by Joe Burns
Provincetown Banner - 4/25/96
"Lilac and Larkspur", 1993 oil on linen by John Dowd
Born out of the economy of its times, cherished for the economy of its lines, Days' Cottages have been a model for Outer Cape artists for as long as they have stood along the North Truro shore. The first nine cottages were built in 1931 by Joseph A. Days as a way of creating work in the midst of the Great Depression, Days' Cottages, starting its 65th season on Wednesday, are neither the first nor the only summer cottages located on the narrow stretch of 6A roadway, but thanks to a fortuitous and unique spiritual relationship with the landscape and each other, the 23 green and white structures stand alone in the eyes of a number of artists and writers.
"There's that immediate hit when you come over the hill into Provincetown the first time and you see the bay and then you see these little bungalows twinkling along the edge of the sea," says Joel Meyerowitz, who has been photographing the cottages since 1976.
"What's nice about them is the way they're oriented," says Provincetown artist John Dowd, comparing Days' with other cottages, set length-wise along the road. "You get the gable end towards you, kind of making that toothy pattern, the composition against the sky and ocean is peaked. They're sort of like pure forms and -- they're (almost) iconic."
Dowd painted the first of about 20 paintings of the cottages 16 years ago. "They're like children's drawings of a house, the simplest of elements," he says, "There's something about their purity which is very appealing and the repetition of them is fascinating, if not somewhat comical."
Adds Meyerowitz, "The repetition of the form with the interstices of the sea between them with that kind of boom, boom, boom, boom feeling as you flicker by is wonderful. When you drive by these buildings, it's like a film going by a shutter. You see house and then whoosh deep space, and then house, whoosh, and deep space, and in each of those deep spaces there's something else -- two people sitting in chairs, a string of clothes on a line, a kid throwing a ball, an empty chair, a parked car, a figure on the beach far away, the sunset, a boat. And it is an amazing quick-take which is always being replaced by the house itself. House, space, house, space, house, space. And it's fun to drive by and watch the play of instantanity," Meyerowitz adds.
"Ocean Storm III", 1995 oil on canvas by Chet Jones
Abstractionist Chet Jones wasn's impressed with Days' -- at first. "I thought of it as one of the blights," he recalls.
But Jones, known for his use of simple structures for studies in light and dark, soon discovered the reason for the cottages' popularity.
"It was during a storm. I was by the cottages and there was a really dark, dark sky... It was almost like the end of the world and in the middle of the clouds there was a sudden break and the sun came through and it hit the ocean side of the cottages and illuminated the water [with] this golden cast. It was just an extraordinary moment," he says. Jones was inspired by that image to create a series of six paintings called "Ocean Storm".
The endless possibilities created by the interaction between the cottages and their surroundings has long impressed Meyerowitz. "They hit you as silhouettes against the brilliantly lit sea behind one day, and on another day they're gilded gold by the late light and the sea is dark behind. They constantly change while always remaining the same," he says.
Poet Mark Doty credits the cottages as serving as an inspiration for his poem, "A Row of Identical Cottages".
"I had seen those cottages on a visit and they made me think about the kind of seaside places I used to stay in as a child and so they seemed kind of like the archetypal summer vacation cottage. The poem is [about] thinking about memory and how memory is always coming back into the present so that memory is kind of like a tide that washes in and it brings us images from the past, so in this poem, when I see those cottages, that brings back a whole wave of different memories," Doty says.
Cindy and Joe Days pose in front of their picturesque cottages
Joe Days, third-generation owner of the cottages, says that their appeal is not limited to a few artists.
"In the spring especially, we're getting all kinds of people setting up," Days says.
Part of their appeal is their personality. The unlikely combination of olive green trim and turquoise blue shutters set against white vinyl siding is the result of the family's desire to respect the tastes of the original owner.
"They've always been green since I've known them. The white's been here ever since I've been here," Days says. "My grandfather was big into green. Everything was green. His trucks were green... He loved green and white, so when we first got the aluminum on the trim, my father (Bernard) tried to get green so we'd match the windows and that was the only green available," Days explains.
Days' grandmother Amelia's touch can also be seen in the floral names -- Wisteria, Lilac, Larkspur, Violet -- printed in bold maroon letters on the sides of the cottages. These were the names she gave to them when they were built.
"That really pleases me... because they're so unlikely. There's no real relationship between the word "Violet" and the house. It's just a beautiful word hung on the side of this house," says Doty.
"A floral name, gives them a kind of identity they don't really have because they're all the same from the outside," says Meyerowitz. "It's very playful."
Days and his wife Cindy are proud of the attention the cottages have gotten. Sitting in their living room across from the cottages, the Days' pour through a folder filled with clippings [some of which are featured on this website --EMB] -- an article in a travel guide, a shot of a cottage in a Vogue magazine fashion ad. On their wall, among the many family photos, hangs a copy of of a photograph of "Wisteria". Missing are any drawings, paintings, or original photos of the cottages. Absent, too, is the answer to why these artists come to the cottages.
"I'd like to know why they paint them," Days says. "None of the artists have ever come in and said, 'Gee, this is great, I think I'll paint them because...,' they just do it. I never see any of their works or anything. They just come here, paint, and leave."