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A Musical Marriage

Photo: Ric Ide

Branden & James Travel the Lavender Circuit

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Photo: Ric Ide

It’s a sound that began on opposite sides of the world. James Clark grew up in Adelaide, the pleasant state capital of the state of South Australia, while Branden James was raised in Orange County, California, not far from metro Los Angeles. Partners in life and music the two laugh when asked how they met as they used to say at Starbucks, but now reveal it was on gay app Scruff. There is of course no shame in that, though they continue to laugh that it’s not necessarily the most romantic relationship origin story. But what is the stuff of fairy tales is their life together, forged by not just a love for each other, but music. Within a year after meeting in 2014 they began an adventure as Branden & James, a cello and classically inspired vocal act that has taken them around the world performing to packed concert halls as well as intimate cabaret spaces. Their journey together began thousands of miles apart and decades ago, but music was the spark that brought them together.

“Music has been a part of my life forever,” says Clark. “My parents had a piano and started my sister and I with lessons when I was about eight. My sister is older and I took to it right away while she struggled, which pissed her off. Then I started violin and then moved over to cello while I was still quite young. So I’ve been playing music for about 30 years now.”

Photo: Ric Ide

“For me, my house was always full of music, though I didn’t begin singing until I was 17,” says James. “My grandfather was a country musician who played with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. But we never listened to country, as my mother hated it. But our house was full of all kinds of music, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King, also a lot of contemporary Christian music. One day I was singing at school just under my breath and a friend said I should go out for choir. I was so shy, but did it anyway and the next thing I know I’m getting solos.”

Clark moved to California to further his music education, and after meeting James, they began performing together in Santa Fe, New Mexico, finding their musical groove working in a piano bar. Those seven months gave them the time and focus as they turned what was an unconventional act for a piano bar into a pop-classical fusion show gaining valuable experience by taking requests from the audience, playing everything from Michael Jackson to Celine Dion. Branden & James was born. They laugh and shake their heads via FaceTime when acknowledging their name as a duo is singularly James’ name as well. 

While in their past both feared their sexuality would hurt their musical careers, and at time it has been a challenge, being out has been a healthy and beneficial aspect of their careers together, providing representation for the LGBTQ+ community and helping to educate those in audiences who may struggle with homophobia. Married in 2018, they are still surprised that in 2021 they encounter homophobic audience members who enjoy the music, but want them to “keep quiet” about their relationship.

At the moment, Clark and James are touring on the Lavender Circuit, those summer hot spots popular with the LGBTQ+ community. And today they are in an unusually hot Ogunquit, Maine, during a late August heat wave gripping the Northeast. From there they move on to Provincetown for a five-night run at the Pilgrim House, finishing up with October dates in Palm Springs, California, and New Hope, Pennsylvania. Come later in the year they’ll begin a 40-date tour around the country. And while they love performing, there is an added ease playing in places like Provincetown, they say.

Photo: Ric Ide

“I definitely feel most comfortable in places like this,” says James. “When we play for more conservative audiences we might shy away from sharing about our lives together. But I feel I can completely be myself in places like here and Provincetown.”

Both James and Clark came from conservative Christian families, which provided each of them with difficulties accepting themselves as gay men. When Clark came out to his mother at 18 he promised her he’d either figure out how to be straight or just be celibate, a story he punctuates with an eye roll and a laugh. He says he had to come out again a few years later when he realized that wasn’t going to happen.

For James, he never got the chance to come out as his mother confronted him and then shunned him from the family. He recounts this very difficult time as well as the eventual reconciliation with his family and finding happiness as a gay man in his 2020 book, Lyrics of My Life: My Journey with Family, HIV, and Reality TV. James adds that he sees “the Church” as so far from what he sees being a Christian is about that at this time he doesn’t want much to do with it. While Clark still calls himself a Christian, he too, sees how far from Jesus Christ’s teachings of love and compassion, and reaching out to the marginalized, so many Christians have strayed so far away from.

“I do believe there’s a spiritual side to life and I try to remain open to that,” says Clark. “I’ve allowed myself to be comfortable with the mystery in my life. I’m fine letting the mystery be.”

Branden & James present Broadway Under the Covers, Sunday, September 5 through Thursday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Provincetown. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at pilgrimhouseptown.com.


ANNOUNCEMENTS: September 2, 2021

Castle Hill Builds an Outdoor Performance Space in honor of Sam Miller

Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill is very excited to announce the new outdoor stage in honor of Sam Miller, a visionary and leader in the arts: especially in dance. Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill has spent the last two in a half years working on the new outdoor performance space at Edgewood Farm, pre-pandemic! The stage lies at the end of the property and creates an amazing amphitheater at the end of the meadow. Castle Hill kicked off its 16th year of the Provincetown Dance Festival on its own new stage in August.

“The past 14 years have taken place at the Provincetown Theater and hopefully will continue to do so, but knowing we have our own home for dance is very exciting, right on our own campus!” says Cherie Mittenthal the Executive Artistic Director.

Adam Miller, who has been the Artistic Director of the Provincetown Dance Festival for the past 15 years, is the brother of Sam Miller. A choreographer, teacher, and former dancer, Adam is excited and proud to have this stage named to honor his brother, as is his mother, who lives in Wellfleet. “Three years ago, Sam toured the Edgewood Farm campus with myself, my mother, and Cherie and immediately saw its potential to be a hub of the arts on the Outer Cape. Almost simultaneously, both Sam and I said, ‘this is a perfect place for a theater.’ He would be so thrilled to see such a beautiful performance space in the area he loved so dearly.”

Samuel A. Miller was known to legions of choreographers, dancers, and other artists as just “Sam”—a remarkably influential and innovative force in the performing arts field for more than 35 years, including a critically important decade at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. He was born into the theater, as his parents were both in the arts, particularly his mother, Dian Reynolds, who was a charter member of Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, R.I.  Sam was cast as Trinity Rep’s very first Tiny Tim in a production of A Christmas Carol. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Theater, he worked for Pennsylvania Ballet and eventually found his way to Pilobolus where he was Managing Director in the early 1980s.

He first worked under the same title at Jacob’s Pillow beginning in 1986, and was its Executive Director from 1990-1994. During his tenure, his many achievements included the launching of a master plan for the campus, the construction of the Doris Duke Theatre, a major reconfiguration of the Ted Shawn Theatre, the establishment of Blake’s Barn, and major property expansion. He spearheaded Ted Shawn’s centennial in 1991, including a week at New York’s Joyce Theater and both domestic and international tours. Sam guided MASS MoCA’s vision to encompass the performing arts in a collaboration with the Pillow and MASS MoCA that continues to this day.

He was then named Executive Director at the New England Foundation for the Arts. During his tenure, he founded the National Dance Project, a vital force in the field that continues to support dance across the U.S. After NEFA, he served as President of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a ten-year initiative to improve conditions for individual artists, and subsequently directed the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council where he produced the River to River Festival. In 2014, he returned to Wesleyan as Co-Founder/Director of the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP). Sam was a trustee of Dancespace Project (New York City) and AMRITA (Phnom Penh), and on the Advisory Boards of the Creative Capital Initiative, Reggie Wilson’s Fist &Heel, and ODC/SF. He was Senior Advisor to the Philadelphia Contemporary project, and co-director of the CODA/21, a collaborative research project between choreographers and neuroscientists at CAP UCLA.

He produced the Dance, the Spirit of Cambodia tour and the Eiko and Koma Retrospective and worked as a consultant for the Ford Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Pew Center for Culture and Heritage. Although he sustained a remarkable seven-year remission after treatment for multiple myeloma, he died in May 2018 at the age of 65. Sam spent time nearly every summer since the mid-1960s at his family’s cottage in his beloved Wellfleet. Castle Hill is naming this beautiful stage for his lifetime of visionary leadership.

Volunteers Needed for Provincetown Book Festival September 17 – 19

Volunteers are needed to help out at the Provincetown Book Festival, Friday evening, September 17 – Sunday, September 19. Volunteers can sign up for as little as three hours, and be in the middle of an exciting literary event. All volunteers will receive a free Book Festival T-shirt. For more information, or to sign up, contact Nan Cinnater at the Provincetown Public Library, 508-487-7094 or [email protected]. Details of the program are available on the website at https://provincetownbookfestival.org. The exciting literary lineup includes performance artist Karen Finley, Robert Jones, Jr., Paul Lisicky, Francine Prose, and Brandon Taylor. Volunteers can hobnob with these and other authors in the green room (while also replenishing the coffee), take tickets, sell T-shirts and totes, or work at the giant outdoor used book sale. There is a special need for a couple of moderately techie individuals who can hook up a microphone or run a video camera.

“The Provincetown Book Festival is sponsored by the Provincetown Library, but it is also very much a community effort,” says Cinnater, Provincetown Book Festival director. The Festival is not only supported by major sponsors such as the Provincetown Tourism Fund, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Bay State Cruise Company, and Cape Air, but also by bookstores, local B & B’s, and other small businesses. “Not least of all, the Festival runs on book-loving and library-loving volunteers,” Cinnater says. “Come help out and have some fun.”

Christie Andresen receives the David Asher Volunteer Award at the 34th Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla on September 11, 2021

Photo: Andrea Pluhar

Artist and Provincetown native Christie Andresen has been selected to receive the David Asher Volunteer Award at the 34th Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla on September 11, 2021 – Make Waves. Over many years, Anderson has donated special edition stained glass medallions created in her workshop for the top 2020 swimmer fundraisers.

Andresen’s shop, Tawqua Glassworks, has been creating residential and commercial stained glass art for thirty-five years with clients around the world. She was raised in Provincetown where she was mentored by Sal Del Deo, Nancy Wharf, and others, becoming a craftsperson at age sixteen.

In 2020, a difficult year for all, Andresen created lovely, delicate heart shaped pendants for every Swim for Life fundraiser. “I wanted to particularly thank the swimmers who did this at home, in this most difficult year during the pandemic, without the camaraderie and people cheering them on,” Andresen enthusiastically stated.

The Swim for Life, sponsored by the Provincetown Community Compact, has raised over $5M for AIDS, women’s health and the community since 1988.

“Christie’s specially-made handcrafted medallions sent out to the 200 Swim for Life participants in last year’s virtual event was a sheer act of kindness and joy,” states Swim director and artist Jay Critchley. She was assisted by fellow artist Ricardo Cuencas of RC Jewelry, both located at Whaler’s Wharf, Provincetown.

“From Provincetown’s remarkable response to HIV/AIDS to Covid-19, with the AIDS Support Group to the Swim for Life, the town “Makes Waves”, continued Critchley.

Andressen will receive the award at the annual Swim for Life Mermaid Tea and awards ceremony at the new town-owned East End Waterfront Park, 387 Commercial Street. The park is the finish line for the 1.2-mile east end shoreline swim starting from the beach across from the Harbor and Breakwater Hotels at Snail Road. The public is invited beginning at 2 p.m. to attend and cheer the swimmers as they arrive at the park.

Beneficiaries of the September 11 Swim include: the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (ASGCC), Helping Our Women (HOW), Outer Cape Health Services, Provincetown Rescue Squad Association, Lower Cape Ambulance Association, Soup Kitchen in Provincetown (SKIP), Provincetown Schools, The Compact Community Fund, Accessible Provincetown, West End Racing Club and Cape Cod Children’s Place. Information and registration for swimmers, kayakers and volunteers is online at Swim4Life.org




Photo: Jaiden van Bork

In an era where the mainstream discourse on gender identity and expression is finally becoming more nuanced and inclusive, the world of fashion is rapidly changing. And in fact, it plays a very important role in how we see and talk about gender today. As Sheri Galyean, owner of local clothing store Boichick, puts it, “Style isn’t an identity—it’s an expression of it.”

Visiting Provincetown one weekend, Galyean was struck to find that so few of the clothing stores in one of the most accepting towns in America catered to masculine-presenting women like herself. Like a lot gender non-conforming members of the LGBTQ+ community, Galyean noticed that many queer people still existed in a very rigid and binary world when it came to gender and saw an opportunity to change that.

Utilizing her background in design, Galyean founded Boichick in 2019, a gender-expansive apparel store seeking to provide a place for gender non-comforming people to shop. At first specifically targeting members of the lesbian community, but rapidly expanding to be a store for people of all identities and style-preferences, Boichick has made inclusivity and diversity its mantra throughout its time in business.

For Galyean, the shop serves an important, albeit small, role in pushing for discussion and progress when it comes to gender. “I love the conversations it starts,” she says, “When I see parents bring in their gender-expansive children, or [when] people come in and thank us for being here… it feels like a community almost more than a shop.” And that’s exactly what Boichick is—it’s a community and a safe space for all people to explore identity through style. Pop in and you’ll undoubtedly find something that speaks to you, and maybe even learn something along the way.

244 Commercial St.


September 2, 2021


August 26, 2021


The Tidal Flow of Theater

Photo: Joe Kenehan

Harbor Stage Company Forges On

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Stacy Fischer, Jonathan Fielding, Brenda Withers, and Robert Kropf in Dindin at Harbor Stage in Wellfleet. Photo: Joe Kenehan

Art in all its forms is both a mirror and a window through which to examine humanity. And with theater there’s an immediacy to the livewire energy of that process that can thrill and delight as much as it can transform. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many things, one of which is the importance of art in our lives and to society in general. In particular, those art forms that require people to assemble took a huge hit as stages around the world closed. Virtual technology provided some opportunities, and in turn created completely new expressions of art and media. But it was certainly no substitute for the real thing. Viewing a painting online or watching a performance virtually lacks the connection that is at the core of the respective art forms, not to mention the brass tacks issue of finances, with loss of the revenue that keeps artists going.

The pandemic hit the Outer Cape economically and culturally hard, with tourism as its main industry and the arts central to life way out here in the North Atlantic. Much of 2020 was a total loss, and 2021 seemed to bring brighter days until a midsummer outbreak in Provincetown threw an enormous wrench in already challenging times. But the arts are nothing if not adaptable, and the show in many forms continues on. With pivot being the buzz word of the age,  the Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet returned to live, in-person performance in the theatrical space on Kendrick Avenue in July. The Actors’ Equity Association changed their rules regarding live performance just in time for them to put together a season mid-spring. The celebrated theatrical troupe first presented Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight, a new play written by John Kolvenbach and then mid-run opened with the concurring performances of Dindin, the premiere of a new play written by company member and co-founder Brenda Withers. Each performance felt like a triumph in that it happened at all as the times being what they are its impossible to plan with any degree of certainty. But what also made each night a celebration is that the magic and gravitas of live theater was still there.

“There is a set time for everyone to gather together to listen to an argument and consider it and then discuss it afterwards,” says Withers. “That’s what I missed most about live performance. We tried a virtual thing here and there, but that’s just not who we are or what we do. Getting back into our theater, working together, and having an audience felt so good. That exchange with an audience feeds what we do. It’s why we do it. ”

With much more time at home, Withers, like many of us, laughs that much of lockdown was filled with anxiety rather than diving deep into creative pursuits. But nevertheless she was able to fine tune Dindin, a dinner party play that has the four company members cast as two couples dining together. The dark comedy explores class, loyalty, and infidelity all over a beef brisket, which means the play also touches on animal rights, says Withers. It feels like the right time for this play not only because of some of the themes, but personally for the Harbor Stage Company, as it brings together all four company members: Withers, Jonathan Fielding, Stacy Fischer, and Robert Kropf. The reunion on stage is emotional and fulfilling, as is having an audience, even if it’s intentionally not filled to capacity and with everyone wearing masks.

“It’s a different experience in an intimate theater where you can see everyone,” says Withers. “Now you can only see half of everyone’s faces. It changes the audience’s reactions, their volume and response. It’s not negative. It’s always good to be challenged and learn new things. As actors we need to be nimble to adjust to where the audience is at.”

Finding where the audience is at mentally is an added test. Things may be different than they were in 2020, but these are still times of political tumult, climate change, racial reckonings, culture wars, with a pandemic as stubborn as those that ignore the science around it. How as artists do you present work to help digest and interpret a world that feels like it’s on fire in a country with a Tilt-A-Whirl zeitgeist?  At the moment, we’re all still too enmeshed in the chaos of the moment to be able to have much of a perch to be able to address what’s going on and how we’re changing in real time, says Withers. That will be ongoing work for the Harbor Stage Company whether they present a revival of a prescient work or a new viewpoint within a world premiere. But in finding new ways to present their work the Harbor Stage Company did make a film adaptation of Dindin over last winter, which should be ready to premiere this coming winter, if all goes according to plan.

“We thought what better time than now to do this,” says Withers. “It being a play set in a dining room, we could film it all in one room with just a small group of us. It was the perfect time to experiment with a new medium. The time was now for us. Like everyone else, we just looked for ways to do what we do in a different way. I do wonder when the time will come when we’ll have clarity, if ever, on what we’ve been through. Until then we just keep doing the work.”

Dindin plays at the Harbor Stage Company, 15 Kendrick Ave., Wellfleet, Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. through September 5. Tickets ($25) are available at the box office and online at harborstage.org For more information call 508.349.6800.


The Road Less Traveled

Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

Art’s Dune Tours at 75

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Top Image: Rob Costa touring the dunes. Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

People come to Provincetown for all sorts of reasons. There’s the unique blend of historical and present-day cultures, the welcoming atmosphere and fun shops on Commercial Street, the artistic legacy, the nightlife, and of course, the National Seashore. But no matter what the purpose of your visit, if you drive into town along Route 6, you are immediately struck by the natural beauty of the landscape as you come around the bend at the top of the hill as you pass Pilgrim Heights. To your left, the glistening bay, seemingly retained by the long row of Days’ Cottages along Route 6A. But to the right, the dunes protrude from scrubby brush and Pilgrim Lake, announcing your entrance into a place like no other. And as you drive past the “Entering Provincetown” sign, you are engulfed in the sandy mountains of the Outer Cape. No matter who you are or why you’re here, the dunes are a quintessential part of Provincetown.

Seventy-five years ago, Art Costa realized this. After earning a Purple Heart in the Army during World War II, the native Provincetowner returned here and started a beach taxi business, ferrying people around in his 1936 Ford Woody, to the beaches, into town, and to the dunes. And so began Art’s Dune Tours..

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

“He was a very gentle, soft-spoken, friendly guy,” says Rob Costa reflecting on his dad, who died in 2006. “He had a lot of friends in town. Both my parents were very well-loved in town.”

Although Costa drove for his father’s company as a young man, he didn’t take it over until around 2003, he says. In between, he was a tour director for Collette Tours, traveling all over the world. Between his father’s outgoing, tour-guide proclivities and love of the dunes and his own experiences with Collette, Costa is perfect for the job.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

The dune tour involves a caravan of trucks driving out into a restricted area of the dunes off of Route 6, what Costa calls “The outback of Provincetown,” a 4,000-acre stretch of sand dunes, beaches, and forest lands. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year each truck has only one party at a time and masks are required. But other than that, the tours have been able to continue with adjustments made as needed. In addition to the standard tour, there are also combination kayak/dune tours, a unique Art with Art’s tour, includes a demonstration and art lesson from an artist so you can let your creativity shine out there in the dunes, and other specialty tours. It’s an excellent way to enjoy Provincetown outdoors. More importantly, the tours are a fascinating combination of ecological, cultural, and historical information, with stops for photography, and plenty of laughter along the way, as Costa happily shares his dad-joke humor.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

Each dune tour operator brings a unique perspective to the tour, but all are knowledgeable about the various elements that make this area so vital. As Costa points out, it’s “the biggest part of Provincetown [covering 75% of the land here] and yet the road less traveled.”

On each tour, you will learn about the 19 dune shacks that exist out there under special provisions. The shacks were originally created as beach huts for people stranded from shipwrecks, an idea that later developed into the life-saving stations and eventual Coast Guard we now have. The shacks have been home to legendary artists and writers and Provincetown nobility, each one with its own enchanting history that your guide can share with you.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

You’ll also see and learn about the vegetation out here, which was not always part of the landscape. In fact, for more than a century, the land was an almost entirely barren sandscape before it was reforested. It is now home to wild cranberries, beach plums, wildlife like coyotes and fox, and the land features an occasional freshwater lens or aquifer that naturally occurs, creating what looks like a large puddle or an oasis in the middle of the desert-like landscape.

Costa fills his tour with personal references, such as when Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway were here to film The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968 and Costa’s mother baked McQueen a pie or the special tree he’s noticed all his life, which he calls the Perseverance Tree because even though it was knocked over ages ago, it regrew through the dunes into an odd shape that still stands.

And then there are those dad jokes, such as the one about the outhouse next to one of the dune shacks. “That’s called the International House. You know why? Because before you go in, you’re Russian to get in there. And then when you’re in it you’re European. Then when you’re done, you’re Finnish,” he says with a broad smile. “That’s my dad’s joke.”

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

What’s the secret to staying in business this long in a competitive market, with a short season and slim margin for error? Costa says it goes back to his dad. “He just loved the dunes and I think that’s what separated us from all the other companies that have come and gone through the years. There were probably like 16 companies that have come and gone but we persevered because of my father’s passion.”

Art’s Dune Tours, located at 4 Standish St., Provincetown, operates daily excursions as well as by-request special tours, April 15 – November 15. Reservations are required and must be made by phone currently. For general information visit artsdunetours.com and to reserve call 508.487.1950.


The Harbor Lounge

Photo: Jaiden van Bork

The Harbor Lounge is “a bar for everyone,” as Cass Benson puts it. Coming from the real estate industry, Benson noticed the foreclosed space that is now the Harbor Lounge over 11 years ago from the beach that lies behind it. The building had previously been home to an antiques store, but Benson had a completely different vision for a classy and cool cocktail lounge on the East End and seized the opportunity

Minimalism is key at the Harbor Lounge. The small yet comfortable space feels open, simplistic, and inviting all at the same time. And the view is absolutely fantastic. Open from 2 – 11 p.m. every day, the Lounge invites you to stop by, have a drink, kick back, and watch the waves roll onto the beautiful shores of Provincetown.

Plus, the Harbor Lounge often holds private events and fundraisers for the likes of Camp Lightbulb, LPAC, and the Provincetown Public Library; Benson says it’s important to support causes that are important to her as well as the local community she has lived in for 30 years.

And while many of the other bars are in the center of town, Benson loves her East End location. “When we opened, we were some of the only lights on in the fall out here,” she says,  “[But now] it’s really come alive.” Since 2009, the Harbor Lounge has carved out a space for nightlife on its side of town.

Ultimately, the Harbor Lounge embodies Provincetown’s welcoming and accepting nature, opening its doors to any and all visitors to come take refuge from the night within its walls. It’s a place that just feels like home.

The Harbor Lounge
359 Commercial St.


An Open Isolation

Woodsmen (Heading Out), oil on wood panel, 40x72 in, 2012

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Woodsmen (Heading Out), oil on wood panel, 40×72 in, 2012

Two men lay on their backs on what looks like a white brick road with blue and green mortar holding it all together. One man has his eyes closed, but his posture doesn’t communicate that he’s sleeping. The other man is in a relaxed repose with a content expression. Then again it could have a touch of melancholy. The light implies they’re in direct sun, though its setting. Or perhaps it’s artificial light, since the shadows suggest a touch of levitation, but nothing magical, just an illusion. With very little exertion and just the slightest extension, the two men could touch. But there’s a chance they aren’t even in the same physical space. They may just be manifesting the image of each other in a daydream and this image is of a place where fantasy goes to take a more literal form.


Each painting by Forrest Williams on the walls of AMP, the east end gallery creation of Debbie Nadolney, is a visionary rabbit hole with its own strong gravitational pull of contemplation. At first Williams is understandably reticent discussing any particular piece, and certainly the whole show, which is a retrospective of his work from the 1990s until now. He’s not being evasive, but rather, as is the case with most artists, he believes what’s to be said is in the work. But there’s more. In the true firmament of creation, once something is brought into the world, even if by your own mind and hands, you lose control almost immediately. It has its own life now, its own story.

“Nothing is set in stone,” says Williams. “These places exist in my mind. I think of them as more psychological than an actual place. The places don’t actually exist; they’re more of a composite. These aren’t portraits either.”

Passage, diptych

The impetus for the piece in question wasn’t the models he sketched, but rather a book featuring design of 18th-century English teapots and cups. The pattern behind the two men came from this very specific document of a very specific history of design. The imagery stuck in Williams’ mind, and out of this came the artistic narrative that fills the canvas. Williams’ work is akin to a stage, he explains. Yes, the theater is a real place, but imaginary ones are created on the stage. Yes, the actors are real, but the characters and emotions they conjure are works of imagination. There’s connection, yet isolation. Intimacy, but an aura of aloofness, even distraction or indifference. It’s all the terrain of the inner mind—first Williams’ and then ours as we translate into our own language what story is unfolding before us.

“There’s ambiguity there,” says Williams. “It gives the viewer some room for them to experience it on their own terms.”

Moving up to the second level of the gallery, an autumnal scene with a flaming orange sky blazes across the wall. Nadolney emerges, as she can’t resist sharing the excitement of the work, and this show. For nearly a decade she’s been familiar with Williams’ work.


“I love the open narrative,” says Nadolney. “There’s so many to take in the work. But the openness in each painting opens up a new experience each time you look at it.”

Nadolney and Williams discuss, and at times thoughtfully debate each piece. A large work on the back wall features a naked man on what looks like the beach, familiar enough to be Herring Cove, but not literally so. A white geometric shape is to the man’s right. It could be a lighthouse. He gazes in the other direction. Williams jokes that he and the model that’s the subject said the man is patiently waiting for his pot dealer to show. There’s another a wide expanse occupying the gallery space of two naked men both looking in the same direction, but appearing to ignore each other. Their postures are neither erotic nor exhibitionistic, rather they exhibit that familial nudity that many gay men embrace, a type of Terrence McNally nudity. In his play Love! Valor! Compassion! the nudity of the gay friends at the lake feels natural and authentic to many gay audience members. It’s ultimately a camaraderie. With Williams, a gay man, he paints men and often there is nudity, and when there is not there is a recognizable gay viewpoint. That element and voice can be difficult to maneuver in an art world and culture that still has being straight as one of its many norms. Any viewpoint that deviates can be dismissed with a qualifier, like “gay art” as its feels foreign and a challenge to the establishment or majority thought. But Nadolney points out that Williams’ work is appreciated and popular across gender and sexuality. He manifests the basic humanity in his subjects and the story within, as well as revels in creating an air of mystery. He paints what he knows, men, often gay men, and their experiences. But the strength of the work clears the hurdles of categories meant to define, sometimes to the point of limitation, and differentiate, at times to segregate. Perhaps above all else it’s the relationship with the unseen that makes these paintings able to strike the raw nerve within anyone.

Woodsman 15 (oil on paper, 14×11”), 2012

“I do think there’s secrets embedded in the paintings,” says Williams. “I don’t think the figures necessarily connect. There’s an isolation from each other. There’s something out of the view in the painting, from outside the edge of the canvas. An absent presence. It’s the middle ground of competing emotions. Finding that as a painter, that’s the sweet spot.”

Forrest Williams: A Retrospective: 1990s to Present is on exhibition at AMP, 432 Commercial St., Provincetown through September 15. The work of sculptor Rick Wrigley is also concurrently on display. For more information call 646.298.9258 or visit artmarketprovincetown.com.


The Silk Road to Provincetown

Diane von Furstenberg with Jimmy Lee Curtis at Provincetown Fashion Weekend in 2018.

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Diane von Furstenberg with Jimmy Lee Curtis at Provincetown Fashion Weekend in 2018.

Walking into Jimmy Lee Curtis’ studio at The Commons is a bit like going into the bottle with Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. At the door of the cozy basement space is a fuchsia ostrich feather boa that peeks out like a bashful child. That shock of color quickly blends into a jungle of fashion as garments in various states of construction envelop the room from floor to ceiling, forming a sphere of fabric akin to the interior of a bohemian tent. On a large table stands a clear glass vase with purple flowers and a costume jewelry statement necklace of rhinestones around the neck. Everywhere you look is a shimmer and a sparkle, including on Curtis’ face, as even with a mask on, the formation of his eyes and brow indicate a big smile.

Affectionately known around Provincetown as Mama Lee, Curtis has reason to smile, as he’s returning to his first passion of fashion, specifically textiles as he points to a wall of hand-painted, one-of-a-kind silk scarves. Those pieces will be the focal point of a fashion show this Saturday at The Commons, the Bradford Street shared workspace open to artists and entrepreneurs that’s become a hive of activity since it opened in 2018. Curtis’ fashion show, titled Lost Is All The Time Not Engaged In Love, will be the biggest event yet for The Commons, and as Curtis gives a twirl to show the motion of a red scarf with an intricate design, it promises to not disappoint.

Photo: Jamie Casertano

“I just love this space,” says Curtis, giving another twirl, holding the scarf close to his chest. “It’s perfect for me. I just love it. I’ve just started to sew and paint textiles again a few years ago. So they said rather than do a gallery show why not do a fashion show, make it an event to show the work. This is really the happiest time in my life.”

Curtis began working in fashion, and specifically in textiles, while a student in London at the American College in the mid 1980s. With a friend, he opened his own boutique on King’s Road and that is where Curtis’ scarves first took off. Very soon one piece ended up in British Vogue around the shoulders of supermodel Christy Turlington on location in Morocco for the shoot. Curtis gives a giggle of disbelief still when he looks at the photo. He hopscotched across the pond and back finishing his degree in his native Michigan and then moving to West Hollywood in 1997 after living in London again. There he switched gears, working at one of the last old-school department stores in Beverly Hills as a makeup artist with Golden Age Hollywood clients like Ann Miller, Janet Leigh, and Mitzi Gaynor. Curtis was in heaven. But little did he know that he was about to ascend a few clouds higher into paradise.

Photo: Jamie Casertano

A friend invited him to Provincetown as a thank you for years of cat-sitting while away at the Cape tip. They stayed at the Burch House, which back at the turn of the millennium was still a wonderfully eccentric, affordable guesthouse just next to the Bas Relief Park. During that first visit to Provincetown, staying in classically bohemian accommodations, Curtis couldn’t get the town out of his system when he returned to California.  He promptly packed up and headed east, landing a job at the Burch House and quickly earning the term of endearment “Mama Lee” because he became the “mother hen” of the house, making food and caring for all the young drag queens, artists, and loveable vagabonds that orbited the quirky abode.

“There used to be a lot of places like the Burch House,” says Curtis. “There were about six or so where you could still get a room for less than $100 in the summer. They attracted the most wonderful people. They were gathering points for artists of all kinds. The Burch House was the best of them all. It was a Provincetown institution. Of course you got what you paid for. It was no frills at all. Once a guest said, ‘It’s kind of dusty,’ and David Jones, who was the manager, said, ‘I’m sorry, we only clean to 40 watts here.’ It was old Provincetown for sure. It was such a creative scene there all the time, dust and all.”

Photo: Jamie Casertano

True to his generous spirit and maternal ways, Curtis frequently digresses to talk about the accomplishments of his “children” here and afar. And many will be models in the show as well as his dear friend DJ Father Figure, Mark Louque, founder of the legendary party Fag Bash, who will spin at the event. It may be there that “Mama Lee” is best known, as he’s worked the door along with Aaron Korch for most of the party’s run. As he takes a largely green and blue piece draping over a gown he’s fashioned, he nods his head in agreement that indeed this show represents him and his work. And he can’t wait to show it to the town. He shrugs his shoulders and then points to a photo hanging on a curtain. It’s of him and famed fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg with an assortment of his scarves hanging behind them. She had surprised and charmed everyone when she made an unexpected appearance at the very first Provincetown Fashion Weekend back in 2018, the year Curtis revisited his first love. Chances are von Furstenberg won’t be at the show this Saturday, but no matter, those that Curtis loves, and that love him back, will be. And that’s what he’s most excited about.

“To be in Provincetown as an artist, getting to make art and to show it,” says Curtis. “I hope it all shows how happy I am. I hope it’s a love letter to the town.”

Jimmy Lee Curtis presents Lost Is All The Time Not Engaged In Love: A Fashion Show on Saturday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m. at The Commons, 46 Bradford St. Trunk show and reception to immediately follow. Event is free, but email [email protected] to register for assigned front row seating. Limited seating available. Standing room open to all. For more information call 508.257.1748 or visit provincetowncommons.org.