Galleries : Past And Present At Old Sculpin
The building that houses the Old Sculpin Gallery has been a fixture on Edgartown's waterfront since late in the 18th century. It is a remarkable hybrid of old and new, gallery and museum and art school. In the course of its long history, it has housed a candle factory, a boat builder's shop, and a grain store. It once occupied the whale-oil dock owned by Dr. Daniel Fisher, the 19th century whaling ship owner.
Coinciding with the rise of Island tourism, it was converted to its current incarnation: an art museum, classroom, and gallery whose walls are covered with art that seems to capture the essence of summer on the Island.
While most of the art displayed is for sale, the gallery's nonprofit status allows the focus to remain on art for its own sake.
Each floor has a specific purpose. The ground floor is devoted to gallery display, while up the narrow creaky stairs the second level is used for classes. The third floor consists of a single small room at the top of the gallery's distinctive tower, with views of Edgartown harbor and the Chappy ferry. Once the studio of former artist-in-residence Fred Messersmith, there are plans to install an artist-in-residence again.
Melissa Breese, the gallery's manager, is excited about the Old Sculpin and its role in the Vineyard's art community. She says, "Our goal is to invest in the Vineyard and build the art community. A lot of local artists got their start taking classes here."
In the setting of the unique old gallery with its hand-hewn framing members and post-and-beam construction, Ms. Breese's enthusiasm becomes contagious.
Large windows allow the sun to flood in on the wide floorboards that show signs of heavy use, like a path worn into the floorboards next to the workbench of Manuel Schwartz, the boatbuilder who sold the building to a group of artists in 1954 for $15,000. Big enough to accommodate a catboat under construction, the ground floor has since been divided into smaller rooms, each of which holds the work of a different artist.
The gallery's permanent collection reveals Island history. "We're the oldest-running gallery on the Island," Ms. Breese says. "We have Vineyard work starting in the 1800s and coming all the way up to the present. It really shows how the Island has changed over the years. The [art selecting] jury looks for work that shows the Vineyard in a new, creative way. It's a balancing act trying to determine how traditional we want to stay, and at the same time let in new blood."
The paintings of Mr. Messersmith have been shown at Old Sculpin since the gallery opened in 1954. Working primarily in watercolor, he has painted the Vineyard's landscape for over 50 years, as well as teaching art classes. A retrospective of his work is planned for late in August.
Mr. Messersmith explains, "The retrospective will show how my work has changed over time. I experiment a lot and I paint what I see."
Maia Smith is a freelance writer who spends summers on the Island.