Built in 1930, Provincetown’s U.S. Post Office is a bustling place, but not many know that the second floor is rented out by artists. A plaque at the top of the stairs reads: “Anna Harrington Scigliano Memorial Studios.” It was dedicated on June 12, 1996, which is almost as long as artist Larry Collins has rented the space that he shares with painter Christopher Sousa. Painters Jenny Humphreys and Karen Cappotto also rent spaces there.
Even David W. Dunlap, Provincetown’s expert on all things brick and mortar, didn’t know about the existence of these studios until this year.
That is exactly how Collins would like to keep it. He’s shared his space with Sousa since 2006, when Sousa started working for Collins’s photography gallery, Larry Collins Fine Art, which closed in 2014.
“We have personalities that complement each other,” says Collins, who shows his work at AMP Gallery. “He’s quiet, and I’m in my own head. We get along, so it really works. We encourage each other more than push each other.”
Despite his 15-year tenure, Sousa still considers himself a guest. “This is not actually my studio,” he says. “This is Larry’s studio. He just lets me work in here.” They occupy opposite ends of the approximately 600-square-foot space — Sousa at the east end as you enter the studio; Collins at the west end with a window overlooking Commercial Street.
The space, which used to be photographer Jack Pierson’s studio, has 15-foot ceilings illuminated by fluorescent lights as well as three tall north-facing windows. “Tons of light comes in,” says Collins, “sometimes too much, and we have to put a drape across it.”
“It’s kind of wasted on me because I’m not one of those people who paints with natural light,” says Sousa. He prefers to work from models and photographs. Largely self-taught, Sousa moved to Provincetown from the Taunton area 18 years ago and now shows his work at William Scott Gallery.
In many ways, they’re a study in contrasts. Sousa’s space is open and uncongested; Collins’s studio is full of partitioned spaces and an extensive library that takes up a whole corner. There’s a real 100-year-old skeleton suspended from an overhead pipe that Collins purchased from artist Jack Kramer’s estate. Sousa sometimes borrows it to paint from in addition to his models.
Collins’s work is dark, tonal, and muscular; Sousa’s is small and intimate, the colors bright and fizzy.
In terms of keeping time, they’re also different. “I’m very erratic.” says Collins. “Chris is very stable. He’s there all the time, but I tend to work really hard for periods, then fall off for a while, then start up again.”
Collins spent months isolating himself in his Commercial Street apartment through Covid, creating a series of drawings he exhibited at AMP Gallery last summer. As a result, Sousa has had long stretches in the studio to himself. “I’m pretty much here all the time,” he says. “I’ll come in and take the day to reorganize and prime canvases. Sometimes I’m just not in the head space to paint.”
Once Collins transitions to a new apartment at Seashore Point, he expects to be back in the studio “cracking away again.” He looks forward to the peace and quiet of the winter. “There’s much less distraction out on the street,” he says. “Everybody’s different, but the noise doesn’t work for me.” Once inside, closed windows and music masks ambient sounds from below.
“Larry is very sensitive to noise, but I have to listen to music when I’m working, otherwise I feel like something’s wrong,” says Sousa. “Sometimes he’ll listen to opera, which is not my thing, but I don’t mind. It’s funny — Larry’s got all his books here, and I’ve got all my CDs,” he says, gesturing towards two packed shelves.
“I tend to like country music and Chris likes the Grateful Dead, so we either tolerate each other or we use headphones,” Collins laughs.
“I’ll be working down here, he’ll be up there, and we can have a conversation,” Sousa says. “It works out well. We don’t get in each other’s way. You can hear the music from the bar across the street; you smell the Brussels sprouts cooking at the Canteen a few doors down. It’s a nice little oasis up here.”