“Be still my heart,” Libby Barrington says, as she is directed towards the top shelf in the back room at the Martha’s Vineyard Thrift Shop. The object of her affection, a lamp with a large stand shaped and colored like a lobster claw (“Brancussi-like” she quips), is typical of many items that circulate the thrift shop: trash to some, treasure to others.
Libby Barrington is part of a team of volunteers and staff members who labor to transform the Vineyard Thrift Shop for the annual Chicken Alley Art & Collectible Sale, which falls on the second Sunday of every August.
Each year the preparation begins again one week after the art show, at which point the shop starts collecting items for the following year’s show. While the thrift store, located in the center of Vineyard Haven off Five-Corners, operates year-round, employees hold back items thought to be unusual, vintage, or of particularly high value. Days before the event, this collection fills the back room of the store, sealed off from customers, where items are sorted before a two-day turn around, in which they’re shuffled into the shop’s main section.
“I don’t think anyone else does anything to this degree and mounts it in two days,” store manager Sandy Pratt says of the event. She marvels at its impressive selection of goods, which she describes as “testimony to the incredible collecting skills of people on the Vineyard.”
Her words ring true in the midst of the store’s collection, an array of items that range in both size and peculiarity. Clothing, linens, and houseware can be found along with snowshoes and vintage Adirondack backpacks. One object that has drawn interest this year is the “Stim-U-Lax,” a retro scalp massager thought to be from the 1950s.
At the heart of this unique art show is an equally remarkable person, art-lover and connoisseur Olga Hirshhorn. Ms. Hirshhorn came up with the concept as a spoof on gallery openings eight years ago in lieu of her personal passion for used art and knick-knacks. The first Chicken Alley art show was pulled together in under a month and raised close to $4,000.
Though planned as a one-time event, its success spurred interest and enthusiasm among the community.
“It seems to me that every year, it gets better and better,” Ms. Hirshhorn says.
The summer resident, who has been coming to the Island for close to 25 years, and recently celebrated her 90th birthday, is no stranger to art, nor to public relations. After a formal introduction to the field through late husband Joseph Hirshhorn, whose impressive collection established the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Ms. Hirshhorn soon began to amass her own impressive art collection.
Although her passion for thrift stores might seem ironic, it is most sincere. “Most people don’t realize how many good buys you get,” Ms. Hirshhorn says in her jovial, but matter-of-fact tone as she recalls an oil painting purchased for $15. The enthusiasm in her voice is so prescient it is contagious.
Three or four days before the event, Ms. Hirshhorn comes in to the thrift store to overview the items, primarily art and sculpture, and to help with pricing. The assortment of donated art is impressive. This year it includes a replication of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “The Dentist” (donated by a dentist), and a signed photograph of actor Matthew McConaughey. Ms. Barrington was excited to stumble upon a signed work by George Deem, an American artist well-known for replicating established oeuvres and adding slight alterations (in this piece he combines three Vermeer paintings).
While the Vineyard is not Ms. Hirshhorn’s year-round residency (she spends the winter in Naples and spring and fall in Washington D.C.), it is the only place where she is actively involved in a thrift store production.
“It’s fun for me to do because I’ve watched it grow,” she says of the day’s event.
This year to help with curating, the thrift store hired Inas Al-Soqi for three months to manage the artwork. She joins store managers Sandy Pratt and Karen Child, assistant manager Dolly Campbell and a slew of volunteers. “It is a wonderful event, and very fun to work for,” Ms. Barrington says.
At the Chicken Alley Art Show, the possible acquisitions seem endless and the cause is well-founded: all proceeds go to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
Chicken Alley Art Show, Sunday, August 15, 1 to 5pm. 38 Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven. 508-693-2278 or visit them on the web at mvcommunityservices.com. Previews of the art can be found on Facebook.