Galleries : A Tribute To Virginia Besse
Virginia Weston Besse was uncomfortable when the board at the Featherstone Center for the Arts named its gallery after her when she retired from their ranks. "All that recognition..." she muttered, shaking her head.
Ms. Besse, who died this spring, was dedicated to the arts and used her energies to make things happen, always in consideration of others, and always with a sharing spirit.
The collaboration that threads its way through the Featherstone programs was first spun in the mid-1990's by Ms. Besse and her close friends Mary and Bill Stevens. They joined together to create a public center for art at the Stevens' farm on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Stevens engineered the sale of their farm to Meetinghouse (predecessor to Featherstone), and arranged for the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank to set up a Charitable Remainder Trust with funds from the sale to create Featherstone.
Photo by Sara Piazza
Ms. Besse and Ms. Stevens were linked through the marriage of Ms. Besse's daughter to Ms. Stevens' son. They were also artistic companions, exploring and expressing their experiences of the world through their art.
Ms. Besse worked with watercolor and silkscreen, monotype and pastel. In that same way, she applied herself to Featherstone: tending the gallery, hanging a new show, planning a new building, raising funds, and serving on the board. Anne Grandin, an artist who received particular encouragement from her, credits Ms. Besse as a strong influence in her current artistic success. Ms. Grandin is sponsoring the catered reception at the opening of this weekend's retrospective show in honor of her former mentor.
There was a long Island legacy of that Ms. Besse carried with her. She was related to the Edgartown Vose and Lovewell families, who descend from Jeremiah Pease.
Priscilla Ambrose, the great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, remembers that she sailed often with her at the Edgartown Yacht Club. This is not surprising as Virginia was such a good sailor that she served as head sailing instructor at that club in 1941 and '42, and also won many competitions, including the Mrs. Charles Francis Adams Cup, making her the Women's National Champion at only 25 years old.
The sea figured largely in Virginia's life both as a sailor and an artist. She integrated these two passions in the many paintings of shorelines, dunes, wetlands and boats. Once, after she selling a small painting on canvas of sailboats, she heard from Francine Kelly, director of Featherstone, that it had been one of her favorites. Soon after, Ms. Besse handed the director a sister to that painting, made especially for her. "I cherish it," says Ms. Kelley.
"Anything we asked or needed," says Ms. Kelley, "Virginia was there to help." When the new building, The Pebble, was built, she emphasized that "Lots of us helped make Featherstone what it is," then admonished, "Now don't put my name on it."
The retrospective show of Ms. Besse's work that opens on Sunday was planned many months ago as a fund-raiser for Featherstone Center for the Arts. No one suspected that she would not be present - although her spirit will surely be felt.
A retrospective of the work of Virginia Besse opens with a reception on Sunday, June 22, from 4 to 6 pm at Featherstone Center for the Arts. The show runs from June 22 to July 9. The gallery is open daily from 12-4 pm. Free admission. 508-693-1850.
Fae Kontje-Gibbs is an artist and writer.