619 Commercial Street

 
Sandstorm Cottage | Maurice Sterne house

The paintings of Maurice Sterne (1878-1957) “helped to make Bali a dreamer’s byword,” The New York Times said at the time of his death. Although not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, Sterne — who had studied under Thomas Eakins at the National Academy of Design — was an enormously significant figure in his day. Born in Latvia, he became an American citizen and was the first American artist to be honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1933. He was then commissioned to paint a series of 20 murals for the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower borrowed Sterne’s painting After the Rain from the Museum of Modern Art to hang it in the White House. (That was presumably a different canvas than After Rain, pictured above, which has been in the Phillips Collection since 1948.)

Not as famously as Eugene O’Neill, but even earlier, Sterne spent a summer at the former Peaked Hill Bars Life-Saving Station with Mabel Dodge, to whom he was married for four years. He spent the summer of 1944 at 516 Commercial Street. He and his second wife, Vera, acquired 619 Commercial in 1946.

In the 1960s and ’70s, this was the summer home of Diana Tead Michaelis (±1925-1981), a television and movie producer who had supervised the Oscar-winning documentary A Year Towards Tomorrow in 1966 and had earlier produced Eleanor Roosevelt’s educational television series, Prospects of Mankind. Her parents — Clara Murphy Tead, the president of Briarcliff College, and Dr. Ordway Tead, an editor and executive at Harper & Brothers — were longtime visitors to Provincetown. They spent their honeymoon in 1915 at the Emma Atkins home, 612 Commercial, directly across the street from No. 619, where they stayed with their daughter exactly a half century later, in the summer of 1965.

In the Anne Packard Book: Introspective, Michaelis’s son David writes delightfully and movingly of growing up with the painter Anne Packard and her beautiful daughters as neighbors, in 621 Commercial: “Because of the nearness of the sea, the circadian rhythm of tides, the spiritual spaciousness of bay and sky, and the ritual repetition of all these things summer after summer, you don’t just live alongside your neighbors in the floating world of Provincetown; you dream with them.”

Michaelis speaks of the paintings by Packard that his mother would bring home to Washington, saying they evoked

“not just the Outer Cape’s clean lines and scrubbed ‘land’s end’ light, or the bay’s weird, almost Western sky, but the emotional quality of apartness. It was this quality, unexpected in a woman as seemingly social and worldly as Diana Tead Michaelis, that decisively characterized Anne, both as a mother of five and as a painter of spare, deceptively simple images whose remoteness came to haunt me as I grew older and began trying to understand my mother’s life, after she died at 56 from cancer.”

The property has been owned since 1999 by Sherry Turkle (b 1948), the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author, most recently, of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

[Updated 2012-07-28]


 

 

3 thoughts on “619 Commercial Street

  1. For the record, this Michaelis house was the focal point for the award-winning essay “Provincetown,” collected in The Best American Essays 2001, and an extraordinary memoir of ‘recherche du temps perdu’ of 1970s Cape Cod:

    “I remember it every time I drive through Boston: the way my brother and I sat up there in the cool, collected conference room at the law firm, agreeing with everyone that it was a luxury for a couple of guys in their early twenties to own beach-front property on Cape Cod. And so we sold the thing we loved more deeply than any other.”

    The wonderful essay can still be found online as well, at the American Scholar, I believe.

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