The Power of Place
The Artistic Life of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard
By P. Andrews-Keenan
The dynamism of a place often makes itself most known and felt through the art that is created there. Chicago artists are bold and brash much like the city itself. Simone Leigh’s incomparable work at the Venice Biennale and Richard Hunt’s enduring and iconic sculptures stand on the world stage as the work of proud Chicagoans.
Yet, when Pigment traveled to Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks this summer we experienced Black art in a way that is defined both by history and the welcoming spirit of this island refugee. They revere their homegrown Black art talent while opening their arms wide to accept those who choose this as their home away even if only briefly. Dare I say it is idyllic? And yes, everyone from your friends down the street to the US presidents have summered here for generations. You can and should read more about that. Today, we are talking about art.
Loïs Mailou Jones, a long time Oak Bluffs resident, is buried here. The iconic Flying Horse Carousel in Oak Bluff was both her recreation as a child and the subject of her work. Her paintings grace the walls of what is known as the oldest continuously operating carousel in the country. Zita Cousens, owner of Cousen Rose, the first Black owned gallery on the island showcased Jones’ work when it opened in 1980. Its mainstay has always been artworks depicting Black people in positive scenes of daily life, for example, Glenn Tunstull’s visual chronicle of Black people on the beach.
Valerie Francis and Ralph H. Groce III are the owners of Knowhere Art Gallery and the Center of Knowhere. They are championing Black history by amplifying artists in the historical arts district of Oak Bluffs. The two also own the property occupied by the non-profit, Galaxy Gallery. An exhibition by Charly Palmer opened at Knowhere on August 5.
Both Cousens and Francis have deep ties to the island that go back generations.
Since 2010, Ann Smith is the Executive Director of Featherstone Center for the Arts . Smith is also the Chair of the Arts Martha’s Vineyard Steering Committee, the Island’s arts and culture collaborative organization. During 2020 Smith, Frances and Cousens met regularly via Zoom to discuss ways to support the art community and each other. They consistently focused on what they could do collectively.
If summer 2022 is any benchmark, they have done an outstanding job. Art was a part of every gathering on the island, not just at the galleries but at the Martha’s Vineyard Comedy Fest, where Pigment International exhibited work at the fest’s new home, the Strand Theater; to the 20th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, and inside lovely shops like Island Life Studios, operated by native Martha’s Vineyard residents who can trace their ancestry to the Wampanoag tribe.
Mariposa Museum’s exhibition The Luminous Worlds of Omar Victor Diop showcases the Senegalese artist photography through October. Founder and director of the Inkwell Polar Bears on Martha’s Vineyard, internationally-known activist and Caroline Hunter is Community Engagement Manager for Mariposa.
Pigment International served as a media partner for the 5th Annual HBCU Legacy Week on Martha’s Vineyard with founder Sheryl Wesley, HBCU Brand Partners, LLC and Picture That, founded by Val Cooper. It afforded Pigment an inside look at the artists, galleries, and art organizations that operate on the island. HBCU Legacy week is held the last week of July.
Cooper orchestrated a week’s worth of events that included art walks, historic tours of the island and conversations about Black Art History. The Morgan State grad not only runs a successful arts consultancy but is a champion for the role HBCUs have played as the first repositories of African and African American art history. Cooper is the founder of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — Digital Art Collection Project (H-DAP), designed to take viewers on a journey through the amazing world of African American Art Collections owned by HBCUs. She hosted her successful Museums & Mocktails Series on the island in partnership Merrill Lynch.
Museums and Mocktails
Virginia Mecklenburg, Senior Curator, Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) discussed William H. Johnson Fighters for Freedom at the Oak Bluffs’ Library. The current traveling exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by William H. Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967.
It was most recently at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina.
Jane Carpenter-Rock, Deputy Director at SAAM, joined a conversation about the Southern University at New Orleans Art Collection with Director of the SUNO Museum of Art Ted Ellis, Caroline Hunter and Karla Hostetler of the Mariposa, Erica Witt and Cooper. Justin Stevens, Deborah Larrison, Cynthia Mullins, Michael Duffy and Caroline Orr discussed “Donating ART to HBCU Art Collections”.
Imagine at the Featherstone Arts Center
Adrienne L. Childs, Ph.D., is an adjunct curator at The Phillips Collection and curated the current exhibition at the Featherstone Arts Center — Imagine: Celebrating Black Female Creativity, an exhibition with works by historical and contemporary African American women artists. The exhibition features artists who work in various media from painting and collage to jewelry. Galerie Myrtis showcased works by Lavett Ballard and Tawny Chatmon. Particularly exciting was seeing the works Toni, Lena and Tina by artist and activist (artivist) Emma Amos.
Pigment International NFT Drop
Pigment International hosted its first ever NFT Drop highlighting The CROWN Act, at new home of the Martha’s Vineyard Comedy Fest, the Strand Theater. The CROWN Act was adopted nationally on July 1st, 2022. The first CROWN Act legislation was signed in California on July 3, 2019. CROWN stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Dwyane Glapion, Thomas E. Lockhart III, Dana Todd Popewere able to discuss their work. Also featured was work by Martha Wade.
Stephen and Dr. Patricia Blessman sponsored Pigment Internationals stay on the Vineyard as did Martha Shaw of the Shoe Foundation.
For more photos and info from Martha’s Vineyard read our entire newsletter at https://conta.cc/3Ppk23I