Katherine Baltivik, well-known Provincetown artist and gallery owner, died on Thursday, September 27, a day after she turned 72, at her home on Ships Way Road. Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, September 26, 1946, Katherine learned to be fiercely independent after losing her mother at age 9.
Katherine attended William Paterson University as an English major. She always knew she had an artistic gift. As she said in an interview, “no shining light bulb existed for me. I always knew and could always create.” * When she went to her college advisor to switch her major to art, the counselor told her she was better off staying in English because she was not talented enough. As Katherine later said, the hardest part in developing her talent was to be inner directed, not relying on the opinions of others. *
After college, in the mid-1960s, Katherine went to work as an 8th grade English teacher at Madison Junior High School in Madison, New Jersey. She had her students read the Diary of Anne Frank and then design ceramic tiles based on their reactions to the story. Those tiles are now part of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. She stayed there until 2000. In the early days, Katherine was required to wear a dress. To express her individuality, Katherine would wear loud, colorful shoes. Her love of shoes continued throughout her life. When Katherine’s bed needed to be moved to accommodate medical equipment, everyone was astounded to find boxes and more boxes of shoes, many unworn, and even a pair of sneakers with flamingos on them.
In later years, her students fondly remember knowing Katherine had arrived at Madison Junior High by the sound of her motorcycle. She would blow into the classroom with a black backpack and slam it onto the table, at which point her students would jump to attention. Many students vividly remember her forcing them to diagram sentences, a laborious task that seems to have no useful purpose. But Katherine, the teacher and mentor, knew that this would provide the foundation for analytic thought. Katherine would also show clips of Rocky and Bullwinkle to her students just because she thought it was fun.
In the 1970s, Katherine visited Provincetown. As Katherine said, “I knew then I would be back when the time was right for me. Everything that I wanted was here[.] I didn’t just want to be another painter….I wanted everything- my life, art, civic involvement, interconnecting involvement with everything in my life. I paint Provincetown. I want to be part of the line of artists who have come before me and will continue to paint and create after me.”*. Katherine felt that she fit here in Provincetown, “I love it all: the lifestyle and people. The water. The magnificent ever-changing environment. The hidden places. The quiet winters to paint.”**
Determined, Katherine “made a plan and worked [her] derrière off and made it happen.”**
Katherine met her future wife, Ilene Charles, in upstate New York. Ilene was also an artist. In 1997, Katherine and Ilene bought real estate here and created the Charles-Baltivik Gallery. In 2000, they moved to Provincetown full time.
Katherine came here with the dream to capture the history of Provincetown and its ever-changing facade.** Katherine painted buildings, boats, oysters, clams, dunes, the Moors, and the Harbor. Katherine said that “[m]y painting styles are directly influenced by Provincetown masters such as Blanche Lazzell and the color theories of Hans Hoffman.” Blanche Lazzell, as described in Wikipedia, was an early modernist American artist, known for her white-line woodcuts and bringing elements of Cubism and abstraction into her art. These influences are readily apparent in Katherine’s work. Katherine always acknowledged a debt to Ms. Lazzell. Katherine was also known for her clear, brilliant colors.
Katherine was always experimenting. “My work is always changing as I am continuously refining it, from doing detailed works on copper to town-centered themes on maplewood, to landscapes and buildings, shorelines and oceans. What I’m really trying to do is portray the real Provincetown through my eyes.”**
Katherine carried on the town’s tradition to show Provincetown art by those who love the town. As she stated, “Provincetown and its history are always my focus.”** Forever the teacher and mentor, Katherine would often guide her artists and advance their careers. “I owe her so much”, said Andrea Sawyer, one of Katherine’s artists, “she taught me the business of art and she taught me to have faith in myself as an artist. But, boy, was she a hard task master.” That sentiment was echoed by another one of her artists, Timmer Naylor, “she told me that I should stop painting flowers (you’re in Cape cod!), and start painting boats…boats, me? Yeah, Timmer, and you have to learn how to paint clouds, too. She saw an ability in me when I did not.” Similarly, another Charles-Baltivik artist, Paul Cezanne remembers Katherine saying, “Boats Paul, give me some f——— boats” and “Pretty is a trap, Paul. Don’t.”
Katherine was actively involved in the community. When Bear Week in Provincetown was getting established, Katherine became an ardent supporter and was known as ” Mama Bear” because she always had advice and a hug for her Bears. She was one of the first business owners to fly the Bear Flag during Bear Week. Katherine was also involved in Provincetown for Women, and would volunteer during Girl Splash and Women’s Week, including stints as the bouncer at the Pied. She would quietly financially support Provincetown artists and other residents in need.
Katherine also saw the value of social media early on. She even went to “Facebook school” to learn how to effectively create a digital presence. Always full of energy, always learning. Katherine will above all be remembered for her wicked sense of humor, no matter what life threw at her. Even when diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor, she would interact with her loved ones with feistiness and wit.
Katherine is predeceased by her wife, Ilene Charles, and is survived by her two dogs, three birds and hundreds of grateful friends.
A celebration of Katherine’s life will be at a time and date to be announced.
* “Speaking of Art with Katherine Baltivik” by M.Sebastian Araujo.
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