My husband Jonah eyed me the other day and said, “I think it’s been good for you to spend some time downtown.” He was noting, with some relief, I imagine, a shifted energy. The winter doldrums lifted earlier than usual for me this year as I became one of 10 artisan partners at Night Heron Gallery in Vineyard Haven.
While most of my winters are spent in secluded isolation, working hermit-like on my craft, this one was different. I was part of something: part of envisioning and paint crews, and the creation of a beautiful space. When we opened our doors in April, the rest of the world began to venture in, and our storefront adventure began.
From the warm welcome of other shop owners, I found myself gaining a renewed and deep appreciation for the hospitable culture on Main Street. Without any sense of rivalry or competition, our neighbors offered congratulations, hopes, and helpful suggestions. It felt as if we were joining a family committed to maintaining a friendly, small-town, people-first atmosphere — one that embraces a passion for books, music, beautiful objects, pleasure, and art. Here, there is an intimacy and an energetic exchange that is impossible to experience in the big box chains, online, or alone in the studio.
My partners and I divided up shifts to cover the gallery, and I love my time there. There is something so life-giving about being surrounded by beautiful art created by people I admire. I enjoy hearing snippets of conversation walking by, even the variety of rings on cell phones, and especially the piano music pouring out the door of the music store beside us. Friends come to check in and see what’s new, and strangers aren’t even strange — they are friendly and conversational. It’s been fun to come down out of the woods and find that there is Life on Main Street.
Working alone in the studio, or writing at my desk, there is often a sense of mystery around who will receive the work I create. It is almost as if I, in full faith, am rolling messages into bottles to hurl into the winter sea, only imagining who might find them along some faraway shore. On good days, an artist alone in the studio loves humanity at a distance. On darker days, self-doubt comes creeping in.
Working at the Night Heron Gallery, I find myself marveling at how generous people are with their blessings: their gratitude; the sharing of themselves, and their stories. Here I feel folded in to the community, and that my work serves a purpose that widens beyond the summer season, beyond self-expression, and into the naming of a deeper, more shared experience of what it means to be alive both as an individual and as a part of the energy, service, and celebration of the greater whole.
Spending more time on Main Street, I’ve come to realize that it is a place where we share our passion for community, for who we are, what we love, and what we love to do.