‘Honest Abe’ descendant in art colony
While the subjects of Cape Cod and Abraham Lincoln are both widely studied in history circles, it’s not often that the two are connected.
However, the Lincoln family and the Provincetown art colony came together in 1923, when Mary “Peggy” Lincoln Beckwith, the great-granddaughter of our 16th president, was a student in one of George Elmer Browne’s art classes.
“The art colony in Provincetown has opened its arms wide to receive into its midst, Peggy Beckwith,” according to the Aug. 5, 1923 edition of The Boston Post. “She is right at home among the bobbed-haired, smock-wearing tribe who carry their easels daily to the wharves.”
Beckwith had never been to the Cape prior to this visit to Provincetown. She had worked for many years on her family’s farm. “I have always wanted to study art,” said Beckwith, who was 25 at the time.
“Now I am really doing what I want to do,” the red-headed artist added. “Last winter, I started my art studies in Washington, and now I am in one of George Elmer Brown’s classes here. And you know that is one point on which I and my friends disagree — the subject of art. I believe painting should be more than a mere daubing of colors. It should express something. But then, I guess I am not sufficiently along in my studies to appreciated this new art.”
Browne founded the West End School of Art at his summer home in Provincetown in 1916. His group was influenced by the impressionists and was among five schools in the town. He has work in the Provincetown Museum.
Browne, a Cape Cod native, had a studio in “The Row,” and encouraged “his students to paint pictures at once — to accomplish something that will have a market value,” according to a brochure for his school.
He strived “to develop memory for color and form, and to work indoors from sketches,” and believed “that from nature one can get the suggestions for the picture, but that the picture might be worked out in the studio on a largely different plan or pattern.”
Beckwith would continue to dabble in art and sculpture, but also had a love for aviation (she owned three airplanes during the 1930s) and operated her family’s dairy farm in Vermont, where she lived a reclusive lifestyle. She christened the submarine, the Abraham Lincoln, in 1960, and died in 1975.
Beckwith said that her family referred to “Honest Abe” simply as “A.L.,” and that he would have approved of her generation. One thing that she did not approve of, however, was consumption of alcohol.
“There is one thing I will say against young people and that is since prohibition has been in effect, they think it smart to drink,” she stated. “Now, although personally, I believe wine at meals are good, a law is a law and should be enforced. Then too, some of the stuff the people drink hinders them in doing their work. An artist cannot drink and paint at the same time.”
Her great-grandfather was recognized as one of the great icons of the Republican Party, and she admitted to voting Republican in the previous election.
“But I am not strictly a Republican,” she said. “In fact, I don’t believe in parties. I vote for the man.”
First published in the Cape Codder, Feb. 8, 2019.