MV Museum Opens

Reclamation…

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum  opened the doors of their new home this week. Here’s a bird’s eye view nearing completion from their website…

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0292.JPG  photo credit probably Denny Wortman but I’ll check.

It’s an exciting time for all who have supported the dream of transforming the old marine hospital into its newest reincarnation as home for the MV Museum and its collection of island history, artifacts and lore. The Museum, as a collective, is a living breathing vibrant organization which brings archived island history to life for each new generation.

Readers will remember that way back in 2013, can it be that long ago, I worked on a series of paintings, Reclamation, which explored the Marine Hospital building as it then stood, abandoned and restless, on the hill overlooking Vineyard Haven harbor.

The MV Museum had just purchased the property with the goal of converting it to their new headquarters. And, after five years of hard work and visionary grit, the board, staff, construction workers and volunteers have realized their dream.

As part of the opening exhibit in their space devoted to Island Art, “Lost and Found, The Marine Hospital”, the museum has curated examples of artwork inspired by the original building. They managed to round up, and have included, several of the paintings from my Reclamation Series, and Adam Smith sent me some photos of those paintings in situ from the show…

Escape…

Here are images of the rest of the series…

Marine Castaway…

Vineyard Porcelain…

Transom…

Sailing Camp Shadows…

Memorial Day…

Maplines…

Island Passages…

Severe Clear…

 

And for the bonus round…

The 2008 painting of Strider’s Surrender, which was donated to the MV Museum by a supportive patron, has now found a home in its permanent collection. Chris Morse, owner of the Granary Gallery, sent me a photo of the crew installing the piece…

And Adam caught it again at the opening…hello from the studio to Phil Wallis, MV Museum’s Executive Director, down along the hallway there…

 

The Painter’s Notes for both the Reclamation Series and Strider’s Surrender fill in some of the inspiration and back story for these pieces and can be read by interested parties by clicking on their highlighted names in this sentence.

It is both personally and professionally kind of amazing to see these paintings hanging in the new museum.

As artists…
we churn our days away at the easel
challenged by the muses
tossing paint around with tiny brushes
grounded, as far as our left brains will allow,
and working primarily
in the present.

It is humbling
to see one of those creations
hanging in a museum
which is grounded, as far as any good mission statement will allow,
in the past.

In preserving the past.

I don’t often get to see where my paintings go after they are sold.
If I’m brutally honest, it is sometimes so emotionally difficult to put so much of my self and soul into the creation of the artwork only to let it go and never be seen, by me, again that I have to compartmentalize that bit into a dusty corner of my heart.

If I had a gratitude journal…
today’s entry would be this blog post.

I am grateful for all those whose support has given these paintings a new audience to tell their stories to…and I am looking forward to getting to see them again…in person soon.


Ancient Muses

I celebrated my 16th birthday on a plane bound for France. We were fortunate, as high school students in the mid-70’s, in Swarthmore, PA, to have a most amazing French teacher, Nancy Gabel. A force of nature and culture and aesthetics and art, she was, and still is, a profound mentor to generations…and she was my guiding light.

I think we spent a week or more touring Paris and the Chateaux in the Loire Valley and took one memorable visit to Versailles. I had a new Kodak along and have a vivid memory of walking through the palace and lingering in a hallway after the tour group ambled along, and peering through an open window into a sort of inner courtyard where the stuccoed walls had been worn away to expose some old wooden timber-framing and then snapping a picture of it. For some reason, those textures and history appealed to me more than the opulent outer shell and for years afterward I would return to that little photo often in later years as a highlight of the trip.

I even made a reference, to that scrap of my early artistic leaning, recently, when talking with our friend Dr. Doug about the museum series, Reclamation. Doug had come for a studio visit when I had first begun working up the early compositions of the rooms in that old Marine Hospital, and he had shown us some photos of his recent travels and we were marveling at his hidden talent as an art-photographer and how we each see beauty beyond the usual touristy facades. It was, in fact, our conversations that night and his enthusiasm for the new direction of the paintings that was the impetus I needed to dig deep into the project, and his continuing interest and support guided me right up until the opening of the show.

So, we fast forward to yesterday, where I sat at my studio kitchen table reading an article in American Arts Quarterly about Albrecht Durer. Always one of my favorites, I have dipped in and out of old copies of books which feature his etchings and drawings throughout my journey as an artist. At one point I danced one of his portraits of a pondering old man into a painting, Bookmark…

Book Mark

And, after reading about an exhibition celebrating the passage of 500 years since he was producing his art, I went to the bookshelves and took out the old books to study once again…

durer

I know it will not come as a surprise to you…my loyal readers…my satellite muses…but it stopped my brushes and skipped my heart a beat to find…nestled in the pages of this well worn volume of his drawings…

versailles

that very photo, taken through a window in Versailles in 1974 and filed for safe keeping in a oft-visited corner of my brain.

If you had asked me to find that photo, and put the lives of my grandchildren in the balance, I am positive that I would not have been able to begin to know where to start looking for it… let along find it.

And, after living through the 40 years in between taking the photo and blogging about it here…I can honestly say that it makes my heart sing to hold that picture again, here in the studio I only dreamed about then, and to laugh along with the muses as they tease this happily aging artiste…who still likes to peek around corners, through old windows, to find the beauty in ancient palaces.

Island Passages

 

 


Magnification

It was a wonderful opening at the Granary Gallery last week and, though we are home, and I’m already back at work starting on the next year’s worth of paintings, the show will hang for the rest of the summer and the gallery staff reports that visitors are spending a lot of time studying those details…

granary close up

magnification


Island Passages

Island Passages – 18″ x 26″

Island Passages

I had to revisit that porcelain sink
and the verdigris on the copper door handle
and the cool lavender light
framing the warm glow in the hallway
and the barest hint of a fire escape
and the sweet sharp elegance
of those hairline cracks in the plaster
but my favorite part of this painting
was discovering
upon very close inspection of my reference photos
the tiny thumbtacks used to hold some old strings in place
and the dearest little shadow
that was cast by the one
that I secretly tacked
onto the wooden peg rail…


Maplines

Maplines – 18″ x 24″

maplines

So, this is where it started to get real
I worked for several days
laying down layers of loose color
I knew it was the detail
the incredibly rich detail
of the stuccoed wall that was in play here
and it was great fun to build up the earthy colors
almost as if I had plastered it myself
and replastered
and repaired that replastering
but at some point
I think it was after I danced those dark lines of tin
underneath the peeling blue paint on the ceiling
I made the leap of faith
and committed to take those cracks
to a whole other level
and, as I mentioned in the catalogue,
that’s when I began to listen
on a much deeper level
to the stories the building
had to tell.


That’s how THIS light gets in

Transom – 14″ x 18″

Transom

This was the second painting I worked on in the series
and the first where I had just the architecture to focus on.
Every single surface was reflecting the sunlight differently.
I really had to learn the founding structure of the building
and came to appreciate my limited knowledge of construction
as I studied the sketches and reference photos
in great detail to make sure I got them accurate.
Once I had the bones down
it was all about the light.
And letting it dance around on the walls
and reflect off of the banisters
and drive that shaft straight into the foreground
and bounce back
in that impossibly blue line
just behind the door.


Aquisitions

So now you know what the series Reclamation is all about. I’ll fill in with some of the backstory for each of the 10 paintings…

Marine Castaway – 25″ x 28″

Marine Castaway

When I walked into this hallway and saw that old boat my heart skipped a beat.
It was not just the surprise of seeing it “out of water” as it were, but the juxtaposition of it against the primitive mural in the room beyond.

There was a long period of incubation in between my autumn visits to the building and finally picking up a paint brush to begin this series. As I mentioned in the catalogue, it wasn’t even a series at first. But the image of this boat, the intrigue and the challenge of how to render its character, was what I kept being excited by, so it became the jumping off point.

This, for me, more that any of the other paintings in this series, captures the broad arc of the story of this building’s history. From Marine Hospital, to Children’s Sailing Camp…and now the opening chapters of it’s future as the home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

I could just swim in those blues.

 

 


Reclamation

Now we take a big detour in which we find ourselves on the opposite end of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Nestled in the little town of Vineyard Haven is a hidden treasure and rendering its essence became my winter’s studio work…

Reclamation – 24″ x 48″

Reclamation lg

 Reclamation – An exploration of a hidden island treasure

Hidden vistas, historic vineyard homesteads, echoes of vintage islanders, the tools of their trades and the marks they have left in the wake of their time here are meaningful touchstones for the muses and vivid fodder for the creative soul.  So it was, that when I sat down at my studio table a few months ago and read in the Vineyard Gazette about the Martha’s Vineyard Museum acquiring the old Marine Hospital building in Vineyard Haven, I was eager to see it for myself.

The Marine Hospital was built in 1895 and sits on a prominent hill overlooking what had only a few years earlier, in 1871, assumed its modern name of Vineyard Haven.  Over the last hundred plus years it had become obscured by the substantial growth of oaks, maples and at least one Siberian Elm whose towering beauty still envelopes one entire wing.  I’m probably not the only visitor, when hailing the island from the upper deck of the ferry,  to be surprised by its stalwart presence on the horizon, after the museum returned the landscaping to its earlier state.  While the clearing reveals an old friend on the town’s skyline, it also restores the dramatic view from atop that hill looking out over the expanse of lagoon and harbor and Vineyard Sound.

view from beach road 1910

My curiosity was satisfied when Denys Wortman, MV Museum Board member whose Vineyard roots are deeply woven into the fabric of the island, graciously guided me on a tour of the building last October.  He filled me in on the history of the building which was a 30 bed state of the art hospital treating islanders, soldiers in both World Wars I and II, and sailors who passed through the busy port.  It boasted the island’s first x-ray machine and elevator in a brick addition which was built in 1938.  Walking through its cavernous hallways we peered around the blackened walls of the darkroom where those x-rays were developed and explored the operating room and its alcoves.

The hospital was de-commissioned in the early 1950’s and the St. Pierre family took over its care and ran a summer camp there up until 2006.  You can see echoes of those happy campers in the murals  of sailboats painted on the wall in one of the bright corner rooms.  The building is infused with light by virtue of the many tall windows and the glassed transoms over the doorways which let that light cascade deeply into the space.  When I remarked on the graceful woodwork and the way each of the stuccoed corners was wrapped in a slender finial-capped turning of mahogany, Denny said there is someone on the island who has some extra pieces of those in a barn as his father was one of the craftsmen who worked on the building.

boat and mural

It’s that kind of lore which excites me and makes this building special.  From the half-tiled walls to the pressed tin ceilings, the patched and re-patched plastered surfaces and the ornately decorated cast iron radiators, the juxtaposed textures of weathered brick and smoothly polished patina of creamy porcelain, to the greening of the old copper and the deep marine blue painted baseboards that anchor the vaulted spaces to solid ground… the architecture is elegant in its simplicity and charms the esthetic heart.

I returned to the building many times during that autumn visit and tried to experience how the light and shadows changed over the course of a day.   One morning Denny met me and brought along the museum flag.  When I stepped outside to walk across the wide expanse of front lawn to help him raise it I commented on how there wasn’t a cloud in the crisp October sky.  “Pilots call that Severe Clear”,  he replied.

denny and flag

Back in my Pennsylvania studio when I was looking through the sketches and notes I had taken I found that I had written down that phrase and, for almost every morning of the dozens of days it took me to paint this view from the balcony, the spring sky here was brilliantly cloudless…so the title fits.

Severe Clear

I didn’t start out to make this a series, but as I finished each painting and saw them leaning along the studio walls it became clear that together they were beginning to tell a deeper story.  One which the building itself had to tell.  I wasn’t there to be a witness to the bustle of its early hospital days, or the loneliness of the few years that it sat vacant, or the second incarnation as children’s voices filled the hallways, but the spirits of those who moved through the corridors during its lifetime were present and as I studied and listened I was beginning to see the first inklings of its next chapter.

The museum had begun to move some of its acquisitions into the future home, and I found a particularly symbolic beauty in the dear old row boat that was resting against the standpipe in the downstairs hallway.  Through the open door behind it you could just catch a hint of the mural depicting the “Sweet 16″ Menemsha wooden sailboat.  A real life version of which is tarped over and grounded on blocks outside and just around the corner.  Though a fair enough challenge to capture the building and the boat faithfully in all their weathered-chip-painted glory… I had a blast painting them both.

And I learned something about myself as an artist over the months of producing this collection of paintings.  With each one I dug a little deeper into the surfaces, took more time to study the textures and stepped further out on that edge of rendering.  I went from seeing the rooms first as vessels of color and light and then slowly, as details came into sharper focus, a sort of map would appear.  A map of stories.  Those finely chiseled cracks in its well used surfaces were asking to be painted honestly and I had to find the courage to listen and to work harder at seeing the building…and myself.

Both acts of… reclamation.