Frank Schaefer

Arts patron and innkeeper


Frank Schaefer, art patron and inn-keeper: born Konigsberg, Germany 5 February 1937; three times married, third 2006 Mary Martin; died Boston 14 September 2007.

Frank Schaefer was a patron of artists, a fine photographer, and a man of immaculate taste, but he will be best remembered as the proprietor of the White Horse Inn in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a collection of eccentrically decorated suites and rooms described as "one giant Joseph Cornell box". Here he played host to Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Gore Vidal, Grace Paley, Emily Mortimer, John Waters and Divine, to name just a few of his guests.

Provincetown, a former whaling port perched at the tip of Cape Cod, was famously described by Thoreau as a place where "a man may stand and put all America behind him". When Schaefer arrived there as a German émigré in the 1950s, it had long been a hotbed of bohemianism, revelling in its nickname "Greenwich Village by the sea".

Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Eugene O'Neill, Mark Rothko, Stanley Kunitz, Michael Cunningham and Mary Oliver all lived or live there, rejoicing in its outsider status, as well as its natural beauty and lambent light. Schaefer, a rangy, distinctly European figure, forever had a camera in his hand, recording the extraordinary place he found himself in.

In the early 1960s, he acquired the building which was to become the White Horse Inn (named after his favourite Manhattan watering-hole, the tavern in which Dylan Thomas drank). The house, in Provincetown's East End, on oyster-shell-covered Daggett Lane, had belonged to a whaling captain in the 1830s. The front door was supported by a ship's knee, carved out of a huge piece of oak. Indeed, like many Provincetown houses, it seemed part house, part boat.

Together with his close friend, the artist Jackson Lambert, Schaefer set about creating the White Horse Inn. Whole rooms were decorated with bits of carved wood: finials and bedheads, altar rails and intricate panels, creating an idiosyncratic, three-dimensional collage. Windows were set with reclaimed stained glass and leaded lights. Schaefer made a point of sleeping in each suite, so as to ensure its livability; many had large windows for use by artists as studios. One apartment rejoices in a bright yellow floor, a statue of Buddha on its terrace, covered in a hundred bead necklaces, and overlooking it, a wooden sculpture by Lambert. Another, set at the top of the building, has a kind of tree house, complete with an eyrie deck, more like a crow's nest.

Schaefer regarded his guests – one needed an introduction even to be considered to be allowed to stay there – as his friends, and as part of an ongoing cultural project. As one friend, Mary Norris, remembered: "Frank kept the inn as if it were a living, breathing thing ... and filled the rooms with art." On her first visit, he took her to a Boxing Day party, "featuring men in kilts".

Schaefer had come to America on a Fulbright scholarship to study journalism in 1956, escaping a divided post-war Germany. He told vivid stories of his father, Horst Schaefer, a publisher in peacetime, who found himself working for Josef Goebbels and the German propaganda ministry. Frank's father had been responsible for malfunctioning loudspeakers during one of Hitler's speeches, and Goebbels proclaimed, "Schaefer must pay". He was sent to the Russian front – his own family had no idea where he was – and returned home six years later, wearing a suit but no shirt beneath his jacket. Horst Schaefer told his son, "The best work is making a living off your own ideas."

It was advice Frank took to heart. "I was always surrounded by artists," he recalled. He was himself a serious painter and photographer, but also an intimate collaborator and member of the Provincetown Art Association. He also helped create of the town's world-renowned Fine Arts Work Center.

It was fascinating to travel through Cape Cod with him. He'd drive off the road and into the woods to show you a private kettle pond in which to swim, then point out – in his still evident German accent – the summer house Marcel Breuer designed for himself, and the cottage where Tennessee Williams lived with Marlon Brando. Nor was he fazed by Provincetown's latest incarnation as a gay resort – he relished cross-dressing drag queens parading outside his house on carnival days.

John Waters remembers his own stays at the White Horse Inn as "an extended bedroom apartment all my friends shared ... I liked Frank so much that I performed the wedding service for him and his talented wife Mary Martin through the mail order ministry Universal Life Church." Martin, an elegant "wash-ashore" from Nova Scotia and a gifted ukulele player – among many other things – made Schaefer's last years happy.

Philip Hoare

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect