From the venerable gallery on its ground floor to the window wall tucked under the gable eaves, it’s clear that an artistic sensibility pervades 424 Commercial. Dig a little deeper, and its rich artistic heritage reveals itself. Not only has this building been the home since 1990 of the Albert Merola Gallery (originally Universal Fine Objects) — among the most respected and innovative in Provincetown under the proprietorship of Merola and his partner James Balla — but it has literally been home over time to the poet Keith Althaus, the artist Susan Baker, the artist Bunny Pearlman, the potter Peggy Prichett, the artist Allegra Printz, the quilt-maker Julie Simms, the playwright Myra Slotnick, and the fine-art printer Emiliano Sorini (1931-1999), who collaborated with Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, among other giants. Of course, it is connected to the sea. John Pidgeon (1850-1928), a ship carpenter whose boatyard was nearby (on the waterfront lot between Angel Foods and the George Bryant-Ken Fulk house), lived here in the early 20th century with his wife, Louise M. Pidgeon (1858-1929), and their daughter, Lizzie (Pidgeon) Vose, a school teacher. There is a strong Portuguese thread, through decades of ownership by the Parsons-Henrique and Ventura families. The house has ties to Provincetown Arts. And it once was where Town Crier Thomas C. Hennessey (1917-1967) hung his hat.
424 Commercial Street in 2009. Photograph by David W. Dunlap.
Louise Pidgeon was the purchaser of the house in 1913 for $1,200, from the estate of Betsey Cobb. But the Pidgeons were already listed here in a 1901 directory, when the house was denominated 393 Commercial Street (under the old numbering system), so I presume they had been renting it.
Pidgeon and his longtime friend Alexander J. McQuarrie worked at the famed and once-thriving shipyard of John G. Whitcomb, at what is now 467 Commercial Street. Not too long after Whitcomb died in 1901, the two became successor partners in the yard, which was renamed Pidgeon & McQuarrie’s. McQuarrie retired from the partnership in 1915 and died two years later. By the time Pidgeon took over the Whitcomb operation, the age of shipbuilding had passed in Provincetown. But there was plenty of work to do keeping the fleet in good repair; not so much highliners and Bankers as the scows from which trap fishermen would construct and tend giant weirs, and harvest fish from their pounds.
“Abundant signs of fishing revival were given Tuesday in scenes of activity along shore and in harbor,” the Advocate reported on 28 March 1918. “Weir boats, repaired and repainted, were being launched from the Pidgeon yard, where they had laid over the winter.” Conversely, on 26 September 1918, the newspaper said: “Hints of the approach of the fishing season’s end are given in the growing number of weir scows and weir motorcraft hauled up for repairs at the Pidgeon shipyard.”
The Pidgeons’ daughter, Lizzie, sold 424 Commercial in 1933 to Frank Henrique Parsons Sr. and his wife, Marion Henrique Parsons. I believe — though I’m eager to be corrected if wrong — that this couple is one and the same as the Frank Parsons Passion Henrique (1877-1967) and Marion Dores (Paxero) Henrique (1880-1967) who are buried together in St. Peter’s cemetery.
If I’m correct, this was the Frank Henrique who owned and skippered the dragger Dorothy until 1940, when it moved to Gloucester. The family came from Fuseta, on the southern coast of Portugal, in 1904. Frank and Marion’s children were Capt. Frank H. Parson Jr. (1901-2002), who named his fabled dragger Richard & Arnold after his sons; Manuel P. Henrique (1903-1989); Capt. Henry Passion (1907-2006), skipper of the Liberty, Liberty II, and Liberty Belle; Frances (Henrique) Ramos (1914-1998); and Marion P. (Henrique) Thomas (1916-2019). The 1940 census shows four people at this address: Frank H. Parsons, age 66; Marion D. Parsons, 65; their daughter Marion Thomas, 23; and her new husband, the 32-year-old Capt. Manuel Thomas, skipper of Evangeline D.
Untitled, by Emiliano Sorini (1962). Color lithograph on ivory wove paper, published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop. Art Institute Chicago, Reference No. 1963.1703. Gift of Burt Kleiner. Sorini and his wife, Barbara, owned No. 424 from 1963 to 1983.
The fisherman Loring Anthony Ventura (1911-2006) and his wife, Gwendolyn Augustine (Edwards) Ventura (1916-1994) bought this property from the Parsons/Henriques in 1945. Their son Loring “John” Ventura told me in 2017:
“I remember my dad and mom telling us that he bought it for around $6,000 and sold it for around $9,400. He said ‘I don’t know how this person is going to be able to pay for it!’ My sister Bertha Naomi and I were there when sister Audrey was born. My dad was a commercial fisherman, mom worked as needed for our grandparents, John ‘Pop’ Edwards and Georgiana ‘Ma’ Edwards at their restaurant, Chef’s Restaurant, now known as the Governor Bradford.”
“Pop” Edwards was also known widely in town as “Chef” Edwards. Besides running Chef’s Lunch and the Sandwich Shop, he kept busy as a caterer, and so, the Advocate said, “there are few who have not partaken of meals prepared by him.” He died here in 1949.
Thomas C. Hennessey, a popular teacher at Provincetown High School, bought the house from the Venturas in February 1955, just two months before he married Edith Dorothy Costa (1912-1992). They made their home here. Thomas held a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s degree from Boston University. He was part of the Army’s chemical warfare efforts during World War II as a corporal in the 805th Chemical Company, Air Operations, which operated in both the Mediterranean and Mid-Pacific Theaters. At P.H.S., he taught English, Latin, social studies, and history.
In 1957, Hennessey was officially designated town crier by the Board of Selectmen and town manager, making Provincetown “the only community in the country to have an official town crier,” the Advocate observed. He had enormous buckled shoes to fill, as he succeeded Arthur Paul “Art” Snader Sr., perhaps the highest profile crier in town before Kenneth Lonergan. Hennessey held the post for a single season. His successor in 1958 left town after a few weeks, when Snader was called to resume the job.
The artistic prominence of 424 Commercial was assured in 1963, when the Hennesseys sold it to Emiliano Sorini and his wife, Barbara E. Sorini. Sorini was an artist of considerable ability in his own right, but his stellar reputation rested on his work as a lithographer for many of the giants of the 20th century art world, especially the Abstract Expressionists. Motherwell was among those who worked with Sorini, as were Pollock, Louise Nevelson, Jacques Lipchitz, Raphael Soyer, and Jack Levine. Imagine how close a collaboration must be for an artist to feel satisfied with the work that a printer has done, to which the artist’s name will ultimately be signed. (Though Sorini added his own blind stamp to prints, as shown here in an extreme detail of Pollock’s Untitled etching of 1942, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Object No. 1971.307.)
Sorini’s gift, apparently, was that he “always displayed a subtle sense of humor while guiding both the tutored and untutored artist through the process of printing an edition,” according to a biography on the website of the Annex Galleries in Santa Rosa, Calif. “Although never forgetting that he was the printmaker, he sometimes would suggest a specific tone, shading, or degree of sharpness in the line for the artist to consider.”
Born in Urbino, Italy, Sorini immigrated to the States in 1959 and was naturalized in 1962 — just before he bought this house, where he and Barbara spent summers with their daughter Lisa. He worked under the masters: June Wayne at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles and Irwin Hollander at Hollander’s Workshop in New York. Then he established his own Sorini Studio in New York and near the end of his career was producing prints of Keith Haring’s work.
He was also a dedicated teacher, the Annex Galleries biography said, and sought to foster in his students “an appreciation of the technical and aesthetic beauty of the print.” Among the places he taught was the Seong Moy School of Painting and Graphic Arts, 7 Brewster Street.
Florence Vanderlitz and Paul R. Mason opened their gallery at 424 Commercial in 1964. This ad appeared in the Advocate of 9 July. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
I have to imagine that it was Sorini who converted the ground floor into a gallery space. Three months after buying 424 Commercial, he was advertising the availability of a gallery, including a furnished rear apartment, for the 1964 season. The first tenant in the space was the Vanderlitz Gallery, directed by Florence Vanderlitz of Newton and Paul R. Mason (1929-2013) of Springfield. They arrived in 1964 from the Mews at 359 Commercial Street. That year, they also opened a Boston branch of their Provincetown gallery — the tail wagging the dog — at 176 Newbury Street. The gallery gravitated toward realists, Edgar J. Driscoll Jr. wrote in The Globe, “throwbacks to the recent and distant past with their carefully built up forms, velvety tones, and use of chiaroscuro.” Henry Hensche (1899-1992) and Ada Rayner (1901-1985) were among the artists whose works were shown in the Provincetown gallery.
From the late 1960s through the early 1970s, the Hungarian immigré Zoltan “Zoli” Gluck ran the gallery here. “Zoltan Gluck immigrated to the United States in 1957; within 10 years, without any formal education, and solely based on the advice of a renowned artist and close friend, Raphael Soyer, he opened the Zoltan Gluck Art Gallery at 424 Commercial Street,” his son David wrote. The gallery moved to 398 Commercial Street in 1972.
In 1977, the East End Gallery opened, with paintings, sculpture, photographs, and fabric designs. It was founded and run until 1981 by Allegra Printz, who lived upstairs with her husband, Art Spivack. “I helped with the gallery when I wasn’t fixing bicycles, washing dishes, or commuting to M.I.T., working on my Ph.D.,” Spivack told me in 2014. (Printz, an artist, now resides in California.) The other couple living upstairs at this time was the artist Susan Baker and the poet Keith Althaus. Baker’s popular History of Provincetown (1999) is an absolutely delightful graphic chronicle that, like any great Provincetown tale, has as much to do with imagination as with reality — whatever that is.
Michael Maloney, a later proprietor of the East End Gallery, photographed by Roger Robles. Published in Provincetown Arts, 1987.
Left: Paul Bowen’s Hiraethum was shown at the East End Gallery in 1987. Right: An advertisement from Provincetown Arts in 1986, when it was still a newsprint tabloid.
Michael Maloney, an illustrator and graphic designer from Los Angeles, took over the gallery in 1982. He showed numerous first-rank artists, including Paul Bowen, Arthur Cohen (1928-2012), James Hansen (1951-1997), Melissa Meyer, Garry Mitchell, Jim Peters, Anna Poor, and Patrick Webb. His patrons, he said, included stockbrokers, doctors, and lawyers in their late 20s and early 30s.
During Maloney’s tenancy in the gallery, 424 Commercial Street changed hands. The Sorinis sold the property in October 1983 for $72,000 to Peggy R. Prichett, an accomplished potter, and her husband, Harry W. Prichett Sr. (1921-2000). In 1953, Harry Prichett and Edwin B. Wyckoff created the interactive children’s program Winky Dink and You for the CBS network. “How could it have been interactive in 1953?” you ask. An accompanying kit, sold for 50 cents, included crayons and a transparent plastic sheet that stuck to TV screens by static electricity. With these, young viewers could complete drawings beamed to their sets during the show, helping Winky Dink out of predicaments.
Peggy Prichett told me in 2012 that she and Harry had purchased 424 Commercial as a weekend escape from their home and studio in Newton. She continued:
“In 1990, I left my husband and moved to Provincetown full time. I created a ceramic studio in the basement, which ran the length of the house and I worked as a full-time potter there until I moved in 2009. The deed was signed over to me in 1996.
“It was a very special time in Provincetown; good and bad. Everyone I knew was a working artist or writer, which made for interesting and lasting friendships. The downside was the AIDS epidemic. I lost many good friends during those early years of the epidemic.
“Small towns are very special places. Over the years, I was a member of the Heritage [Museum] board and for nine years was on the Art Commission, during which time we raised the budget from $2,500 a year to almost $17,000 a year, making it possible to clean, conserve, and reframe almost every piece in the wonderful town art collection. We also hung all the paintings that are in the new library. I felt a very close connection to the town.”
Home to Peggy Prichett, 2009-2010, by David W. Dunlap
Garden photographs are courtesy of Peggy Prichett.
In the 1987 season, as Maloney was moving his professional life back to the West Coast, the East End Gallery was managed by Christopher Busa (1946-2020), the editor and co-founder of Provincetown Arts. “Provincetown is great because it teaches one how to do a full year’s business in a short period of time,” Maloney told Busa in an interview for the magazine that year.
“I would like Provincetown to be known again as a vital artists’ community, so that when people take their vacations they would come prepared,” Maloney said. “People come into the gallery and say, ‘Oh gee, I didn’t know there were nice things here.’ Yet there are. … In my travels around the country in search of another art colony where I could go in the winter, I found none that had the substance of Provincetown.”
The next year, Joel L. Becker took over the space, renaming it the J. L. Becker/East End Gallery. His time here was short. (Both he and Maloney are still active as of this writing. Like Printz, they are both in California. Maloney works as an art appraiser. Becker is a clinical professor of psychology at U.C.L.A. and an art consultant.)
Becker was followed as proprietor by the artist Bunny Pearlman, her daughter Lise King told me in 2020. During Pearlman’s tenure, the gallery moved to 432 Commercial Street, then to 349 Commercial Street, and finally to 491 Commercial Street, building a roster of artists that included Paul Bowen, Arthur Cohen, Tabitha Vevers, Kahn & Selesnick, and Bert Yarborough.
The place of 424 Commercial in the artistic firmament was further secured in 1990 when James Balla and Albert Merola arrived from the Buttery building at 432 Commercial Street with their Universal Fine Objects gallery, or UFO. The name of the gallery was changed in 1997, Merola told Provincetown Arts, because “too many people came in looking for the art of aliens.”
Left: Ad for Universal Fine Objects in the 1996 issue of Provincetown Arts. Right: A year later, the name of the gallery had changed.
James Balla and Albert Merola at the gallery entrance in 1990. Uncredited photo published in the Provincetown Banner, 18 June 2009.
Merola and Balla in 2019. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
Paul Bowen’s Skulp in the 2018 exhibition Risingtidefallingstar, curated by Philip Hoare, author of the book by the same name.
The gallery in June 2019. Photograph by David W. Dunlap.
On the wall at right is Esteban del Valle’s Worst Day Ever: Conquistador in Need of Encouragement Attempts to Help Himself. Dunlap, 2019.
Two handblown glass trays in a limited edition featuring photographs by Jack Pierson, decoupaged at John Derian Studios. Dunlap, 2019.
Irene Lipton’s Untitled in the left foreground, Michael Mazur’s What Water Brings II in the right background. Dunlap, 2019.
Fritz Bultman’s Persephone at left, and his Crocus in the center. Mazur’s What Water Brings II at the right edge. Dunlap, 2019.
In what is now the gallery workroom, but was once part of a rear apartment, Merola and Balla discovered — and preserved — an expanse of charming wallpaper showing musicians and dancers interspersed with flowers, rendered with a naïve simplicity that recalls Peter Hunt’s work. Dunlap, 2019.
Detail of the old wallpaper. Dunlap, 2019.
John Waters is the most universally famous of the artists represented by the gallery — he has also curated a number of shows there, like “Eliminate” (2007) and “Catastrophe” (2016) — but the Albert Merola roster is very impressive in any case. It includes Richard Baker; James Balla, a painter in his own right and a specialist in Picasso ceramic editions; the sculptor Paul Bowen, who was also represented by the East End Gallery; the estate of Fritz Bultman (1919-1985); Esteban del Valle; Donna Flax; the estate of Lester Johnson (1919-2010); Irene Lipton, the art director of Provincetown Arts; the estate of Michael Mazur (1935-2009); the photographer Jack Pierson; Mischa Richter, the director of the 2020 film I Am a Town; Duane Slick; Tabitha Vevers; Helen Miranda Wilson; and the estate of Timothy Woodman (1952-2018).
“All of the artists that we represent have a high level of integrity and dedication to their work, as well as a connection to Provincetown,” Merola and Balla wrote on their website.
The couple met in 1979 and soon found themselves driving here from their home in Connecticut, leaving around midnight and reaching the Cape at dawn. “Each stay reinforced the attraction that we felt for the place,” Balla wrote in the catalog for his 2013 show at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Into the Blue Again.
“It seemed like a rare and unbelievable invention — which, of course, it is.
“By 1984 we were living in Manhattan and I was going to school at Parsons School of Design. That summer we spent a week here, and decided that the following year we would move up for the summer. On my graduation day I skipped the ceremony and we loaded the car and drove up. … We found a small funky apartment in a building that was formerly Cesco’s restaurant [211 Bradford Street]. And this is where the roots really took hold. We wove ourselves (or were we woven?) into the fabric of Provincetown life.
“After two years of working in restaurants and doing odd jobs, we took a huge gamble and decided to open a gallery and to work for ourselves. … It still is a gamble every year. We have been extremely lucky to have such an amazing group of artists that we work with and represent, and wonderful friends and visitors who help make life here so rich and rewarding.”
“As much as a place can influence a person,” Balla concluded, “certainly Provincetown has done that.”
Left: Cover of the catalog for Balla’s 2013 show at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Into the Blue Again. Right: Into the Blue Again, a 2005 oil painting, is owned by John Waters, who says that it’s “like a jigsaw puzzle slipping off the table; a Franz Kline negative that has taken Warhol’s Shadows on a trip to see Lichtenstein’s Imperfect paintings and together they mock the unsophisticated public’s distaste of ‘modern art.'”
Double door windows made by Balla in 2004 using Fritz Bultman’s stained glass pieces and glass-making tools, given to him by Jeanne Bultman. The windows are each nearly five feet tall and were installed in Merola and Balla’s home. From the Into the Blue Again catalog.
Left: Pat de Groot, Jack Pierson, and Chico at a 2017 opening. Posted on the Albert Merola Gallery’s Instagram account, 22 July 2017. Right: Through the gallery’s front door. Posted on Instagram, 29 July 2017.
One of the great Provincetown traditions are the Friday night gallery openings. This was for Jack Pierson’s Some Old Homo show of 2019. Posted on the Albert Merola Gallery’s Instagram account, 3 August 2019.
Peggy Prichett sold 424 Commercial in 2010 to Julie Simms of Salem, N.Y., for $855,000. “It was the very first house I viewed — of many, in many places — and three-and-a-half years later I decided it was the place, and for whatever reason (including the slow housing market of that time) it was still available,” Simms told me in 2020. Not long after moving in, she met Myra Slotnick, who was then living on Lovett’s Court. The two were wed in 2013.
“I developed a quilt making practice and worked in the basement,” Simms said. She received a tremendous — if indirect — boost from the clothier Mary DeAngelis, of DeAngelis Cleary at 74 Shank Painter Road and Silk & Feathers at 377 Commercial Street.
“The biggest source of fabric for me was a serendipitous offering Myra saw on Facebook. Mary DeAngelis was looking for someone to take her offcuts from her clothing design business. I proceeded to collect Hefty-size bags and bags for probably two years. Those beautiful fabrics created a broad palette with which I began to work and I will be working with them for a very long time.
“I did not come to town intending to be quilt maker, which is a whole other story, but Mary DeAngelis’s offer made it entirely possible in a way I could have never imagined.”
Simms sold quilts and pillows at the Nap shop, 427 Commercial Street, in 2017 and 2018, then transferred the business entirely to the web. She and Slotnick moved to Priscilla Alden Road and, in November 2020, Simms prepared to sell 424. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,078-square-foot building — with the Albert Merola Gallery on a lease until 2022 — was briefly marketed for $1.459 million by Lee Ash of William Raveis.
Then Simms had a change of heart. “Many things converged to bring me back to 424,” she said, “this time to now utilize what was our residence as my studio work space. One of the major factors for me to return, and one of the reasons I moved to the house in the first place is because I love both the water and the street energy.” But not too much of either, which is why she found this upland location in the East End so ideal.
“As soon as I moved my sewing machine and scraps of fabric back in yesterday, and started sewing again, everything felt right again,” Simms reported on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. “More right than ever before perhaps. I am so looking forward to working there upstairs. … I am looking forward to being far more productive again.”
Julie Simms’s work space at 424 Commercial in November 2020, as she was moving in. The wardrobe at left was made by Jim Manning. The top half is so large that it had to be hoisted by crane and delivered through a window.
A quilt by Julie Simms.
Her basement studio at 424 Commercial in 2016.
¶ Last updated on 30 November 2020.
Art Spivack wrote on 16 May 2014: I lived in this house with my wife at the time, Allegra Printz (now in northern California), who ran an art gallery from the house, in the late ’70s and early ’80s: the East End Gallery. I helped with the gallery when I wasn’t fixing bicycles, washing dishes or commuting to M.I.T., working on my Ph.D.
Loring “John” Ventura wrote on 22 July 2017: My family owned this house from around 1944 to September 1953. I remember my dad, Loring Ventura, and mom, Gwendolyn, telling us that he bought it for around $6,000 and sold it for around $9,400. He said, “I don’t know how this person is going to be able to pay for it!” My sister Bertha Naomi and I, Loring John, were there when sister Audrey was born. My dad was a commercial fisherman. Mom worked as needed for our grandparents, John “Pop” and Georgiana “Ma” Edwards at their restaurant, Chef’s Restaurant, now known as the Governor Bradford!
424 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
• John A. Edwards (1886-1949)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 131759286.
• Edith Dorothy (Costa) Hennessey (1912-1992)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 190303003.
• Thomas C. Hennessey (1917-1967)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 133394561.
• John Pidgeon (1850-1928)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 51304574.
• Louise M. Pidgeon (1858-1929)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 51304591.
• Gwendolyn Augustine (Edwards) Ventura (1916-1994)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 162764531.
• Loring Anthony Ventura (1911-2006)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 162764570.