Dan Waters honored by Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard

Dan Waters, poet, artist, black belt, printer, musician, library spokesman, and tireless promoter of the arts in West Tisbury and Island-wide. — File photo by Susan Safford

Daniel Waters of West Tisbury will receive the 2011 Creative Living Award, given each year by the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard. The award will be presented to Mr. Waters at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on October 18th, starting at 5:30 pm.

Since 1983, the award has been sponsored by the Permanent Endowment’s Ruth J. Bogan–Ruth Redding Memorial Fund, which honors the memory of Ruth Bogan, who first came to the Island in 1947 and fell in love with the place. Trained as a nurse, “she taught herself painting, photography, sculpture, and three languages,” according to a press release from the Permanent Endowment, “and was known to be an ingenious cook, an avid gardener, and someone who could fix anything.”

Mr. Waters, for his part, is similarly multi-talented. He is or has been a poet, shoe salesman, printer, graphic designer, Aikido black belt, illustrator, singer, and guitar player. He has taught English as a second language, mentored a high school student, and been chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council. He has been Poet Laureate of West Tisbury, and he is currently the secretary of the West Tisbury Library’s Board of Trustees. In the last two years he has worked tirelessly in the effort to expand the library, which has become a hub for all sorts of creative activity and is bursting at its seams.

“It all kind of meshes together,” Mr. Waters said of his varied, overlapping interests. “And you learn things from one thing that you apply to another thing.”

Born in New Jersey, Mr. Waters moved with his family to Brazil when he was three and lived there until college. He first came to the Island in 1977, just after graduating from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “I moved here and started selling shoes,” he said. “I had no idea what Martha’s Vineyard was; I grew up overseas.” But he took to the Island, and it to him.

As active as he is, Mr. Waters says he prefers to keep a low profile. “I’m not the kind of person who wins awards,” he said. “I usually toil away in silence and enjoy my anonymity. Actually there’s something a little bit subversive about being anonymous that’s enjoyable for me, so this is a little bit of an anomaly. And although I am enjoying the notoriety, when it’s done I will be happy to go back to my quiet existence.”

Really? The hermit’s life seems unsuited to someone who is so involved in the community and so willing to share his art, his writing, his music — even his ideas about creativity. “What is creativity but maybe the urge to take something and improve it,” he said. “That is the impetus in art and in seeing something in your community that can be changed and made better and just doing it. There’s a certain thrill in just changing things.”

But not too much, Mr. Waters might have added; he likes his home the way it is. “Where but Martha’s Vineyard do you get an award for doing what you would do anyway?” he said. “It’s one more reminder of why I live in this wonderful place.

“You know, you make it the place that you like to live in. We’re surrounded by a shore, and in a way that makes Martha’s Vineyard much more finite than other places, so it’s easier to know where your influence stops.” Still, he added, “You can lead many many lives in a place without ever leaving.”

The Island’s physical charms are endlessly attractive, of course, but people give a place its depth, in the end, and make it worth our efforts to enrich it. Among the 28 previous winners of the Creative Living Award were, and are, people like Gale Huntington, Art Buchwald, Susan Klein, Margaret Love, Russell Hoxsie, Nellie Mendenhall, Stan Murphy, Gus BenDavid, Allen Whiting, Peter Boak, and Helen Lamb.

“Past award winners run the gamut from national luminaries to local characters, and on that spectrum I’m afraid I fall pretty close to being a local character, but there you are,” Mr. Waters said. And there he is: the winner of the Creative Living Award for 2011.

More information about the Permanent Endowment is available at endowmv.org or 508-338-4665.