Summer home rentals were already becoming unaffordable in 1958 for many families who were used to spending June, July, August and September up to Labor Day in Provincetown. The modernization of Route 6 was bringing more summer visitors to the lower Cape and rentals were beginning to shift from seasonal and by the month to by the week.
My father, the late Herman Maril (1908-1986), had honeymooned in Provincetown with my mother, Esta, in 1948 and they had returned each summer for the next 10 years.
Provincetown had always been a special part of my father's life. In the 1930s, as a young artist, his work had been discovered by collector Duncan Phillips, the founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington, who was visiting on Cape Cod. My father had rented a room to use as a small studio in Chatham and one day found Phillips looking at his work when he arrived to begin a day of painting. One of the first paintings Phillips purchased of my father's was a painting of the Provincetown wharf from that summer of 1934.
Although he didn't return to Provincetown on a regular basis until 1948, my father was hooked on the light, the coastal terrain, the salt air and the opportunity to spend time with many artists he had become friends with from having exhibited in New York for many years.
I can recall at a very early age spending the summers in different rented houses on the east end of town. Each house brought a different challenge to my father of converting a spare downstairs room or an extra upstairs bedroom into a summer studio. Because my father was a professor of art at the University of Maryland and my mother was a clinical social worker consultant in a private school, we always had the whole summer off and arrived in Provincetown the third week in June and stayed until a couple of days after Labor Day. Most years I missed the first day of school because we remained as long as possible in Provincetown before returning to Baltimore.
The summer of 1958, the year before my father had his permanent studio, is still very fresh in my mind. We had rented a spacious house and had become very good friends with Provincetown native Phil Alexander, who lived two doors away. Phil's sister, Mary Campbell, was our landlord. Mary, who was a renowned chef, later converted a house into "The Little Chowderbowl" restaurant, which was famous for homemade lobster stew, clam chowder and fresh blueberry pies.
Phil, the town's best gardener and a tireless volunteer for worthwhile causes, was a pioneer environmentalist who was battling to protect the ecology of Cape Cod years before it became fashionable to worry about water pollution and global warming. He found time to also serve as tree warden and dog officer and was always an activist when it came to circulating petitions and debating important issues in the town. Somehow he also managed to squeeze in Sunday fishing on his old-fashioned 25-foot wood skiff that had been in his family for years, so he could distribute fresh flounder and mackerel to all his friends and neighbors. I spent many hours on board that old boat, learning how to locate flounder and fluke from a master fisherman.
Phil, who never ran out of colorful stories about the town's history and some of the famous people he had worked for, became part of our extended family. And for years was a guest for dinner at least once a week. His flower arrangements and garden were the inspiration for a number of my father's paintings, including one that travelled all over the world in a Phillips Collection still-life show.
In 1958 we also got to know artist Mark Rothko and his family, who lived next door to our rented home. But near the end of the summer, my father expressed his concerns about the increasing cost of summer rentals to his real estate agent, Harriet Adams. He told her he didn't know how much longer we'd be able to keep coming to Provincetown.
Adams, who was confined to a wheel chair but seemed to know the status of every inch of property in town, told my father he should consider doing what a lot of the other artists were doing, buy a house instead of renting. In those days, you could still purchase a house within walking distance of the water for under $20,000 and get a 20-year mortgage at 5 percent.
Fortunately, with encouragement from my mother, my father decided to buy a summer house.
The timing was perfect. Raymond Rice and his wife, who lived two houses east of our rental home, had bought the property at because it had two single-floor apartments. Their home, on the corner of Atkins Mayo Road, was for sale.
The house, which was the original town post office and had been moved a couple of times, had character and possibilities for an artist's family of four. Because of our friendship with Phil Alexander, we were enthusiastic about staying in the neighborhood and continuing to swim at Kendall Lane beach.
After buying the house at the end of the summer, my father, working with Chet Pfieffer, designed a second floor studio that was added to the back of the house on stilts. Under the studio was a patio that extended up to a wall, about for feet high, of cinderblocks that were built into the hill next to Atkins Mayo Road. A few years later, we enclosed the patio and created a living-room with a flagstone floor under the studio.
During the winter of 1958, the studio was built by town carpenters Ray Martin and Dick Medeiros, following the Maril-Pfieffer plans. The studio has large picture windows, facing north, and a window on the east, Atkins Mayo Road, side.
When my father was alive, the studio had two entrances. He could walk directly from my parents' bedroom into the studio. The other entrance was an outside door, on the north side, that opened to a landing and stairs. This made it accessible sending out and receiving crates of paintings from, in the early years, Railway Express. It also allowed people who were visiting to look at work to enter the house directly through the studio. After my father died, we added a circular stairway connecting to the room with the flagstone floor below.
My father's easel was positioned near the north windows close to the west wall. He liked rocking-chairs and had a couple of mission style chairs on the east side of the studio, where he could sit, reflect and look at work on the easel. In those days, just about every adult smoked cigarettes and it was not unusual to look in the studio and see him with a Kent or Merrit cigarette in his hand, thinking about a painting he was working on. When the Rothkos sold their house, a few years later, Mark Rothko, knowing my father liked rockers, gave him his Boston Rocker, which is still part of my father's studio in Baltimore.
The Provincetown studio remains a comfortable, warm, and quiet place to sit. Shielded by the house from busy Bradford Street, there is only the occasional gravel sound of vehicles going up Atkins May road or the chatter of people walking down to go to the beach.
In the summer, my father painted every day. He would get up and paint early in the morning before coming downstairs to have breakfast. Often, he'd break up his painting sessions by taking a walk up town, getting a paper at the Patrician, going to the bank, the Art Association or the Studio Shop. I can remember a couple of times walking with him to visit Carl Knaths all the way at the west end of Commercial Street.
My father enjoyed, when the tide was right, walking down Kendall Lane to the beach. He would take a short swim, dry off for a few minutes, and then go back home and paint much of the afternoon. He was never one to stay very long on the beach. And while his paintings captured the ever-changing subtleties of the water, breakwater rocks, and sand flats in the incoming and outgoing tides, he was not one to stay very long at the beach. I remember very clearly he was not a proponent of beach picnics. Somewhere along the line he had an unpleasant experience with grains of sand in a sandwich and was less than enthusiastic about eating on a beach.
He always said he had never wanted waterfront property because he felt he would spend too much time looking at the bay and the horizon instead of painting. He was able to absorb and retain what he wanted and create his art in the quiet and privacy of the studio.
There was little doubt that it was serious business when he was in the studio painting and had a classical music radio station playing softly in the background. But he didn't mind when one of us walked in and started talking to him or sat on one of the rockers and watched him paint for a little while. Our first cat, a gray tabby, which Phil Alexander had tossed in the door for my sister as a kitten, converted him from a dog lover to an admirer of cats by visiting him in the studio each day. Thanks to "Silky", family cats became a frequent theme in many of his paintings.
I can recall many interesting visitors in the studio over the years. Many arrived from out of town. I remember, when I was about nine-years-old, Carmen d'Alessio, the director of the Babcock Gallery in New York, where he was showing at the time, and his wife Becky, eating dinner at our round table in the main room and then coming upstairs and looking at my father's summer work. Bella Fishko, the director of the Form Gallery, where my father exhibited in New York in the 1970s, also looked at work in the studio. Franz Bader, my father's Washington DC dealer for over 40 years, would also visit in Provincetown each summer to see the latest work. For a couple of summers, George Mladinich, who ran the Athena Gallery in New Haven, rented near by and was a frequent visitor.
Locally, Nat Halper, who owned the HCE Gallery and exhibited my father's work, came to the studio. And I also recall Tom Gaglione, who owned the Wellflet Art Gallery, looking at paintings he was going to show.