Napi Van Dereck’s Single-Minded Pursuit
Peppery, garrulous, ebullient, discerning, resourceful, crafty, steeped in local lore, and deeply rooted on the Outer Cape, Napi Van Dereck may have looked like an ornery eccentric, but he had the instincts of a master. He, his wife, Helen, and a crew of imaginative artists and artisans — Jackson Lambert, Conrad Malicoat, Frank Milby, and Bob Baker among them — turned a bunch of dilapidated garages off Freeman Street into a restaurant that has been in business since 1975.
More than a restaurant, however, Napi’s is also a rich showcase of Provincetown artwork. The Van Derecks’ unmatched collection is the product of his single-minded pursuit over the decades of figurative paintings that speak directly to the history of the town, especially its wharves and boatyards.
You can’t survive in Provincetown as long as Napi did without ruffling some feathers, or getting a few of your own trimmed.
But as a host, he was utterly beguiling and generous. If he caught you perusing a canvas, he might amble over to tell you its story; identifying the schooner or pier or cottage you were looking at, explaining why the structure took the form it did, telling tales about the people whose lives intersected it, and fitting it all into the greater Provincetown panorama.
And, thanks to Napi, there was always a story. —David W. Dunlap
Never to Be Equaled
It was such a treat to discover a unique painting, show it to Napi, then learn all about the story behind the subject. Whenever I found something special, I’d give him a call and his booming voice would soon appear at the door. Recently I called him about a small painting by Vollian Rann of Chesco’s Restaurant, which used to be right across from my gallery on Bradford Street.
I’ve known Napi since he returned to town and built Napi’s with his wife, Helen, his brother, Moe, the artist and musician, and my brother-in-law, the artist Bill Fitts. (Bill and Moe built many bulkheads along the waterfront.) According to Josephine Del Deo, Napi’s mother, the artist “Pat” Van Dereck Saffron, was the first to suggest an artist’s residency that led to the formation of the Fine Arts Work Center, with founders including Salvatore and Josephine Del Deo and my parents, Hudson and Ione Walker.
It is true that any time a guest known to Napi visited the restaurant, Napi would join them, talking about his latest painting acquisition or town story. Sometimes he stayed through the entire meal.
Napi’s enthusiastic, yes, often bombastic, rambling observations and stories will be missed and will never be equaled. —Berta Walker