33 Pearl Street

33 Pearl Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap. 
"Nellie Barnes," by Charles Hawthorne. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell: Book 1, Page 17. Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection).Former Nellie Barnes restaurant

Many things come to restaurateurs’ lips when their patrons tell them they can’t afford to pay. Most, however, do not say, “Damn it to hell, you don’t need any money to eat in my place.” But that is just what Nellie Marshall Barnes (±1874-1937) told the starving young artists who were among her favorite customers, as were fishermen and boatmen. Though her restaurant and boarding house was a bit of a hike from the piers, it was just a tumble out of the lumber loft for the artists who were working in their studios at F. A. Days & Sons, 24 Pearl Street, or a quick scramble through a couple of back yards — at least one with a hen house — for those at 4 Brewster Street. “She thought artists were wonderful and Charles Hawthorne was god,” Nat Halper wrote for The Provincetown Advocate in 1952. Hawthorne returned the favor by painting Barnes’s portrait in 1919, shown at left in a poor newspaper reproduction. (It is in the collection of the University of Minnesota.)

33 Pearl Street, Provincetown (1929). 1929 Sanborn Map. Town of Provincetown. 

Nellie Marshall was the daughter of a Grand Banks fishing captain, according to her obituary in The Advocate. She married Antone Barnes in 1892 and purchased property on Pearl Street in 1903. According to Halper’s account (“Nellie Barnes Was ‘Mother Hen’ to Many Early Fledgling Artists,” 28 August 1952), she opened her restaurant in 1918, four years after the Days studios opened nearby, perhaps sensing the business opportunity at hand. Or, at least, the opportunity to feed art students, since she didn’t seem especially intent on making a profit. “She would heap as much food on the table as the student could possibly eat,” Halper wrote. “If she thought that he was having trouble making both ends meet, she would put enough on the table so he could put some in a paper bag and take it home with him. [The sculptor] Bill Boogar says that she was a godsend; without her help his first few years here would have been absolutely impossible.”

Besides her generosity, Barnes was noted for her hooked rugs, her homemade salves and her candor, even — or especially — in matters of her patrons’ various love interests, many of which were confided by both parties directly to her, allowing her to have the skinny on each facet of the affair, however momentary it may have been. A reviewer for The New York Times was inspired in 1921 to write about the enigmatic smile in the Hawthorne portrait:

“It out-Monas the smile of Mona Lisa in Leonardo’s famous picture. It is a sphinx-like little smile which seems to say: ‘I know a great many things that I could tell if I wished — and maybe I might.'”

Historic District Survey, main house (1) • Historic District Survey, main house (2) • Historic District Survey, garage • Historic District Survey, cottage • Assessor’s Online Database ¶ Posted 2013-06-10

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