on galleries

Artists and gallery owners Don McKillop his wife Susan Davy in front of Dragonfly Gallery in the Oak Bluffs Arts District. — Photo by CK Wolfson

The primary way we’re aware of the Island influence on galleries is that being here makes it easier to sell art.

One reason is that everyone who comes in the gallery is happy, relaxed, and probably more open to new experiences. If we were in a suburb of Boston, people would be feeling the pressures of day-to-day life. But when they come to the Vineyard, even if they are still connected to work through email or telephone, they are much more at ease. They’re in a good mood, they’re not in a rush, they bring their kids, and we keep them entertained.

And we usually find ourselves engaging in dialogues with our gallery goers — a very important feature. It’s comfortable, it’s one-on-one, and we love meeting people. Depending on the interests of our visitors we talk about the artists’ work — their different styles and techniques – and the story behind a work of art.

The Vineyard influence does not translate to the subject or quality of the art. The days of seeing quick studies of lobster pots and boat sails are long over. People now come in with expectations that they are going to be met with something better and better every time they come in.

Since we purchased the gallery in 2009, we took on some new artists. All the work we show is work that we personally like. It’s what we would buy. While we represent the Vineyard in marine subjects, landscapes of fields and farmland, and images of barns, we also show very popular abstract work from around the country and bronze sculptures from the Southwest. Our clients are well educated about art and artists, and they know what they want. If it is a painting from the Vineyard, it doesn’t have to be represented in the subject of the artwork. The fact that it was purchased here gives them something to support their Vineyard memories.

Our relationships with the local artists who show here are very close. I don’t think that would necessarily be the same elsewhere. We can go to an artist’s studio, look at what’s being worked on, sit down, and talk. It can happen in a city, but I don’t think it’s as frequent an occurrence. We’re always impressed with the quality and the variety of work that is done here. The artists on-Island are very dedicated to their craft.

We were part of the arts community in Jamaica Plain, and we had a large studio, but we didn’t get to meet that many artists. I think everybody who makes art on the Vineyard knows everybody else who makes art here. It’s easy to get to know each other because we live in a very close and supportive community, and we share the common thread of being focused on art.

Featherstone Center for the Arts ran a program during the winter on marketing your art, and it was sold out. Even if you didn’t know some people before, you knew them by the time you left. There is that sense of community here that is not found in many other places.

One negative influence of being an Island gallery is caused by the relatively short season. We’re open from May to October. The impact of that is being available to clients seven days a week for at least seven hours a day. We also open the gallery for clients when they can’t come during our regular hours, and we’re willing to bring work to their homes for approval. We also target our show openings around the times that the most visitors are here. At the end of our short season we have to get unsold work back to artists quickly, in order for them to be able to sell the work during the rest of the year.

There are a finite number of clients in the market for art and while we can’t squeeze many more visitors on-Island in season, the good news is that the work we are doing as committee members of the newly formed Arts Martha’s Vineyard Collaborative is helping to develop long range programs that will benefit our Island as a year-round arts and culture destination.

After the season ends, we head off on a road trip, to visit our 10 grandchildren up and down the East Coast, and then we usually visit Santa Fe for a month to enjoy all the art galleries out there.

We’d been coming to the Vineyard for 20 years and moved here full-time for a year before we bought the Dragonfly. Having shown my work at Dragonfly for 12 years, we had a good sense of the gallery and the Island.

People ask us how long we’re going to do this, and we say, until it’s not fun anymore. But every year it’s more fun.

This article was prepared from a transcription of a recorded conversation and reviewed by the author.