Neighborhood Is Quiet, but Oak Bluffs Arts District Stays Vibrant

Jul 13,  2020

Neighborhood Is Quiet, but Oak Bluffs Arts District Stays Vibrant

Several galleries in the Oak Bluffs Arts District stayed open late on Saturday, welcoming visitors until 7 p.m.

“This is our first adventure into publicly letting people know they can come to see us, as long as they’re socially distanced and wearing a mask,” said Holly Alaimo of the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts, which operates the cooperative Galaxy Gallery on Dukes County avenue.

In past summers, extended hours were part of the monthly Arts District Stroll, a festive meander through avenue galleries with live music, cheese boards and wine along the way. Those flourishes have fallen to the coronavirus pandemic, but the district is keeping to its monthly schedule, with the next evening hours scheduled for August 8, Ms. Alaimo said.

Browsers at the Michael Blanchard gallery.
Browsers at the Michael Blanchard gallery.

And while the neighborhood was generally quiet Saturday, the galleries’ artwork seemed even more vibrant and essential than ever.

Island painter Wendy Weldon’s recent works, created since the advent of the pandemic, explore a new realm of pulsing greens.

“Her palette has changed,” said Valerie Francis, owner and curator of Knowhere Gallery, which is showing Ms. Weldon’s new and earlier paintings as well as portraits by Chicago-based Rhonda Brown and works by Chilmark artist Stephanie Danforth.

Best known for her sensuous oils of flowers and fruit, Ms. Danforth also has a sculpture at Knowhere Gallery. Her mixed-media Angel is an appealingly solid seraph made of household items from the last century, with a bespectacled clock face, serving-platter halo and ball-and-claw feet. One imagines it clanking faintly in flight, like a metallic wind chime set free.

Galaxy Gallery, formerly the ART Gallery, continues to be the district’s largest and most diverse art space, with members including wood cut printer Ruth Kirchmeier, painter Renee Balter and fish taxidermist Janet Messineo.

Ms. Messineo, who is also the author of the fishing memoir Casting Into the Light, uses the skills from her 29-year career in marine taxidermy to create colorful new versions of sea life.

“I have decided that instead of revealing their natural colors and patterns, I am letting my creative gift go wild,” Ms. Messineo writes in the artist’s statement for her new work, such as the vividly striped Whimsical Arctic Char and a series of molted horseshoe-crab shells, transformed by deep-toned enamels into dagger-tailed gems.

Ms. Balter’s colorful paintings and prints celebrate the Island’s summer pleasures, particularly those in Oak Bluffs: Illumination Night at the Tabernacle, a summer cottage on Farm Pond, the Flying Horses.

She also takes viewers back in time, or perhaps to a Circuit avenue forever outside of time, with a view of the long-gone Mr. C’s snack bar that calls to mind a sunny, cheerful answer to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Browsers at the Michael Blanchard gallery. — Mark Alan Lovewell
Browsers at the Michael Blanchard gallery.
— Mark Alan Lovewell

On Saturday, a masked Ms. Balter was working the desk at Galaxy Gallery and contributing an unusual bonus to the extended hours: Every customer received a free print of her 1978 pen and ink drawing of nude sunbathers at Lucy Vincent Beach.

Along with the print, Ms. Balter shared its story, in which the Vineyard Gazette played a small part. Originally drawn as one of eight Island scenes for a set of Christmas cards, she said the image was turned down for inclusion in a holiday catalog the newspaper was producing that year.

“They said it was just a little too risqué,” Ms. Balter said, laughing. (Decades later, the drawing made it into the affiliated Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, accompanying Ms. Balter’s letter telling the tale.)

Also extending their hours Saturday evening were photographer Michael Blanchard’s Crossroads Gallery and painter and textile designer Judith Drew Schubert’s Periwinkle Studio. At Alison Shaw Gallery, which marks the northern limit of the arts district, a note on the door gave the number to call for an appointment.

Most arts district galleries are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, except on the monthly extended-hours Saturdays. In the main display window at Galaxy Gallery, a large-screen monitor displays images of member art around the clock.

“Before we even knew if we could open, we were concerned about how to keep a presence in the arts district,” Ms. Alaimo said.

“When people see [the screen], they know we’re alive and well.”


- by Louisa Hufstader, Monday, July 13, 2020