3 Baker Avenue. [2020, Angela Russo]
Since 2003, this has been the Provincetown home and studio of Angela Russo, a gallerist and artist whose work — principally photographic — is featured at the Karilon Gallery, 447 Commercial Street, under the name Angela Russo Fine Art. “Provincetown is a creative muse for a lot of us in that community,” she said in a 2018 interview.¹ “Even though I have a full studio dedicated to my work in Boston and much more room to make my work, I am far more productive in Provincetown. It is a very beautiful, natural environment. Because of the location, the light that is reflective and refractive is like no other place. I feel that the work I am able to produce is endless. This is evidenced by the five different styles that I have created over the years since my work began there.”
Russo grew up in Canastota, N.Y. As a youngster, she was beguiled by the artistry of her brother Michael, who was 11 years her senior. Her first camera was a Polaroid Swinger, which made self-developing black-and-white prints — which was still quite a sensation in the early 1970s. But in high school, she was exposed to the photography of Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston. “These works so inspired me, I began to develop my own film,” she recalled in the interview with Nina Livingstone. As it happened, another older brother, Joseph, was an engineer for Eastman Kodak. He gave Angela a camera using the 110 film format that Kodak had introduced in 1972. She learned how to print. Then she borrowed an Argus C3 35-millimeter rangefinder camera for a cross-country trip, after which her mother gave her a Minolta 101 — “my first real S.L.R. 35-millimeter camera.”
Narrative continues after photo gallery
Left: Angela Russo’s work has been featured at the Karilon Gallery, 447 Commercial Street, since 2005. [2017, Dunlap] Right: Russo, in a self-portrait.
Though she graduated from a radio and television school with a directorial degree, and though she saw herself as a musician, Russo fatefully landed a job in the mid-1970s as a processing and printing technician and camera specialist at Stone Camera on Bromfield Street in Boston. “I had to earn the respect of the other male employees and the mostly male clientele,” she said. “I took the challenge on and made it a point to become very proficient in all types of film formats, as well as processing and printing methods. After a year of the struggle of cleaning the whole store and also stocking and selling, I was promoted to manager!”
Little known to her bosses, Russo had begun in 1977 to work as a features photographer for the influential Gay Community News, whose office was at 22 Bromfield Street, smack dab between two branches of the camera store. “I would make my deliveries [to the newspaper] telling my workmates that I was going to get a coffee,” she said. “Then I would run there to make my deadlines.” Russo’s photos were published under the pseudonym Noelle Grays.
Within a year, she met a “very famous advertising photographer” who was a patron of Stone Camera. They became friends, and Russo asked if he would bring her aboard as his assistant, while keeping her day job. “Sometimes he would let me book models for my own shoots at night in his studio,” Russo said, “so I could make extra money and learn more about lighting and sets.”
A couple of the nighttime models passed on word that Filene’s was looking for a freelance photographer. Russo borrowed $3,000 to buy the necessary equipment, including a 4-by-5 camera. She up a test shot and got the job. She established her own studio in the South End, and began to work for clients like Burberry’s, Clinique, Lacoste, and Waterford. The advent of digital photography in the mid-1990s compelled Russo to relearn her craft after two decades of work.
“If you think this house is a dump, then look at the one next door, because it’s for sale too.”
Provincetown entered the picture in 2003, when Russo and her partner, Sandy Rabb, were invited by a friend to look at 1 Baker Avenue, which he was thinking of buying. Russo warned her friend that the old house was in need of total rehabilitation. “He said, ‘If you think this house is a dump, then look at the one next door, because it’s for sale too,’ Russo recalled. “We looked in the back door and could see that it needed a lot of work but it had good bones. A week later I had made a low bid on it thinking the owners would never accept it. They accepted my bid!
“We started to work on it on weekends, and I moved a printer there and started to make my work. I would make it on canvas and would varnish it on my back fence and leave it to dry. Occasionally we would have strangers roaming around my yard inquiring to purchase the work. At this point I had no real plans to sell the work and was just trying to make pieces for the house and possible Boston shows.
“After a year or so of people wanting to buy the work, I got the message and decided to look for a shared gallery space. Most of the artists that wanted to do that really just wanted me to sell their work while supplementing their rent. Then, in 2005, I heard that two women were looking for a third person. I made an appointment and met with them. One was an impressionist painter in her 80s, Ilona Royce Smithkin, and the other was a watercolorist and a retired judge. They didn’t know what to make of my work because they hadn’t seen anything like it before, but we liked each other and made an agreement.”
Russo’s long tenure at 3 Baker Avenue pales in comparison to the that of the Nunes family, the prior owners, who held it for 58 years.
Left: Bernard F. Nunes as a high school senior in 1960. [Long Pointer / Provincetown History Preservation Project] Right: James R. Nunes as a senior in 1966. [Long Pointer / Provincetown History Preservation Project]
John Caton Nunes (1919-2002) and Mildred Frances (Fratus) Nunes (1919-1996) were born within 55 days of one another in Provincetown — he to Mary (Silva) Nunes and Manuel C. Nunes, she to Eva May (Prada) Fratus and Frank B. Fratus. They purchased 3 Baker Avenue from Vashti O. Whitney in 1945. John Nunes gave his occupation in the 1950 town directory as plumber, and in the 1962-1963 directory as truck driver. Mildred was a homemaker and the mother of five sons. They included Bernard F. Nunes (1942-2015), a mechanic, who lived here as an adult; and James R. Nunes, of Cherryfield, Me., to whom John and Mildred transferred the property in 1993. He sold it 10 years later to Russo.
3 Baker Avenue on the Town Map, showing property lines.
Angela Russo wrote on 1 January 2019: I have been a gallerist and artist since 2003 out of this house. My gallery is at 447 Commercial for all that time. See “Destination Mirth” for my story of how I came to live and work in Provincetown.
¹ “As Angela Russo Sees It,” by Nina Livingstone, Destination Mirth, 27 December 2018.
¶ Last updated on 21 January 2019.