If the Provincetown artists’ colony can be said to have a birthplace — that is, something more structural than the dunes and tidal flats and Cape light — this is the place. It is the Class Studio, built in 1907 by the painter Charles Webster Hawthorne to accommodate the growing number of students in his Cape Cod School of Art. Though his own house at No. 9 was intended for that purpose, the school quickly outgrew it. Distinct parcels now, the two were once part of common acreage. Among many students (Dickinson, Euler, Hensche, Malicoat, McKain, Moffett, Yater), a name that shouldn’t be lost is that of William Henry Johnson, one of the more important African-American artists of the 20th century. Hawthorne died in 1930.
Hans Hofmann took the building over in 1934. Robert De Niro Sr. studied here. Hofmann lost the lease in 1944 and was succeeded by Morris Davidson and his wife, Anne. Davidson’s School of Modern Painting (later the School of Contemporary Painting) lasted until the ’70s. He died in 1979, a year after the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The next breath of artistic life came with the Pop artist Peter Gee and his wife, Olga Opsahl-Gee. In 1994, they opened the Hawthorne School of Art, whose chief draw was Gee’s color workshop. He died in 2005, leaving her to run the school until 2008.
The Class Studio was purchased in 2009 by Joshua Prager, a journalist and author, who envisioned it as the centerpiece of an artists’ residency program called Twenty Summers. In 2012, Prager sold the building to Adam Moss, the editor-in-chief of New York magazine, and his partner, Daniel Kaizer. They, in turn, rent the barn to Prager for one month a year. His programs, which began in 2014, open the studio to “story-telling, theater, music, literature, and, of course, art.” Moss and Kaizer own an abutting 19th-century house (also on the National Register) that was dragged up the hill from the town center, according to the Davidsons’ granddaughter, Lucinda Rosenfeld. The couple has engaged Richard “Rick” Wrigley to design two more houses at No. 25.
Opsahl-Gee broke off a parcel at No. 27 where two identical new town houses stand. This was the site of the Round Barn, which was among several distinctive — “zany” may be a better word — classroom buildings of the Hawthorne School. The structure, reportedly a mid-19th-century apple barn, was trucked here from New York State.
More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.