Our Provincetown: Intimate Portraits by Barbara E. Cohen

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Review by Rebecca M. Alvin

Artist Barbara Cohen is known not only for her paintings and painted Polaroids, but also for several books she’s created over the past three decades, beginning with Dogs and Their Women written with Louise Taylor in 1989. Like that book, Our Provincetown: Intimate Portraits features a wide range of contributors. In this case, these contributors are people with strong relationships to Provincetown who share their favorite places in this unique town in short written pieces accompanied by painted Polaroids by Cohen.

As you might imagine, the range of spaces that are paid tribute in this book is quite wide. Provincetown is more than the Pilgrim Monument, the flats, and Commercial Street businesses, although all of those things are included in this book. Many speak of beautiful aspects of the natural environment: Michael Cunningham cites Hatches Harbor as an anchor in his life, that place he longs to be almost as soon as he leaves it; Margaret Murphy celebrates the pine forest in the cemetery; and Nick Flynn marvels at the compass grass, naturally made circles in the sand one comes across regularly here.

Others feel most connected to Provincetown through its institutions and built spaces, such as R.D. Skillings’ fondness for Old Colony Tap, Dennis Minsky’s reverence for a particular alleyway on Commercial Street, and Elizabeth Bradfield’s appreciation for the incongruous medley of life and commerce and tourism amid the “gorgeous wreckage” of the pier.

And still others write from a more personal place, sharing memories specific to their own lives, like Mischa Richter who recalls the multisensory experience he and his friends had as children climbing inside the water tower with the thrill of potential danger and the uncontainable curiosity of a child.

They share in common a deep connection to Provincetown and love for what it has been in their individual lives. As Melanie Braverman writes in her ode to “Our Neighborhood (Far East End)”: “I do not live in Provincetown. Provincetown lives in me.”

Our Provincetown: Intimate Portraits by Barbara E. Cohen is available in town at East End Books Ptown, 389 Commercial St., at Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St., and online at provincetownarts.org/bookstore. Cohen will be doing a reading and book signing at East End Books on Tuesday, July 19, 6 p.m. For more information call 508.413.3225 or visit eastendbooksptown.com.