The Art of Nature / The Nature of Art – Dorothy Palanza & APPEARANCES

On a gorgeous spring day the warm rays of sun shine through the double-layered canopy of scrub pines and the taller maples and oaks at the Dunes’ Edge Campground. Work crews clean up piles of pine needles and branches after a wild and windy winter finally seems to be over as trees bud and daffodils bloom. As the woods burst back to life there is something else emerging at the campground. Strings of twine hang from several trees with wooden ornaments resembling tiny buoys dangle not far overhead. Braided colorful cardboard cuffs decorate a grove of trees. A “camp fire” made of old tire pieces sits in the middle of a campsite. Dunes’ Edge Campground is being turned into an eco-sculpture park as part of the Third Annual Provincetown Green Arts Festival featuring over 25 artists from all over the world.

The Trustees of Reservations recently bought the 17-acre campground ensuring its preservation as a campground in perpetuity (see sidebar). Dunes’ Edge opened as a campground in 1960, a year before the Cape Cod National Seashore, which abuts the campground, was created. Over those years many residents and visitors have never seen the campground, which is strikingly beautiful with views of kettle ponds nestled in thick woods.

“That’s the point,” says Dorothy Palanza, festival director. “We want to bring awareness to our conservation lands in Provincetown.”

Sponsored by the Provincetown Conservation Trust, Appearances melds two of the most beloved aspects of life in Provincetown – art and the environment. And in addition to giving artists an outlet to create new works, the festival also invites the public to think about and appreciate conservation land within Provincetown, to see and experiences its benefits. Camping provides an inexpensive way to visit the Outer Cape, as well as a setting to enjoy the natural beauty away from the hustle and bustle of town. Artists creating installations at the campground are also allowed to camp during the festival, a truly immersive artistic endeavor. The art installations will stay up after the festival is over for a time to allow campers arriving after the May 1 season opening day to appreciate the work, as well.

“The idea that is very cool is that people can camp while the art is up,” says Palanza. “Camping is inexpensive and very beautiful. “

Wandering through the campground currently is like an artistic Easter egg hunt, with installations around each bend or up in trees. And on a mid April day, prior to the advent of the festival, it is also a growing work in progress. Artist Autumn Doyle is working on her contribution to the festival, a piece made of reeds and thorns title “Reed Ogham #3.” Hailing from the Berkshires, Doyle is sitting on the pine needle covered ground with knife in hand, working while looking at her notebook full of elaborate sketches of what will be not only an eco-installation but also a tri-language translation of a poem in an ancient Druid alphabet. Lines of reeds will hold up shorter bits of reeds and thorns in an old Celtic Druid language that features a short poem that Doyle first writes in English, translates into Gaelic and then into the ancient tree-based alphabet. The translation of the poem is:

Perhaps if you see

hawk or crow

speak softly for

me and say hello.

“Those that see this may see things differently even if they don’t see it as an old Druid alphabet,” says Doyle, who wears bright green eye shadow and black eyeliner creating an Eye of Horus on each eye. “It transports people in space and time. The display makes it into a sacred space.”

Events for Appearances will be happening all over town, both indoors and out, through Sunday, April 28. But the installations at the Dunes’ Edge Campground are of particular focus both because it is a new element to the young festival and it’s a celebration of the fact that the campground will be forever protected from development. Environmentally it’s a special parcel of land, both because of its natural beauty and affordable accommodations. But historically, it’s also compelling as the structures within the campground harkens back to a simpler time. The campground restrooms resemble a log cabin in the tradition of 1950s tourist architecture. Basic, yet rustically stylish, the restrooms feature bright orange-stenciled “Men” and “Women” along with perhaps an “only in Provincetown” reminder that states, “1 Adult Per Shower.” And at the entrance to each shower stall is a coin box where 25 cents gives you three minutes.

Not far from the restrooms, over a particularly high mound that leads to a plateau before diving steeply into wetlands, are three women from Northampton working on a piece titled “Bridges to Cross, Bridges to Burn.” The car with trailer in tow holds their materials, some of which are spread about the ground as the three artists – Harriet Diamond, Rebecca Muller, Mary Bernstein – make decisions.

“We’re just doing our thing,” says Muller. “It’s a big experiment.”

Small figurative sculptures give their installation space a Gulliver’s Travel feel, which is peppered with tall metallic mesh that resembles an industrial version of the scrappy scrub pines surrounding them. The finished work will be an outdoor version of an indoor piece they recently did in western Massachusetts. The goal is to create a “dystopia” and a “cataclysmic environment.”

“People kept leaving notes that they were praying for us,” says Diamond, eliciting laughs from all three regarding the first presentation of their idea, which now moves outdoors.

As spring continues to burst forth, the landscape changes from day to day, and for the most part, as the artwork will remain at its core the same, the message and voice with each piece will changes with the approach of a new season. That is in part the soul of environmental art, making them living and breathing, and in a sense, always a work in progress. The hope is that having the campground as a sculpture park will become an annual event, as the Trustees of Reservations have cooperated with such projects in other preserved campgrounds around the Commonwealth.

“They have been such great partners,” says Palanza about the Trustees of Reservations. “There is such an exciting future here at the campground.”

The Third Annual Appearances: Provincetown Green Arts Festival runs through Sunday, April 28 with various exhibitions and events all over Provincetown. For more information visit the Provincetown Conservation Trust at provincetownconservationtrust.org.

Dunes’ Edge Campground

After four years of hard work and planning, the Trustees of Reservations closed on the purchase of the Dunes’ Edge Campground on Route 6 here in Provincetown this past March. The purchase forever preserves the area as a campground ensuring future generations will have the opportunity to be close to nature as well as offering affordable access for visiting Provincetown and the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Founded as a campground in 1960, the site was owned and managed for the past 45 years by Miriam Collinson, who worked with the town and the Trustees of Reservations, to ensure its preservation.

“It has been my privilege to be the steward of Dunes’ Edge for the past 45 years,” says Collinson, in a statement released by the Trustees of Reservations. “With the help of family and friends, it has been and will always remain a magical place for future generations of campers and for local residents.”

The purchase of the campground was made possible by a $400,000 State PARC Grant and $1 million from the Town of Provincetown, approved by town meeting voters last year, as well as private donations from individuals and the Horizons Foundation, Sheehan Family Foundation, and the Fields Pond Foundation. The Town of Provincetown now holds a conservation restriction on the property permanently protecting it from development.

“The Town of Provincetown is thrilled to be able to partner with The Trustees of Reservations to preserve Dunes’ Edge Campground for continued public use,” says David Gardner, Assistant Town Manager. “Preservation of the Campground is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Provincetown to not only protect a vital natural resource area, but also maintain a critical recreational opportunity for residents and visitors alike. We are happy to welcome an organization like The Trustees, with such commitment and experience in conservation, as members of our community.”

Dunes’ Edge Campground occupies 17 acres adjacent to the Cape Cod National Seashore and offers 85 seasonal camping sites for tents, pop-ups, and vans and 15 seasonal sites for motor homes and travel trailers with water and electric hook ups. David Finch will manage the campground as superintendent on behalf of the Trustees.

Founded in 1891, the Trustees of Reservations is the nation’s oldest, statewide land trust and Massachusetts’s largest conservation organization. Founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot, the Trustees own and preserve more than 26,000 acres of open space and recreational land in the Commonwealth.

“We are thrilled to be adding another campground and a beautiful, recreational resource to our group of 109 properties around the state,” says Trustees President Barbara Erickson. “Dunes’ Edge complements our existing properties on the Cape and Islands where we already own and operate several popular beaches, wildlife refuges, and culturally significant properties. We look forward to sharing this treasure with returning campers, members, and new visitors while increasing our conservation impact at one of the most important and accessible locations on Cape Cod.”

~ By Steve Desroches