Martha’s Vineyard artists wear Copley Society hat

Martha’s Vineyard artists wear Copley Society hat

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"The Grand Canyon" by artist Nancy Furino radiates color in Copley Artists exhibit at Featherstone Center for the Arts. — Photo courtesy of Dragonfly Fine Art Gallery

“The Vineyard Thirteen,” as they are referred to by Featherstone Center for the Arts Director Ann Smith, are artists who live and work on the Vineyard at least part of the year and belong to Boston’s Copley Society of Art. They will exhibit together at Featherstone beginning July 1.

It will be a diverse collection. Paintings. Photographs. Sculptural paper constructions. Classical representation. Total abstraction. Thick paint that describes edges and volume. Layers so thin and transparent laid on over months, subtly modulating color and light.

The artists are: Leslie Baker, Laurene Krasny Brown, Stephanie Danforth, Mary S. French, Nancy Furino, Anne Grandin, Barbara Leiner, Meg Mercier, Jessica Pisano, Rosalie Ripaldi Shane, Jeanne Staples, Max Stern, and Ovid Ward. They were given no parameters, only a request for three recent pieces of their work. Although an exhibition is, first and foremost, about the art, this one is also about the two institutions.

The Copley Society was founded in 1879 as the Boston Art Students Association by a group of graduates from Boston’s Museum School. Their stated interest was “to supplement the academic training of the school, to assist members in the pursuit of artistic careers, to cultivate a spirit of fraternity among artists, and to promote the interests of art in the city of Boston.”

The society’s purview soon grew more far-reaching, hosting exhibitions by John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin, as well as the famous Armory Show that introduced modern European painters to American audiences in 1913 and began moving the center of the contemporary art world from Europe to New York.

Over the years, they have featured “Contemporary Boston Afro-American Artists” Allen Rohan Crite, Robert Freeman, Paul Goodnight, and Lois Mailou Jones; “Art Boston,” an annual art fair for galleries; “Manifest,” a survey of contemporary art in New England; “Fresh Paint” that sends artists out around the city to paint on a Sunday in May and to sell their paintings at an end-of-the-day cocktail party and auction; instituted and awarded scholarships, and funded outreach programs in the city’s schools. All the while, an ongoing schedule of exhibitions and events takes place at their 158 Newbury Street gallery.

Every artist I spoke with had high praise for the institution. Although attracted to its venerable place as the oldest nonprofit art association in America, the artists cited the organization’s professionalism and support of its artist-members. Artists must follow a rigorous application process, then have their work reviewed by a credentialed membership committee. Many shows are juried, bringing a level of recognition by respected peers. Once selected, artists enter shows, earning credits towards increasing levels of membership, culminating with the designation “Copley Master.”

“It’s a really big deal,” said Anne Grandin, a member for the past four years, who had a solo show in the Society’s Red Room last year.

Nancy Furino joined in the 1970s. She said that her Copley affiliation has offered many professional opportunities over the years, such as her inclusion in regional exhibitions at State Street Bank and the Fitchburg Museum.

Leslie Baker’s one-woman show, Saved Views, was two years in the making. She felt the Society encouraged her to stretch her skills as a painter. One of her paintings, a 40×140 inch triptych of Long Point Preserve, could only be shown in a large space like the Copley. They painted the walls a dusty blue-lavender, “a color that’s in a lot of my paintings,” she commented, and it made a beautiful presentation of her work.

Barbara Leiner finds the diversity of shows exciting and the focus on a deadline stimulating; there are small works shows, member shows, juried shows, as well as solo shows representing a substantial commitment by both artist and gallery.

Closer to home, many remember when Mary Stevens still lived and painted on her farm and Featherstone Center for the Arts was an unrealized dream for her and her friend and fellow artist, Virginia Besse. In the early days, artists hung their paintings in a barn, stalls still intact. They envisioned, as the name states, “a center for the arts,” broader in scope than the Copley’s focus on visual arts.

Today, Featherstone hosts concerts, poetry readings, a summer flea market, and other programs, while offering art classes for children and adults throughout the year and making studio space available for artists. They even host a group that knits for Island charities. Under the former directorship of Francine Kelly, who is still involved, and now her daughter, Ann Smith, Featherstone has flourished. Every time I am there, I think of how proud Virginia and Mary would be, how much has been accomplished, what will come next.

Come see for yourself at the opening reception of “Martha’s Vineyard Artists of the Copley Society” Sunday, July 1, from 4 to 6 pm in the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery. The artists will be present, as will Copley Society Director Suzan Redgate. The exhibition will continue through July 18.

For more information call 508-693-1850 or go to featherstoneart.org.