Bradken House Condominium (Unit 5).

The substantial out-building behind 182 Commercial Street has stood there at least since the 1920s. It was designated Unit 5 under the condominium conversion plan put forward in 1982 by Edward J. “Brad” Brady and Kenneth C. Summerbell. Its first owner under the condo regime was the artist-illustrator F. Ronald Fowler (1946-2014), who was known for male figurative art, male erotica, and Cape Cod landscapes. After graduating from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Fowler began working as a book illustrator. His work was also published in Mandate and Honcho magazines, and in Reader’s Digest. (Asked how illustrators differed from artists, Fowler said: “The only difference as an illustrator is that you are given a challenge. In fine art, you give yourself the challenge. The rest is the same.”) He moved here in 1984.

Easily the most high-profile of Fowler’s book assignments was The New Joy of Gay Sex (1992), by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano, for which he produced more than 50 line drawings.

Fowler’s work was almost everywhere around town in the 1980s and early ’90s. He created numerous posters for Carnival; typically stern-faced, muscular, nearly nude male figures in florid, mythical settings. For more than a decade, he also drew posters and programs for the Provincetown Theater Company. For the Provincetown AIDS Support Group, he designed a poster in 1988 showing a handsome, square-jawed Leyendecker-like figure in evening dress, with condom packets sprouting from his breast pocket, where a pocket square ought to have been. The legend: “It’s summer. It’s Provincetown. And it’s the ’80s. Dress for the occasion.”

182 Commercial Street in 2014, by the Town Assessor. On the Property Summary Report.

Left: F. Ron Fowler drew more than 50 illustrations for the 1992 edition of The New Joy of Gay Sex. From Amazon. Right: A 1993 program cover for the Provincetown Theater Company. From the Theater Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5442.

Provincetown Magazine‘s 2 September 1993 interview with Fowler is in the Municipal Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 6280.

Left: Passion of St. Gertrude, by F. Ronald Fowler, 37 by 30 inches, mixed media. Collection of David Jarrett. Right: Absalom III, by F. Ronald Fowler, 67 by 16 by 5 inches, mixed media. Collection of David Jarrett.

John Schutz interviewed Fowler for Provincetown Magazine in 1993, and described the cozy interior of his home:

“The walls are adorned with examples of his work, reminders of the many styles and media ‘F’ has worked with through the years: abstract, collage, photography, construction, romantic oils, and his many inspirations — Greek mythology, land- and seascapes, and the male form. On an easel sits a huge canvas depicting moonrise over Provincetown harbor.”

Schutz, who had modeled for Fowler, said his work for The New Joy of Gay Sex was distinguished by the variety of his subjects in race, build, and age. “Just as relaxed-cut jeans are designed for the baby boomers as they get older,” Fowler said, “so too eroticism will also grow older as the population — and this artist — ages. I’ve been looking for an older man so long, I became one!”

In 1997, the artist opened the Fowler Gallery, at 423 Commercial Street. Two years later, he sold this property and moved to Eastham. Fowler maintained the Provincetown gallery for another six years, but finally closed it in 2005. He moved to Weymouth and was partnered with Steve Smith, said David Jarrett, an art collector. Unit 5 is now owned by residents of Dedham.

¶ Last updated on 9 January 2021.

182 Commercial Street on the Town Map.

Also at 182 Commercial Street:

Snip Salon (Unit 1) | Ptown Massage + Bodywork (Unit 2) | Bradken House Condominium.

Thumbnail image: Detail of a 1993 program cover by F. Ron Fowler for the Provincetown Theater Company’s production of Pippin. From the Theater Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5442.

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