One of Provincetown’s most colorful and creative artists was photographer John W. Gregory. Born in New York City, he grew up as the son of the city editor for the New York Tribune. After studying with John Sloane at the Art Students League in New York, he took up photography during World War II in Provincetown.
Then, in 1944, he and his wife, Adelaide, bought the Seth Nickerson house at 72 Commercial St. It was originally built in 1746 and recognized by many as the oldest house in Provincetown. For over forty years, Gregory gave house tours. Although shy by nature, he became more outgoing with practice.
His photographs were published by Time Magazine, the New York Times and the Associated Press. Seven of his photographs are included in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. His photos capture the stark beauty of the Outer Cape from the haunting limbs of dead tree branches in the sand to “old salts” conversing as their boats sit behind them in the harbor. His landscapes and portraits were done in rich black and white tones.
Gregory was especially proud of the fact that his photo of “the oldest house in Provincetown” was part of the Golden Record on board the Voyager 1 spacecraft. According to a Nasa website, the purpose of the Golden Record was to “contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.” These appeared on a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk. He also published a retrospective of his photographs in “Provincetown by the Sea.” Appearing in 1992, the book contains around thirty of his best-selling prints.
He died at the age of 89 years on July 19, 1982. On a personal note, Gregory was my husband’s great uncle and the brother of Dorothy Lake Gregory (my husband’s grandmother). She was married to famed Provincetown artist Ross Moffett. I had the privilege to visit John and Adelaide’s house around 1980. Adelaide was a former concert pianist and a quiet presence. John was welcoming as host and showed my sister-in-law and myself all the nooks and crannies of his notable house. I remember a huge colonial fireplace with a beehive oven, hooked rugs on the floor, and the old wood timbers that graced the ceiling. According to Fodors, “it was built by a ship’s carpenter, with massive pegged, hand-hewn oak beams and wide-board floors. Modern renovations have somewhat obscured the glimpse into centuries past that it once possessed, but it’s still impressive.” It was certainly an afternoon to remember!