The medicinal properties of cod liver oil have long been appreciated — children’s grimacing faces to the contrary notwithstanding — and it follows that money was to be made from this elixir on Cape Cod. And that’s what Nathaniel E. Atwood did out on Long Point, where he built this house. Myrick C. Atwood succeeded him and lived in this structure after it was transported to town, joining a small colony of floaters on Nickerson Street. Its best known and best loved inhabitant, for more than 50 years, was the painter Mary Cleveland “Bubs” (Moffett) Hackett (1906-1989), pictured above. Her many admirers, among whom I count myself, see sophistication and passion in what look like naïve or primitive canvases at first glance.
Hackett was the daughter of Cleveland Moffett, a well-known newspaperman and author in his time. She studied at Cornell and spent time in Paris as a young woman, where she wed Chauncey Hackett in 1926. Hackett was general counsel for the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and was quoted by Time magazine in 1925 as observing sharply, “Prohibition does not exist in America or, rather, it does not function.”
Not long into the marriage, Mary Hackett began her career as an artist. “I started to draw for the first time when I was 24, and it was as if a child in a mature body was making those drawings,” she told Ann Wilson Lloyd, who curated the show Mary Hackett: A Survey at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts in Dennis in 1996, memorialized in a monograph of the same name by the Provincetown Arts Press. (The cover is pictured.) “I threw myself back in time and thought, ‘If I had been drawing as a child, this is the way I might have actually done it!'” She also emphasized, in a 1983 interview with Jay Critchley on WOMR-FM, that her style was not at all affected. She referred to her 1946 oil painting, View Down Nickerson Street of Hans Hofmann Emptying the Trash. “I’m trying to make it as accurate as I possibly can. I’m not trying to distort perspective. I’ve learned perspective the hard way. I haven’t studied it, so I only know what I’ve learned, and it’s all cockeyed, all wrong. But I’m trying to make it was literal as possible and it turns out totally different from the way it is.”
Five Nickerson figured prominently in her work. In fact, it was sometimes impossible to separate the two, as Keith Althaus noted in a 2008 essay for Provincetown Arts magazine.
“She painted every room from almost every angle; upstairs, downstairs, inside and out, the bathroom, bedooms and kitchen. She also literally painted the house — floors and walls in combinations of colors that live on in her paintings. She also ‘decorated’ doorknobs, stairs, trays, tabletops, and wastebaskets ….
“It was amazing to visit with those wonderful paintings on the walls, some in the same rooms they depicted, and everywhere are actual objects from her paintings …. Seeing things known through paintings is oddly stirring, like meeting someone important to you, but with whom you have only corresponded.”