“There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.”

James Thurber

This might explain why Catholics light Advent candles during December to commemorate the arrival of the child they acknowledge as the Light of the World. Homes and businesses are decked out with glaring electric luminescence, but it’s the glow of the candle that matters at Christmas.

Here on Cape Cod, light has always been a part of the character of the place. In my forthcoming novel, Cold Stun, I tell the story this way:

At least 250 generations of Native Americans had lived on Cape Cod before the Europeans eliminated them. These indigenous dwellers took as their name Wampanoag: “People of the First Light.” They were isolated from any neighboring tribes. Of them it was said: “They avoid the mainland, because they have become one with the eastern ocean, and it is their delight.” With no human contact beyond their borders, their belief was that they saw each day’s sunrise before anyone else. So they thought themselves a chosen people. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that a study determined exactly where in the United States the sun’s first rays fell each morning. The Wampanoag believed correctly.

Cape Cod’s unique light is legendary, and a significant reason why so many people have conferred on this transcendent sandbar the status of “paradise.”

This is especially true of the countless numbers of artists whom Cape light has attracted for more than a century. Our light made the Outer Cape – Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown – home to the nation's oldest art colony and a microcosm of American 20th century art.

Why? Because -- to paraphrase French novelist Paul Bourget -- light is to painting as ideas are to literature.

Cape light has been described by painters as reminiscent of the south of France or the Greek islands.

The light here is “legendary to the point of cliché,” the curator of Truro’s Highland Museum once said.

Even Cape Cod’s gray light provides uncommon opportunity to create works of surpassing beauty, like this photograph -- “Gray Light at Mill Creek” …

Ziegmont Guzikowski, Cape Cod Art Association
Ziegmont Guzikowski, Cape Cod Art Association

The artistry of Hans Hoffman sparked the first American art movement -- abstract expressionism. Hoffman founded a Provincetown art school that attracted innumerable of painters, many of whom went on to make significant contributions to American art. He taught that, “In nature, light creates the color. In the picture, color creates the light.”

Imbuing a painting with light is no easy matter. “Light is a thing that cannot be reproduced, but must be represented by something else – by color,” Paul Cezanne said. “So that light does not exist for the painter.”

Cape Cod’s winter light is no less spectacular than summer’s.

“The light in winter is most varied; there are days when it's clear and bright, carving the earth into light and shadow like a razor,” landscape painter Peter Fiore says. “Yet, at times, the light can be soft and quiet as a whisper, with color of the most intense chromatic variations anyone could ever need.”

I can attest to that. The most beautiful sunsets I witness from my home in Truro occur in winter.

December sunset at my Truro home.December sunset at my Truro home.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod and the Cotuit Center for the Arts are opening a combined winter exhibit on January 11 -- in the melancholic depth of our winter.

It’s titled “Seeing the Light.”

In my next blog, “Always the Beginner”


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  • Peter Yaremko
    published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 10:21:43 -0400