There is a calm, almost reverent feeling as the bright and uncluttered room meets its purpose — the quiet celebration of some of the Island’s most notable artists and their impressive art.
Displayed in careful arrangements on the pedestals, shelves, and walls of the Virginia Besse Gallery, the first complete exhibit of the Featherstone Center for the Arts Permanent Collection marks the 15th anniversary of the Vineyard’s nonprofit center for art classes, gallery shows, and events. The occasion is titled Celebrating 15 Years.
Each of the 38 carefully selected pieces in the permanent collection was donated, given, or purchased for ongoing care and display at Featherstone. For most of the year the artwork is either hung on walls in the center’s various nooks and alcoves or stored. Not this month.
Facing visitors as they enter the gallery are three watercolors created in the mid-1990s and 2000 by the late Gretchen Feldman, who later turned from representational to abstract art. Her soft watercolor farm animals reveal an accomplished technique in the medium — a pig that seems to be smiling as it cozily sleeps; cows in soft shades of blues and brown with unexpected strokes of gold; and four small, perfectly executed, plump and cunning chickens who dance in a line across the white paper.
Ann Smith, Featherstone’s director, walked through the exhibition recently, past a wonderful charcoal drawing of a shorn sheep that painter Allen Whiting made about 10 years ago, past photographer Janet Woodstock’s compelling black and white close-up of a formidable pig with big snout, and past David Wallis’ remarkable photo-realistic watercolor, “Dumpling,” a skiff moored on a rippled blue sea.
There is a giclée print, the last one left in the limited edition series, by Ellen McCluskey, Featherstone teacher and pastel artist. It depicts the Islander gliding out of Vineyard Haven Harbor under cover of a large gray sky.
Two watercolor paintings by teacher John Holladay, bring marine themes to life. In “Basta,” the dramatic composition is made authentic by the details Mr. Holladay inserts in this painting of a beached rowboat.
The permanent collection show, which runs through February 23, represents a who’s who of Island artists in all media, ceramics, photography, metal, stained glass and paintings. The artists include Rose Treat, Aaron Galvin, Graeme Bradlee, Gabriella Camilleri, William O’Callaghan, and Kathy Rose.
Hanging next to each other on the short wall at the end of the room are John DiMestico’s misty pastel of an exterior studio at Featherstone, its pink roof and white wall glowing against the layered warm tones in the grass, and a strong, almost abstract landscape by the late Dawn Greeley, in fierce shades of yellow and red.
“In their passing, Dawn (Greely), Maggie (Pepp), and Gretchen (Feldman) leave a permanent stamp marking their presence,” Ms. Smith said. “It introduces the next generation to a Dawn or a Gretchen, and may influence their own styles and techniques.”
Ms. Smith describes the show in terms of pleasure and enjoyment, and she emphasizes the support it extends to Island artists.
“It gives credence to the artists,” she says, recognizing that many teach classes at Featherstone, some are emerging artists, and others are regarded as the Vineyard’s most prominent.
Among the artists sharing the long narrow back room Fae Kontje-Gibbs, art teacher Scott Campbell, Roberta Gross, and Nancy Blank. Ms. Gibbs, who originated the monoprint class at Featherstone, is represented by her print “Refuge,” a colorful and whimsical little house. Mr. Campbell’s mixed media lamp and large signature ceramic sculptures — a vase and an ornate sphere — feature ceramic face masks embedded into the designs. Ms. Gross’ collograph of found items depicts a theme of carousels, and Nancy Blank has a display of her ceramic bowls.
Ms. Smith notes the unintended, but emerging Vineyard theme of the collection — the scenes and objects that seem to attract artists and visitors to the Island, namely Vineyard farms and farm animals, boats and water, subjects from nature. But in no instance does the subject compromise the caliber, mastery or originality of the art.
“It is a testament to the artistic life of this Island and the artists who are part of the Featherstone community,” Ms. Smith said, her pride seeping into her broad smile as she glanced about the room.
Permanent Collection Opening Reception, 4–6 pm, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. Permanent Collection Opening Reception. Show runs through Feb. 23. 508-693-1850.