Published: April 24, 2018
Auctioneer, art dealer, appraiser, consultant and independent curator Jim Bakker is celebrating 50 years at the helm of his business specializing in American paintings and prints. A member of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America, his interest in the trade was forged early and broadened to fine art when he graduated from Phillips Academy at Andover and attended Harvard University. The best of Provincetown’s art scene past and present reliably can be found at his auctions and eponymous gallery.
It says on your website that you were just 15 when you opened your first antiques shop in Ayer, Mass., on June 15, 1968. What have the past 50 years revealed about the wisdom of that move?
How fortunate I was to be able to spend my entire life doing something that I loved, and having been able to make a decent living at it. In the old days, my mother would leave me at an auction with the money I had made mowing the lawn and I could buy a box lot of stuff for $5. By the time she would return to pick me up, I had already sold some pieces in the lot to other people at the auction that just wanted one piece. I learned early on the importance of being a good listener and educating myself. After graduating from high school in 1971, I took a year off before going to Harvard University and showed at flea markets, including Russell Carrell’s at his cow pasture in Salisbury, Conn. When I returned to Harvard, I spent most of my time during orientation week in antiques shops.
We stalked you on your personal Facebook page and noted lots of posts featuring flowers. What’s up with that?
I guess I’m a flower child! The garden is definitely a big reflection of Provincetown. Living and gardening by the sea is a little different than gardening in the city. For my friends that are only here during the summer, it’s a way to share the beauty of the place so they can see what they are missing.
You have curated many museum exhibitions centering around Provincetown and its art colony. Do you have a favorite among those shows?
“Art and Craft: Made in Provincetown” at the Provincetown Art Association & Museum in 2013. The exhibition featured 60 works of art, sculpture, paint decorated furniture, textiles, pottery and objects by both deceased and living artists associated with Provincetown from my personal collection and pieces I had previously gifted to PAAM over the years. The show opened on my 60th birthday.
Your firm focuses on fresh-to-the-market pieces documenting the Cape Cod School of Art and Provincetown’s status as America’s oldest continuous art colony. How’s prospecting for such pieces these days?
I think we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. So many artists came here to study or paint. I have always been a champion of women artists. This started in 1974 with my first publication of a catalog on Lee Lufkin Kaula to my retrospective on Margaret J. Patterson in 1988 to Florence Brillinger last year. Every year we seem to discover someone new that we either never heard of or had ever seen any works by. Most recently I appeared in the documentary film Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson featured on HBO. Trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding Edith’s life, her great-niece retraces Wilkinson’s footsteps from Wheeling, W.Va., to Provincetown and back to Huntington, W.Va., where she was committed to an asylum in 1925.
So many artists have found solace and inspiration at the Cape. What attributes of the place call to you?
The light. The dunes. Community. Being surrounded on both sides by water at the tip of Cape Cod creates a pretty unique escape from the outside world. Also, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, where I have been the volunteer auctioneer for the past 30 years and a trustee for the last 25 years. Since artists first started coming to town in the Nineteenth Century, Provincetown has always welcomed artistic souls with open arms and provided inspiration and never a lack of great subject matter. For me what started as a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Boston on weekends is now the place I call home.
Best galleries to visit on a Cape crawl? And, of course, best food and wine?
Beyond the Bakker Gallery, other galleries not to be missed would be the Berta Walker Gallery and Julie Heller Gallery. Friday evening is the designated art gallery opening night crawl. Boasting more than 50 galleries in this little seaside village, there’s always something of interest going on throughout the year. Likewise, there is an even greater selection of restaurants from which to choose. Among my favorite haunts are Napi’s, where you can also get a glimpse of some of the best artwork created over the last century on the walls, Canteen, Fanizzi’s, Front Street, Liz’s Cafe, the Lobster Pot, the Mews, Ross’ Grill, Spindler’s and Strangers and Saints, to name just a very few. Check out my food page!, www.facebook.com/eatinganddrinkingwithjim.
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