Edgartown’s Old Sculpin Gallery welcomes new manager

New Old Sculpin Gallery Manager Kat Cope, with a watercolor by M.V. Art Association member Mary Coles. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Edgartown’s Old Sculpin Gallery, home to the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association (MVAA), opens the 2012 season with a new director, Kat Cope. In addition to curating and hanging the gallery’s shows, Ms. Cope is already busy overseeing daily operations, supervising staff, and providing information to the public.

Ms. Cope has mounted her first exhibit, a MVAA group show, which runs June 1 through 3. She has had plenty of help to get her up to speed, greeting half of the 60 MVAA artists when they brought in their works for the current show.

“It’s been great meeting everybody,” Ms. Cope says. “Because I am an artist I can relate to them. I understand the process and how important each piece is.”

The transition to Old Sculpin directorship was an easy one for the Mount Holyoke College graduate in Fine Arts. She spent the last five years in New Bedford, finishing an MFA in printmaking at UMass Dartmouth in 2009. She then taught courses such as art history, foundations, and introduction to studio art at Bristol and Cape Cod Community colleges, as well as in the Continuing Education Program at Rhode Island School of Design for the past three years.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ms. Cope grew up in Concord. Besides printmaking, she has developed a new interest in mixed media, blending drawing, painting, and collage. Although she visited Martha’s Vineyard several times as a child and later with friends, the new Old Sculpin Gallery manager is a relative newcomer to the Island.

In addition to her background in art, Ms. Cope spent three years as assistant innkeeper at Falmouth’s Beach Rose Inn, a job that gave her experience in management. It was her employers there who saw an ad for the job as manager of the Old Sculpin and, knowing of her interest in art, urged her to apply.

“I’m hoping this will be a long-term commitment,” she says. Although the gallery closes for the season after Columbus Day weekend, Ms. Cope intends to live on the Island year-round.

As a printmaker herself, one of the first things Ms. Cope did was pull up some of the gallery’s prints from its permanent collection to see what was available. To her surprise, she found two Hans Hofman lithographs. Both are in the current show.

A celebrated German-American abstract expressionist, Mr. Hofman served as mentor or teacher to many contemporary American artists, including Vaclav Vytlacil, whose work is in the Old Sculpin’s permanent collection and for whom an exhibition space at the gallery is named. One of the forerunners of American Modernism, Mr. Vytlacil taught Robert Rauschenberg, among other well-known artists. For many years, Mr. Vytlacil (1892-1984) had a summer place in Chilmark.

Ms. Cope hopes to expand the gallery’s art education program. With studio space upstairs in the historic building across from Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, the gallery offers classes for both children and adults.

Weekly drawing sessions with a model are on Ms. Cope’s agenda for the summer. She also plans to continue the informal weekly critique sessions started by her predecessor, Nina Gordon of Vineyard Haven. Talks or demonstrations by artists are in the works, and a watercolor workshop is scheduled for August.

“Something I’m very interested in is community outreach,” Ms. Cope says. In particular, she wants to highlight the history of the building, reputed to be 240 years old, so the gallery can draw in people for multiple reasons.

“Islanders don’t have to be artists to join the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association,” she points out. “All they need is an interest in the arts.”

A major Old Sculpin event coming July 1 is a book signing for MVAA artist Alison Shaw’s new publication, “The Chappy Ferry Book.” The new book, which the gallery will offer for sale, combines Ms. Shaw’s photographs with text by Tom Dunlop and illustrations by Dana Gaines. The book includes a 15-minute DVD, “The Chappy Ferry Movie,” and historic prints, including one of Manuel Swartz Roberts, who bought the building in 1904 and spent the next 50 years building catboats there, before the MVAA took it over.

The gallery acquired its name from Mr. Roberts’s nickname; sculpin is also a fish found in Vineyard waters. In its time, the Old Sculpin building served as a sail loft, a whale oil factory, and a grain store.

Dating from the 1950s, the Old Sculpin is one of the oldest extant galleries on the Island, as well as one of its few nonprofit art institutions.

Ms. Cope emphasizes the value of the gallery’s permanent collection. Most of the works in it were created on the Island, and they represent a significant contribution to the Island’s history.

Ms. Cope’s staff includes Roanoke College student Tessa Bramhall of Concord, and interns Elizabeth Kendrick of Mount Holyoke College, and John Haverty of Savannah College of Art and Design. Her assistant gallery manager is Sharon McCann Daly.

The Old Sculpin plans weekly openings of new works with receptions on Sundays from 5 to 7 pm. The exhibition schedule is available at oldsculpingallery.org, along with other information.