561 Commercial Street

A sublime and romantic expression of its occupants’ callings, 561 Commercial has a painter’s studio thrust over the sea’s edge, face to face with nature, and a writer’s cottage, tucked into the town’s streetscape. The poet Gail (Beckwith) Mazur (b 1937) is the writer. Her husband, the painter Michael Mazur (1935-2009), was the artist. They bought this property in 1989.

They’re not the first creative souls at No. 561. This was the home earlier in the 20th century of Robert Ball, an artist and illustrator who was the producing director for the 1926 season of the Wharf Players, at 83 Commercial Street. He also illustrated a 1942 edition of Dickens’s Bleak House published by the Heritage Press. His brother, S. Osborne Ball, lived across the street, at 556 Commercial. Robert was “often seen hand-snipping his hedge with his head encased in a section of silk stocking,” David Mayo recalled. “The Balls were terminally eccentric, yet wonderful!”

The Mazurs, who lived in Cambridge, were spending summers in Mashpee in the early 1980s. “We knew no other artists or writers in the town,” Michael Mazur told Christopher Busa in an interview for Provincetown Arts in 2008. “On occasion, we imported people to stay with us. One warm spring weekend in 1984, we were both invited to lecture and read and visit the fellows at the Fine Arts Work Center. We strolled around town and knew that we had to be here.” Later that summer, they attended Stanley Kunitz’s 80th birthday party at the Long Point Gallery, 492-494 Commercial. When Ms. Mazur introduced herself to the eminent old poet, he replied: “Ohhh, Gail. Michael Ryan speaks so highly of you!” She was hooked. As who wouldn’t be?

Gail Mazur was graduated from Smith College and studied with Robert Lowell. Her first collection of poetry, Nightfire, was published in 1978, followed by The Pose of Happiness, The Common, They Can’t Take That Away and Zeppo’s First Wife. She is the distinguished writer in residence at Emerson College and the founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge.

Michael Mazur was described as a “relentlessly inventive printmaker, painter and sculptor whose work encompassed social documentation, narrative and landscape while moving back and forth between figuration and abstraction.” (William Grimes, “Michael Mazur, Artist of Realism and Abstraction, Dies at 73,” The New York Times, 29 August 2009.) Among other benefactions to the town was his participation, in the year before his death, in the Provincetown Studio Show, an important effort to document the historical artists’ studios. Building Provincetown draws on that work.

The Mazurs remained active at the Fine Arts Work Center. Michael Mazur explained the reason to Busa in their interview: “We saw it as the essential core of a serious place. Without the fellowships, artists would go elsewhere because they could not afford the high rents. … Gail and I felt, if we were to buy a house and live here, we better work damn hard to keep the place as attractive to us as what drew us here. We couldn’t just sit back. When you get, you have to give back.”

I remember hearing Gail Mazur reading her poems at the center one summer, especially savoring the lovely “Bluebonnets,” which describes a day that she and her brother lay in a field of bluebonnets in Texas and ends:

We took no pictures, we knew no camera
could fathom that blue. I brushed
the soft spikes, I fingered lightly

the delicate earthly petals, I thought,
This is what my hands do well
isn’t it, touch things about to vanish.


¶ Posted 2012-06-09

2 thoughts on “561 Commercial Street

  1. 561 was owned for many years in the beginning of the 1900s by McClure’s editor Viola Roseboro. Not only did the newly married Cook and Glaspell rent it from her in 1913, but Glaspell and Lulu Huffaker rented it in 1912 on their first visit to Provincetown. Cook and Glaspell actually bought 564 Commercial Street in 1914 rather than rent.

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