Jazz art comes to Featherstone on Martha’s Vineyard

Wire sculptor Steven Lohman created this jazz combo, on display at Featherstone Center for the Arts. — Photo courtesy of Steve Lohman

“We’re all about jazz for the first few weeks of August,” says Featherstone Center for the Arts director Ann Smith. The arts campus in Oak Bluffs is hosting a series of jazz-related events, and this Sunday, Aug. 5, its latest art show, The Art of Jazz, opens in the main gallery.

A number of local artists will contribute to a group show featuring depictions of musicians and dancers as well as other kinds of work inspired by jazz. This show is a first for Featherstone. Opening on the same day is a solo show in the Pebble Gallery by world-renowned artist Preston Sampson, who has long captured the vibrant world of jazz.

The Art of Jazz straddles two music events with the Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival being held at Featherstone. The art show is part of the itinerary for the Jazz Festival, which will feature a series of events from August 4 to 11. A benefit performance for Student Achievement for Opportunity will be held at Featherstone on August 18.

Also in the M.V. Jazz Festival line-up is a performance by Stan Strickland, who will be Featherstone’s featured Musical Monday act on August 9. An acclaimed Boston jazz saxophonist, Mr. Strickland has performed on the Vineyard a number of times, including at Featherstone with poet Robert Pinsky last summer.

Ms. Smith emphasized that the arts organization is hosting “a celebration of jazz in the visual arts, as well as the performing arts.” For the visual side of that initiative, Ms. Smith put out an open call to Featherstone-affiliated artists to contribute appropriate work for the Art of Jazz gallery show.

Among those artists who will be featured is wire sculptor Steve Lohman. Mr. Lohman spends half the year in New Orleans, the other half on the Vineyard, so he’s no stranger to the jazz scene. “I spend the winter going to a lot of clubs and I’ve got tons of musician friends,” he says. This relationship to the music world is reflected in his single-line steel sculptures (the grandaddy of wire sculpture). Mr. Lohman often depicts musicians and dancers in his pieces, and the fluidity of his work perfectly captures the musicality of his subjects.

“Music has been one of my favorite themes from the beginning,” says Mr. Lohman. “I do pieces where the line becomes the instrument and goes back into the figure. It shows how integrated the musician is with the instrument.” Mr. Lohman’s large-scale hanging sculptures are all constructed from a continuous steel wire. The internationally recognized sculptor will design the trophy for the M.V. Jazz Festival’s annual honoree for the second year in a row.

Also featured in the show is the work of painter Ed Shulman, who was just featured in a solo show at Featherstone’s Pebble Gallery. Mr. Shulman counts Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden among his influences. Creating work that is similarly primitive yet highly emotional, Mr. Shulman has created a series focusing on jazz musicians and dancers. Although Mr. Shulman’s knowledge of the jazz world is second hand — he was inspired in this area by movies in which jazz clubs of the 30s and 40s are featured — he has managed to capture a bygone world in his work with simple strokes and a good deal of implied imagery.

The show will feature the contributions from additional artists working in many media, including paintings, photography, and sculpture.

Featherstone’s smaller Pebble Gallery will host, simultaneously, the work of Preston Sampson, who paints in acrylic on unstretched and unprimed canvas. Although his one-man show will feature work focused on many subjects, Mr. Sampson is well known nationally for his jazz-themed paintings. Using broad-brush strokes and unconventional color choices, the artist is a master at portraiture and scenes capturing simple human interactions.

Mr. Sampson’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Town & Country, Playbill and Black Enterprise Magazine. He has been praised by the Washington Post, among other media outlets, and in 1997 he was tapped to create a painting for an Absolut Vodka ad campaign.

Opening receptions for both shows will be held on Sunday, Aug. 5, along with a trunk show featuring unique clothing designs by Minor Knight and wampum jewelry by Joanie LeLacheur of Aquinnah.

Art of Jazz opening reception Sunday, August 5, 4–6 pm, Virginia Weston Besse Gallery, Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs. Continues through August 22, 12 noon–4 pm, daily. For information, call 508-693-1850 or see featherstoneart.org.