447 Commercial Street

Angela Russo Fine Art/Karilon Gallery

The “Kar-” in Karilon is Karen B. Katzel (1921-2013), the “-ilon” is Ilona Royce Smithkin, and a gallery bearing their fused names has existed at least a half century, originally in Peter Hunt’s old shop at 432 Commercial. Smithkin, who left her native Poland in the late ’30s, studied in Berlin, Antwerp and, in New York, with Robert Brackman at the Art Students League, which has deep and broad connections to the Provincetown art scene. Two of her prominent subjects who also had Cape End connections were Tennessee Williams and Bobby Short. She can — and should — be seen in video clips like Ilona Royce Smithkin: A Colorful Life and the 2010 version of Eyelash Cabaret, with Zoë Lewis. Katzel and Smithkin also owned Poor Richard’s Landing, 437-439 Commercial.

Angela Russo is the photographer, printer, and gallerist who has managed this space since 2005. “At the gallery, she sells prints of her photographs, which she produces digitally on fine, exotic papers and other surfaces, such as canvas,” Howard Karren wrote in The Provincetown Independent of 23 July 2020. “She also sells the Impressionist oil paintings of centenarian Ilona Royce Smithkin … and the erotically charged male figure paintings of Bruce Sargeant, the satirical persona (and queer riff on John Singer Sargent) of artist Mark Beard.”

The painter Robert Bruce Rogers (1907-1981) had his studio here in the 1930s, at about the same time as Paul Smith (1904-1977) opened the Provincetown Bookshop, which doubled as a lending library. When it began in 1932, the bookshop specialized in works by Provincetown-related authors, a not-inconsiderable cohort that included Phyllis Duganne (1899-1976), Susan Glaspell (1876–1948), Inez Hogan (1895-1973), Harry Kemp (1883-1960), Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), George O’Neil (1896–1940), John Dos Passos (1896-1970), Lynn Riggs (1899-1954), Arthur D. Howden Smith (1887–1945), Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886-1970), Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966) and Edmund Wilson (1895-1972).

Isadora Duncan’s nephew, Menalkas Duncan (1905-1969), occupied this space in the 1950s under the name of the Duncan Sandal Shop. Duncan came about his interest in classical footwear through a most unusual circumstance. His father, Raymond Duncan (Isadora’s brother), was a devotee of things Grecian. “Devotee,” in fact, is not nearly strong enough a word to describe a man who dressed himself and his wife and his boy in the robes of ancient Greece as a matter of everyday wear around the house and out in the street. Raymond wove historically accurate clothes on a historically accurate loom, built his own historically accurate furniture, and married a historically accurate Ionian woman named Penelope, who played a historically accurate lyre. Once, in 1910, when young Menalkas was out walking around New York City in his historically accurate chiton, he and the adults accompanying him were hauled into a police station upon the complaint of a child welfare agent that the grown-ups had caused a minor “to be improperly and cruelly clothed.” This caused a predictable sensation in the press, as did the stories 10 years later when Menalkas — by now a 15-year-old — bolted the family in Paris and was next seen in a “neat gray suit of modern pattern.” How many teen-age boys in the 20th century revolted against their parents’ insistence that they not get a haircut?

Menalkas seems to have overcome that rebellious streak enough to specialize in the manufacture of sandals that looked nearly identical to the ones he and his family had worn decades earlier: two pairs of crossed straps joined to a central thong running between the big toe and second toe.

Later in the 1950s, Selma’s Jewelart was here (and on Charles Street in Greenwich Village). The store, run by Selma Dubrin, was later at 423 Commercial. By the early 60s, this was the Stuttman Gallery, run by Esther Stuttman.




2 thoughts on “447 Commercial Street

  1. In the 1920 census, Hope Atkins (as owner) lived here with her daughter Josephine Patterson. Also Eugene O’Neill with his family (as renters).

    Later, I believe, it was one or two of the “Patterson Apartments.” Her death notice is in The Advocate: April 9, 1953 page 3.

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