During the pandemic, Mischa Richter returned to Provincetown, where he was born and raised, with two related goals: he would run a gallery in the summer and publish art books in the winter.
“I grew up here, and I have wanted to come back for about 12 years,” Richter said on the deck of his brother Sacha’s bayfront studio, which is next to the former residence of their late grandfather, the New Yorker cartoonist also named Mischa Richter.
“I am an artist, and I love that this is one of the oldest artist communities in the country,” said Richter, a photographer. “We have everything: the nature, the art, the freak scene. I just love it.”
Richter has just taken over Harvey Dodd’s eponymous gallery at 437 Commercial St., renaming it the Land’s End Gallery. The distinctive French doors will be open throughout the summer as Richter sells the work of artists he has found in New York City, where he most recently lived, as well as in other artist meccas where young people are working.
In the off-season, he plans to take some of that art with a Provincetown connection and create chapbooks — small books of high-quality prints and some accompanying text. He envisions softcover books with 20 to 40 pages.
Unlike visual art that sells for hundreds or thousands of dollars, a little book can be had for a modest price, he said. The publishing arm of his enterprise, Land’s End Books, will be partially funded by sales from the summer art shows.
The artist currently on display at Land’s End is Nancy Loeber, who Richter knows from New York. For this show, which runs until July 28, Loeber has drawn 11 portraits of women who either lived or performed in Provincetown.
The works, graphite on vellum, include portraits of artists Helen Frankenthaler, Pat de Groot, Janice Biala, Mary Hackett, and Blanche Lazzell and writers Mary Heaton Vorse and Mary Oliver.
Performers and musicians are represented by portraits of Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald — four superstars who never lived in town but appeared at the Atlantic House. Finally, there’s Cookie Mueller, the writer and actress who was featured in John Waters’s films and spent time in Provincetown regularly before her death at age 40 in 1989.
Loeber used rare photographs of the women, found by art writer Jennifer Liese through intensive archival research. Richter and Loeber came up with the idea for the project together and then Richter contacted Liese for help. Liese oversees the Center for Arts & Language at the Rhode Island School of Design and previously wrote for Provincetown Arts.
In each portrait, Loeber has captured the fierceness and intensity of her extraordinary subjects. Her delicate lines render pure female power.
“These are modern-day goddesses and pioneers,” she said.
The drawing of de Groot, who lived in the East End until her death in 2018, shows every one of the sun-sculpted lines that the beachcomber earned. The image of Mary Heaton Vorse, a journalist and chronicler of Provincetown, captures an observant, serious, questioning expression. Simone looks regal. And Mueller, in her portrait, is a young, sultry siren.
All the women look fearless — they’re up for a fight, a song, or maybe both.
Loeber adorned the women’s heads with bits of paper torn to create frames for their faces. “They are like headdresses in a burial,” she said.
Loeber, 53, knows something about finding power herself. She worked as a bookbinder and an artist’s assistant as she tried to make it in New York’s art world for decades. For the last 10 years, she’s been living off her art sales alone. Besides drawing, she creates limited edition books of her own work.
Richter plans to make the portraits in Loeber’s show into a chapbook, with text on the women done by Liese, who is on the board of the nonprofit behind Land’s End Books.
Though they are all dead, the women in her portraits are part of Provincetown’s present, said Loeber.
“These people leave some kind of light, and we can take it,” she said. “It is easier for me to draw people who are deceased. This town is saturated in the spirits of people who have left.”
The event: An exhibition of portraits by Nancy Loeber
The time: Through July 28
The place: Land’s End Gallery, 437 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free