Imagine Carol Craven settling down. Since she established her gallery on the Island in 1996, she has relocated four times and continually added to her roster of significant names in fine art. Now celebrating her 15th year, Ms. Craven is at it again.
The Carol Craven Gallery has packed up and moved from the warehouse space on Breakdown Lane in Vineyard Haven, to a newly renovated, single-level, freestanding former house at 497 State Road in West Tisbury just past Up-Island Cronig’s.
“I’m never moving again,” Ms. Craven says, smiling.
And judging from the enthusiasm she expresses for this latest location, she just might mean it.
Ms. Craven and her late husband Dick visited the Island together for more than 20 years before moving here full-time in 1996 when Mr. Craven’s health was failing. She had worked in gallery management in New York City and also viewed the move as an opportunity to launch her own business.
“I had always fantasized about starting a gallery here,” she says, “and I believed that the Vineyard could sustain a serious gallery, not one that catered to tourists — no lobster pots or typical fare of a resort place. I wanted to represent the artists I adored.”
Utilizing her New York connections, as well as those on-Island, Ms. Craven opened her first location in West Tisbury, in the building that now houses Bananas. After one year, she relocated to a space next to Conroy’s Apothecary, also in West Tisbury, where she stayed for the following eight years. Then the move to Breakdown Lane (a name Ms. Craven still chuckles about), which lasted until last fall.
“The economy grew increasingly precarious, no one could find Breakdown Lane, and my assistant of eight years, Haven Cutler, decided she no longer wanted to work,” Ms. Craven says, explaining the decision to move again.
Island artist and long-time friend Kib Bramhall learned about the vacant house and called Ms. Craven. He’d shown his landscapes and still-life paintings at the Craven Gallery since its inception and thought the former single-family residence was “a terrific location.” Ms. Craven made the trek from New York in early spring to see it, and immediately signed on the dotted line.
“I knew as soon as I walked in that it was perfect,” she says. “I felt at home. It has a really good vibe, for lack of a better term, and I could imagine how the paintings could work here.”
The new gallery’s 1,600 square feet consists of one large main room, along with three smaller areas. Floor-to-ceiling windows light the main gallery and a working fireplace gives the space a distinctly “homey” feel. “I think it will allow collectors an opportunity to see how a piece might appear in their own home environment,” Ms. Craven says.
She walks through the gallery describing each of the artists’ works as enthusiastically as if she were talking about her children.
The overall effect of the Craven Gallery is that of a deliberate yet eclectic blend of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and photography that forces the viewer to slow down to observe the mastery of artists at the top of their form and appreciate the accomplishments of newer artists. Regionalist master Thomas Hart Benton’s works hang near those of contemporary landscape painter Christie Scheele and Barbara Kassel’s very personal depictions of her New York City and Vineyard lives. The images of photographers Palmer Davis and Tim Coy are displayed along with Steven Assael’s drawing of a nude and Rita Stern’s mixed-media studies of dogs.
Ms. Craven says she finds being relatively inconspicuous a bonus, and being outside of town doesn’t seem to present any problems for her artists. She had already added an impressive list of new artists to her venue, including Wendy Weldon, James Langlois, Tim Coy, Fran Dropkin, Katherine Dilworth, and Jed Devine.
“I’d show with her no matter where she went,” says Kib Bramhall. “She’s known as a dealer handling high caliber work. People make an effort to find her.”
And painter Barbara Kassel concurs. “Carol has the energy, passion, joy, and expertise to draw people to her gallery.”
“I know my audience isn’t day-trippers or window shoppers,” Ms. Craven says. “I’d find Main Street anywhere exhausting. I never felt a family with ice cream cones was my audience. I’d be surprised if a serious collector who comes to the Island doesn’t know my name.”
Another major change for the Craven Gallery this season is the staff addition of Holly Alaimo, former owner of the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs. It appears to be a partnership of mutual admiration.
“I always thought her gallery was top-notch,” says Ms. Alaimo, “with masterpieces you’d expect to find only in a museum. She’s so knowledgeable about art and so energetic, it really is something to watch her. She seems omnipresent.”
The Carol Craven Gallery, 497 State Road, West Tisbury. Opening receptions on designated Sunday evenings through the summer. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11am to 5 pm, and by appointment. 508-693-3535.