and coastal landscape paintings epitomized by the works of Albert Pinkham-Ryder, Albert Bierstadt and William Bradford, all whom once lived and worked in New Bedford.
Local and truly universal
Yet, provincial is not an accurate term for those famous painters of coastal classics. They all had a worldview and experience that extended far beyond the South Coast region.
Bierstadt was born and studied in Germany and is most widely know for his paintings of the American West. Bradford painted whaling ships travelling to regions as far flung as Antarctica and Labrador. Pinkham-Ryder’s moody seascapes transcend regional provincialism in the universality of their poetic spirit.
Similarly, the contemporary South Coast arts scene is anything but provincial in any narrow sense. While masterful examples of coastal-themed art works exist in abundance there are a multitude of fresh, diverse points of view.
William Street, New Bedford
William Street runs one-way west to east through the heart of the downtown New Bedford historic district. It’s a densely packed street filled with small, contemporary galleries showing an eclectic selection of fine art and fine craft.
William Street was once the center of New Bedford arts activity during the whaling era and then, like now, the art was worldly. Bustling activity and intriguing storefronts lend William Street the ambiance of a much larger city.
Judith Klein, owner of the Judith Klein Gallery on the busiest central William Street block comments,
“Sometimes we like to call William Street a mini-Soho. Look at just this block. We have 3 galleries, a vintage shop, artist studios, a Mexican Restaurant, an Irish pub and the New Bedford Art Museum up at the corner of Pleasant Street. There’s always something new to see.”