They have different backgrounds, influences, subject matter and mediums, but they are united in supportiveness and mutual respect as the “Twenty-One in Truro.” The group started in 1999 when two women thought the Corn Hill cottages in Truro, Cape Cod, would make a great artists’ retreat. Within about a week, 21 women, all the place had room for, had signed on.
The venue for their annual week-long retreat at the end of September into October changed years back, from the dunes overlooking the bay, to the south-facing side of Truro’s Pamet River at the five Sladeville Cabins (which themselves have an artistic history going back to the 1920s).
“It’s electrified but rustic,” said Kate Nelson. “We have to prepare for 20- to 80-degree weather, bring boots for mud, bring food and artist’s materials, but it’s great; you get to leave your husband and kids, and be yourself.”
In their cabins’ living rooms in front of a fireplace or a picnic tables outside, some share expertise while others work alone, staking out a place in nature by the river, creating in oils, acrylics, pastels or watercolors. Some draw, photograph, collage, sculpt, do digital printmaking or installation art. They kayak and hike. They respect each other’s space, or as Nelson explained, “We have been creating art for a long time, so we know what it is to be in the zone and we’re respectful of that.”
At night, they tell stories, discuss ideas, eat potluck dinners of salads, fish and chocolate cake. “We are increasingly isolated,” said Nelson. “Everyone with their face in a cellphone. Good old-fashioned conversation is so important, taking the time to be together.” They’ve seen each other through illness, widowhood and the highs of grandchildren and professional successes; they go to each other’s gallery and museum openings. “We have each other’s backs.”
“Twenty-One in Truro: Celebrating the Cahoon Museum Collection,” up now through May 19, celebrates the group’s 21st year together, underscoring their significance as a one of a kind group important to the ongoing continuum of American art. They had shown there 21 years ago at the group’s inception, as well. They gave the Cahoon a collection of 8 inches by 8 inches by 1 inch works to honor the museum’s 2016 renovation and expansion of its historic 1775 Georgian house.
The prompts are pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, the common thread of which is Cape Cod: Robert Cardinal’s “Three Boats,” Erastus Salisbury Field’s (1805–1900) “Portrait of a Woman,” Daisy Marguerite Hughes’s (1883–1968) “Provincetown Dunes” and Margaret Jordan Patterson’s (1867–1950) “Salt Creek, Cape Cod.” “Each artist chose the piece that moved us most,” Nelson explained. “I love the luminosity of Cardinal — his background blue, the strength of his simplicity” and responded to it, in part because the painting fits her personality. “I’m an outdoors person, hiking, skiing, gardening. I’m just a light-filled person!”