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A Traveling Show of Historic Island Art

Galleries : A Traveling Show of Historic Island Art

By Gwyn McAllister
Published: November 6, 2008 by The Martha's Vineyard Times

Coming to your town this winter will be a collection of works by some internationally noted artists, who are part of the Vineyard's artistic history. Thanks to the Martha's Vineyard Art Association (MVAA), the works of Francis Chapin, who spent summers painting Vineyard scenes and whose art is in permanent collections at museums such as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, will be among those whose art is represented in an art show traveling to various Island locations. His paintings will be displayed along with the work of other artists who painted on-Island, such as one of America's early abstract painters, Ruth Appeldoorn Mead. A student of Hans Hofmann and Joseph Albers, Ms. Mead is one of the founders of the MVAA. As well as serving as a reminder that the Vineyard has long been home to a host of accomplished artists, the traveling art exhibit documents Island life throughout the last century.

The art was collected by the MVAA, which was formed in the 1930s by a group of artists, many of whom painted together and wanted a shared space to exhibit their work. In 1954, they purchased the shop of boatbuilder Manuel Swartz Roberts facing Memorial Wharf across from the Chappy ferry landing: Old Sculpin Gallery.

Ruth Appeldoorn Mead
"Untitled" by Ruth Appeldoorn Mead, one of America's early abstract painters.
Photos courtesy of Louisa Gould Gallery

Today the MVAA, still composed of local artists and still dedicated to displaying its members' work throughout the summer, also sponsors art classes and awards scholarships. However, possibly the most important role the MVAA plays in the Vineyard art scene is as curator of art that chronicles the Island over the years. Thanks to donations by many of their past and present members, and contributions of works by outside individuals, the collection has grown to more than 80 pieces.

"I kept thinking, this is so amazing," says Melissa Breese, MVAA's director. One of her first tasks when she took over as head of the Association two years ago was to move the collection back to the gallery from its winter storage space in the basement of the Whaling Church. She was understandably impressed by the pieces she was unwrapping, and so she started getting down to the business of cataloguing everything in the collection for the first time.

Louisa Gould
Louisa Gould's photo of the Gannon & Benjamin built double-ender, "Hope," is the latest addition to MVAA's permanent collection.

Many of the works needed restoration or reframing. A generous grant from the MV Cultural Council made it possible to bring a lot of the pieces back to exhibit condition. Finally, this winter Ms. Breese decided it was time to take the show on the road. The permanent collection is on display on a rotating basis at the Old Sculpin during the gallery's summer season, but Ms. Breese notes, "A lot of Islanders don't get to Edgartown in the summer."

The Island tour last began last month with an exhibit at the Bank of Martha's Vineyard in Chilmark. Currently a large selection is on display at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven, where it will remain on exhibit weekends and by appointment through November 19. An opening reception will be held this Saturday, Nov. 8, from 4 to 6 pm.

Gallery owner and photographer Louisa Gould notes, "Vineyarders are lucky to have this opportunity to educate themselves."

Lois Mailou Jones
"Through the Coal Wharf," by Lois Mailou Jones, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance who painted on the Vineyard in the 1950s and 60s.

Ms. Gould remembers taking art classes at the Old Sculpin when she summered on the Island as a girl. Her iconic boat photo "Hope" is the latest addition to the Association's permanent collection that boasts a remarkable roster, including the art of Lois Mailou Jones, Vaclav Vytlacil, considered one of the forerunners of American modernism, and Hans Hofmann, who did not paint on the Vineyard, but whose estate donated several of his lithographs to the collection.

Works from the permanent collection of the Martha's Vineyard Art Association, Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven, through November 19. Opening reception, Saturday, Nov. 8, from 4-6 pm. The exhibit will next travel next to Oak Bluffs.

Gwyn McAllister is a freelance writer living in Oak Bluffs.

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