With her eponymous gallery now in its 34th year, Berta Walker could be called the grand dame of Provincetown gallerists. But that moniker doesn’t begin to describe this ebullient, vivacious and fiercely intelligent woman.
Since she first came here with her family in the 1940s, Provincetown has been in her heart and soul. She cherishes the town for its embrace of eccentrics of all stripes and the opportunity it gives creatives “to resonate.”
Though she came from an artistic family, she is not herself an artist. She did give it a go, but, surrounded with so much great talent in Provincetown, she realized that her gifts lay elsewhere. Not that being a curator or gallerist was initially an option. At the time she came of age, the path for women was virtually non-existent in the curatorial field. So she blazed a trail in other arenas, going to business school and becoming a media buyer in San Francisco.
Her love of art led her to apply for a job at the Whitney Museum (in administration), where she oversaw cultural programming. And what programs! A couple of highlights include getting Jefferson Airplane to perform and giving Philip Glass his first concert. (She’s pictured here in her Whitney days wearing a skirt she made from posters for an Andy Warhol show; she wore it to the opening and Warhol signed it for her.)
But Provincetown always drew her back. She served as chair of the board of the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC), where she was a tireless fundraiser. It was one such benefit event that ultimately led her to her future as a gallerist. Working with a New York gallery on a show of Provincetown artists to benefit FAWC, the gallery owner asked her if she would like to curate the next show — and the rest is history.
Today, the Berta Walker Gallery’s mission is to “present the history of American art as seen through the eyes of Provincetown,” and it represents such luminaries as Sal del Deo and Paul Resika. The two works here by Hans Hoffman and Bert Yarborough illustrate the kind of intergenerational dialogue the gallery tries to foster.
Walker feels that galleries are vital to an artist’s growth and development, giving the work a chance to be seen and the artist an opportunity to get feedback. She believes that “art communicates.” When she and Gallery Manager Caitlin Dimino are organizing a show, they let the art speak, verbalizing very little between themselves and moving the art around until the exhibition finds its voice. At a moment when the Provincetown gallery world is challenged by a host of factors, how lucky we are to have Berta Walker to bring the glorious past through to the present and give us hope for the future.