Like a New England lighthouse, the small Cape Cod town of Provincetown has beckoned artists and gay and lesbian visitors for decades.
A new exhibit called "The Lure of Provincetown," opening Dec. 16 at the Stonewall National Museum — Wilton Manors Gallery, explores the vibrant history and gay culture of the seaside Massachusetts town through a series of photographs and paintings.
"A trip to Provincetown is kind of like a rite of passage in the gay community," said Chris Rudisill, executive director of Stonewall. "[The exhibit] connects with personal experiences of a lot of people who live here."
Three artists are featured in the exhibit: Fort Lauderdale's Len Paoletti; the late Miami photographer Al Kaplan; and Massachusetts native Midge Battelle.
Paoletti's paintings carry an impressionistic look with bright colors. His images capture scenes that include popular afternoon tea dances and shirtless revelers mingling in nightclubs.
Kaplan spent five summers during the 1960s shooting everyday life of bohemian gay denizens in this artsy colony. His black-and-white photos of same-sex couples openly conveying their love and being free were published earlier this year in a book titled, "There Was Always A Place To Crash: Al Kaplan's Provincetown 1961-1966," edited by Miami Beach journalist Brett Sokol. Kaplan died in 2009.
Battelle's works also are black-and-white photographs. Her portraits documented Provincetown's popular Women's Week festivities, capturing images of women who dressed in drag as male sailors, cowboys and football players during popular brunches from 1995 to 1998. Battelle sought to highlight the women's community there.
"Many women dressed up in high femme drag and some in high butch drag, and we had a wonderful time," said Battelle, 71, who lives in Provincetown. "There was a playfulness and liberation and freedom and a safety that we all felt there."
The opening of "The Lure of Provincetown" will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 16. The exhibit will run through Jan. 29 at the Stonewall National Museum — Wilton Manors Gallery, 2157 Wilton Drive. Admission is free, but there's a suggested $5 donation. Call 954-763-8565 or go to Stonewall-Museum.org.