Shephard Fine ArtSpace: A family affair


The reincarnation of the former Nye Gallery on Uncas Avenue in the Oak Bluffs Arts District promises to be a positive addition to the Island art scene. The Shephard Fine ArtSpace is owned and operated by identical twin sisters Melissa Breese and Melanie Kotalac, both of whom bring years of experience in running a gallery to their new endeavor.

“We thought about it for a decade at least,” Ms. Breese says, “and now just seemed to be the time, with our children being older.” (They are each the parents of a son and daughter.)

She says she “just walked in” and knew it was the right place for their art space. “And there is so much parking here. It is very accessible.”

She adds, “I have to say everyone has been so kind, so warm and so welcoming in this town, it’s a really nice place.”

The physical space, more than 2,600 square feet, appears to be a blank canvas in its own right, and Ms. Breese explains, “The room can take on a whole different personality of whomever is in there. From kids making puppets to a fashion show that is sophisticated, from family oriented to really high-end, this place can handle those things and be on target.”

Sounding enthused, Ms. Breese, who refers to their location as “Art District East,” gives a fast rundown of her family’s impressive background in the arts. Their parents operated galleries in Newport, Rhode Island, and on Nantucket under the name Shephard Fine Art Gallery.

“My brother is in films, my sister is a photographer and videographer on Maui and is currently working on a documentary, and Melanie managed different galleries in New York and Nantucket and is getting her masters in graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design,” Ms. Breese says. “And my little brother was involved in the fashion world for a couple of decades as a model and designer.”

Ms. Breese herself is a painter and an educator with degrees from Sarah Lawrence and Rhode Island School of Design, and well-known on the Island as the energetic former director of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association based in the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown.

“I was the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association where I managed 68 artists,” she says. “We had shows once a week. We had to completely rearrange and completely transform that space, and I feel like anything after that is a piece of cake.”

Shephard Fine ArtSpace will exhibit the work of both local as well as national artists. About selecting artists to show, Ms. Breese says, “Both Melanie and I have to be in agreement, which can be difficult as we both have a lot of friends who are artists. To help avoid any nepotism, there is an anonymous third-party involved and we all have to be in agreement. It is not that easy… But we’ll try to support as many of those people as we can in group shows.”

With the sisters living on different islands — Ms. Breese here and Ms. Kotalac in Nantucket — there will be a lot of traveling back and forth. But they have learned to use the Internet along with a straightforward and direct system of evaluation to move the process along.

Some of the notable artists showing during the coming season at Shepard Fine ArtSpace are Rez Williams, Chuck Connelly, and Allison Newsome.

Ms. Breese says, “Rez Williams is a person we are most excited about showing the last week of July and first week of August. Allison Newsome teaches ceramics at Harvard and is pretty well-known in the ceramic world for her amazing ceramic sculptures. And Chuck Connelly is amazing.”

Mr. Connelly was the subject of a recent HBO documentary, “The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale,” which won an Emmy (in 2009). He will be coming to the Island as Ms. Breese’s guest for two weeks during which time the two artists will be painting together. “The work he is going to show in August will be from Martha’s Vineyard,” she says. “We are also going to show the HBO documentary which is not available to the public”.

Ms. Breese is looking forward to being part of the community and supporting it by using local businesses. She says, “The community has been very welcoming and the arts and events are something that is well supported here by both the year-round population and the tourists. We have people who love the arts, support the arts and buy the arts…I am not scared. I think that there is a pretty big culturally educated group on this Island, and I think that they will come out.”

Shephard Fine ArtSpace, 8 Uncas Ave., Oak Bluffs. Open 11 am to 9 pm daily.