PROVINCETOWN — Paul Tasha, a renegade spirit who built houses by hand and fished for lobsters in scuba gear, died on Jan. 5, 2024 at Cape Cod Hospital. He was 71.
Tasha spent his entire life in Provincetown, most of it outdoors — hunting, fishing, riding horses, and combing the beaches for wood and stone he could use to build homes on his family’s property on Howland Street.
Tasha would rope himself to ship timbers he found on the beach and haul them across the sand to his pickup, he told a reporter last summer. That physical work prolonged his life when he was diagnosed with blood cancer, he said. His doctors had expected him to die in 2020.
“Thank God for all the exercise, because they did a scan and said I had a triathlete’s heart,” Tasha said. “The hard diving and swimming against the current had enlarged it.”
Tasha had been a lobster diver for more than 40 years, mostly around Herring Cove, he said. The animals congregate on an underwater shelf there, and Tasha could simply pick them up and put them into bags.
“You jump in, and it’s a flat bottom, and then the ripples of sand get steep and like 10 feet high, because the buoyancy of water makes gravity less intense,” he said. “You go over that last cliff and it’s like 90 feet down and way steeper than on land, and there’s a little shelf about five feet wide and there will be 50 lobsters there.
“I felt like a jerk — I went down into their home and ripped them out of it and sold them to someone who didn’t even need them,” Tasha continued. He recalled standing in the grocery store and holding a $6 jar of pickles, thinking about the two-pound lobster he had sold to get those six dollars.
“It’s a way to make a living and be in an environment that I love, but I didn’t like the killing,” he said. “People would tell me, ‘Oh, don’t worry. You’re feeding people,’ but most people should be eating less anyway.”
Tasha also made bronze sculptures in his workshop on Howland Street, holding a torch in one hand and a metal rod in the other to melt the bronze into sinuous forms.
“This one started as an antelope, but I was about halfway and I got to the butt and it kind of reminded me of a woman,” Tasha said. “And then the wings just wanted to be there. I think she’s really pretty, and I don’t think I would have been better off fighting it. I do wonder where the hell it comes from, but she’s pretty cool.
“I don’t do a lot of male figures, but this one reminds me of my older brother,” he added, holding up a bull figure with a human chest and expressive hands.
“He’s struggling to get back up — you see that a lot when you hunt animals — and that’s what I ended up depicting here,” Tasha said. “He’s dying, you can tell, but he’s not finished.”
Paul’s older brother, Carl, died years ago, and Paul was an important figure to his family, said niece Andréa Tasha. “He was ‘Uncle Paul’ to a lot of people — not just the ones for whom he was their real uncle,” she said.
He is survived by a large extended family on the Outer Cape, including his sisters, Carla Stefani and Paula Tasha; his nieces and nephews, Andréa Tasha, Deirdre Tasha, Arielle Tasha, Beau Gribbin, Raina Stefani, Nicco Stefani, Lisette Lema, and Hazel Lema; their many children; and his lifelong companion, Debra Pelletier.
Paul’s parents, Herman and Rose “Sunny” Tasha, died years ago. Paul said that Sunny taught him how to build.
“When I was a little kid, I thought she was fearless,” Tasha said, “and as I matured and got to know her, I realized she was scared to death of everything she did. But she would do it anyway — she wouldn’t let it intimidate her.”
She overbuilt her cottages because she wasn’t sure she had done them right, he said. “Where you would have two nails, she would have six. They’re hell to take apart, but we’ve had hurricanes come through town, and we don’t lose a shingle.”
The family’s seven-acre property on Howland Street contains 13 homes and cottages, many of them begun by Sunny and expanded by Paul.
“I didn’t want my parents to ever sell land,” Tasha said. “So, if they needed a little more income, I’d build another cottage.” About 20 people live on the family’s property, Tasha said last summer.
In his anthology Building Provincetown, David W. Dunlap wrote that Tasha Hill “has a mystical feeling at times, as if it were a fantastic movie set.” The place is “romantic or shabby or mysterious, depending on your angle of vision and the time of day,” Dunlap wrote.
For almost 40 years, Tasha had been working on his own private “Big House.” He gathered stones from Cape Cod beaches and timbers from old ships, harnessing pulleys to his pickup truck to elevate them into place.
“I can look at the beams and remember, ‘My mother helped me find this one, Debra helped me find that one,’ ” Tasha said. “But building it is really personal. I didn’t want any help with it.”
The project had all the necessary permits, Tasha said. “I’m pretty much a scofflaw, but this is too big a project to have anybody come stop me for a legal issue.”
He offered advice, including not to collect only beautiful stones.
“You’ve got to remember to collect some boring ones, because if they’re all pretty you’re in trouble,” Tasha said. “This wall here is two stones wide, and you can’t bury the pretty ones in the core — you’ll never see them again!
“You could still do this in Maine, you know,” Tasha said last summer. “I bought land there myself, just in case.”