600 Commercial Street

This was not only the home of the painter Peter Busa (1914-1985), it was — for several summers in the 1960s — his gallery, too; his showcase. “I can show here with a feeling on my front porch,” he told Dorothy Seckler in a 1965 interview for the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, “and it’s like a big gallery because one painting is 18 feet long and about six feet high and I couldn’t show this in any gallery, any commercial gallery in town.” The property has been in the hands of the Busa family for 60 years. It is owned [?] by Peter’s ex-wife, Jeanne (Juell) Busa (b 1918). Their son Stephen (b 1948) lives [?] here and their son Christopher (b 1946), the editor and cofounder (with Raymond S. Elman) of Provincetown Arts annual, lives down the road, at No. 650.

Busa, a native of Pittsburgh, was first brought to Provincetown at the age of three or four by his parents, Salvatore and Ernestine, who had emigrated from Italy; he from Sicily, she from Naples. Salvatore Busa was an artisan specializing in gold-leaf decoration for churches and theaters. “My father later painted the house we stayed in, above a restaurant that was a hang-out for Hawthorne students,” Peter later recalled. “I suppose my image of Provincetown stems from those early impressions, but my interest in coming to stay later was kindled by Hofmann.”

He studied with Hans Hofmann in New York in 1935, two years after he’d been in a class taught by Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in which Jackson Pollock was also enrolled. In one of their earlier visits to town, Peter and Jeanne spent the summer of 1949 in the studios owned by Capt. Manuel Zora at 149 Commercial. They bought 600 Commercial from Pauline Reiner in 1953 for $6,000. “In Provincetown,” he said, “I ravenously ate up the atmosphere and light.” And Walter Chrysler Jr. ravenously ate up Busa’s artwork, purchasing more than 100 paintings in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Busa was a cofounder in 1953 of the cooperative Gallery 256 in the basement of the former Congregational Church next to Town Hall, at 256-258 Commercial. After a lease dispute was settled in his favor in Superior Court, Busa was established as the legal and sole lessee of the space. Busa’s works were shown at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958, which succeeded Gallery 256. By 1955, Busa was operating the Peter Busa School of Fine Arts from his home. He moved it in 1959 to a barn at 24 Pearl Street, then the Days Lumberyard and now the Fine Arts Work Center. “I like my students to paint more of what they believe they know rather than what they believe they see,” he told Frank Crotty of the Worcester Sunday Telegram.

During the 1961 season, Busa managed the Sea Horse Inn (now the Crown and Anchor), 247 Commercial. The first thing he did was repaint the main lounge in primary colors, reface the bar in driftwood and hang fishnet from the ceiling and walls. He called this the Minerva Room. The Busas moved to Minneapolis in 1962 so that he could teach at the University of Minnesota, but they kept the Provincetown house and, in 1964, Busa began an annual end-of-summer exhibition of his most recent work. The Busas divorced in 1970. She kept 600 Commercial and ran it for many years as a transient accommodation called the Arbor, offering cottages, apartments and rooms.

Peter Busa summed up his feelings about the art colony:

I was surprised how hostile the old hats, including Hensche, were to modern art. In Provincetown the past was not dead. It was not even past. It was as though they were untouched by Picasso. … I admired Ross Moffett and others like Bruce McKain, Provincetown regulars who were above all ethical and, with a live-and-let-live attitude, kept alive the memories of artists like Ambrose Webster, John Noble, Blanche Lazzell and Oliver Chaffee, Provincetown was an interesting place to work because it confounded the notion of progress in art, Like New York, it mixes all the directions apparent in art, all the shades good and bummy, side by side. This is the ingredient that sustains its atmosphere.

[Updated 2012-07-04]





3 thoughts on “600 Commercial Street

  1. One correction: Provincetown Arts was not founded by Chris Busa but cofounded by Busa and Ray Elman, a Boston-based computer graphics consultant and part-time Truro artrist.

  2. bon voyage, Chris.
    thank you for the tennis and determination. you were my first publisher. I’m already missing you mightily. what fun, our salad days.
    clay courts and ample literary discussions and most satisfying- discussing the challenges of being human.
    much love,

    cindy coble

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