In a kayak she rigged as a floating art studio, Pat de Groot rode the waves season after season for more than a dozen years, drawing cormorants as they stood on the rocks of Provincetown Harbor’s breakwater and spread their wings to dry.
Then in the early 1990s, she turned her attention to the horizon that revealed itself beyond the windows and deck of her waterfront home. “I am not painting pictures of what I am looking at so much as reflecting what comes to me,” she would later write. “I am translating movement and color to a surface.”
Over the past six decades, she became as much a Provincetown mainstay as the birds and sunsets she painted. Holding court in an eclectic house that defined ramshackle, she burnished her bohemian reputation with witty tales that seemed at times too tall for her small frame.
“She was the real thing. She was beatnik royalty,” filmmaker John Waters, a longtime friend who lives part of each year in Provincetown, said of Ms. de Groot, who was 88 when she died Thursday in Brewster of complications from a stroke.
A former president of Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center, she helped that organization weather a financial downturn more than two decades ago. And she had led a more complex and far-reaching life than was immediately apparent to those who only knew her as an elderly woman who strode purposefully, and often barefoot, through the town’s art scene.
A daughter of British landed gentry, Ms. de Groot had typed up Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts while working at the Paris Review in the literary journal’s early years. Then she designed books in New York City, creating covers for Nobel Prize-winners T.S. Eliot and Isaac Bashevis Singer. And she married the abstract expressionist painter Nanno de Groot, who died 55 years ago, the year after they built the Provincetown house that became her full-time home.
“There was no place like it, and she was always so welcoming. It was a center of a lot of the art and literary world — a certain segment of it, I have to say,” said the writer John Skoyles, an Emerson College professor and longtime friend. “She was totally unconventional, iconoclastic. She prided herself on that.”
Outside was a garden where “she could grow anything,” said her longtime friend Helen Miranda Wilson, an artist in Wellfleet. “And at the heart of her life — the center of her life — was her love of animals and her way of being with them, which was extraordinary.”
Ms. de Groot lived with her dogs and cats in a house that was its own work of art — and gallery, and salon. The building was a sort of sculpture-in-progress, inside and out. Plants towered in her living quarters, paintings filled walls, and a kayak dangled from the ceiling — as did a rubber hammock she set up to catch rainwater that slipped through the roof.
Her home was “a place to work and be and think and drift with the seasons,” Philip Hoare wrote in his 2017 book “Risingtidefallingstar.”
It was an unlikely residence for someone who had spent her early years as a child of high society.
She was born in London in 1930 and was 10 when she and her brother were sent to live in the United States. Their parents were Ernald W.A. Richardson and the former Evelyn Straus Weil. “My father was British and my mother was a New York girl. My father drank a lot of whiskey,” Ms. de Groot told interviewer Jennifer Samet for a 2013 interview posted on hyperallergic.com.
Ms. de Groot’s great-grandfather was Isidor Straus, a co-owner of Macy’s department store, who died in the sinking of the Titanic. Her mother, who was known as Evie, was an interior decorator who designed Truman Capote’s famous “Black and White Ball.”
Visiting Provincetown initially as a teen while accompanying her mother, Ms. de Groot attended a finishing school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
‘There was no place like [her home], and she was always so welcoming. It was a center of a lot of the art and literary world — a certain segment of it, I have to say.’
After working at the Paris Review, and living in Paris, she got her start in the visual arts in the 1950s as an apprentice to renowned book designer Marshall Lee. In Provincetown, meanwhile, she met the Dutch-born artist Nanno de Groot, who was then married to the artist Elise Asher.
Asher and de Groot divorced, and he married Pat in 1958. In the years following his death five years later, she divided her time between Provincetown and New York’s Lower East Side, learning to play conga drums, and playing with jazz and reggae groups. Sometimes she camped in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia with one of her German shepherds. And slowly, she found her own way into the art world.
“I taught myself by drawing hundreds of calligraphic drawings of seagulls, then black ducks and later cormorants,” she told Samet.
Ms. de Groot, Hoare wrote, “resembled a bird herself, with her shock of silver hair, intense brown eyes, and high cheekbones.”
She used the dropper from an ink bottle to make early drawings, then drew with bamboo sticks dipped in India ink. With some studies of cormorants she used a black Sharpie. For her sunsets, she used palette knives to carve and shape and spread oil paint.
She was represented by Provincetown’s Albert Merola Gallery, and exhibited in New York at places including the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
“I don’t think of Pat’s paintings as pictures, but as barely contained events,” John Yau wrote in an essay for a 2014 exhibition of her paintings in New York at the Joe Sheftel Gallery. “Even at their most still, you sense that everything is changing, reformulating, on its way to becoming something else.”
For inspiration, she needed only to gaze out her windows at the harbor. “There are all kinds of days, from dense fog to blinding dazzle to blizzard to all gray – each day a new experience,” she told the Globe in 2003.
“Snowing in Winter,” one of her paintings, “is more blizzard than seascape: The sky is all white, roughed up by brushstrokes and scratches,” Globe critic Cate McQuaid wrote in 2005. “That textural energy descends like the wrath of God onto the pale green water, weather blending with whitecaps.”
McQuaid added that Ms. de Groot, “painting at her window, has no aesthetic agenda other than to tell the truth, in small, exquisite doses.”
Ms. de Groot had no children, but Jocko Jorrin of New York City and his sister Justina Jorrin of Berkeley, Calif., lived with her for many summers. She leaves her brother, Peter Richardson of Washington, D.C.
A private burial will be held Monday and a celebration of Ms. de Groot’s life will be announced.
“She was born into a very different world, and then she invented her own world, and the most important thing she invented for herself was a way to live in the world with kindness,” Wilson said.
Waters said that Ms. de Groot “ran her empire — and it was an empire — with great style and eccentricity without ever trying too hard. I just can’t think about Provincetown without thinking of her.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.