Featherstone begins 2013 season with Valentine-inspired show

"Nina" and "Boot Vase" by Basia Jaworska Silva. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Many of the Vineyard’s visual artists take advantage of the serenity and slow pace of the winter to create new work. And judging by the number of participants in the current show at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, the local artist community has been very busy already this year. The show is titled I (Heart) Art and spotlights work in all media with the only common denominator that every piece was created in 2013.

The show marks the reopening of Featherstone’s Virginia Weston Besse Gallery for the year. The gallery traditionally shuts its doors every year for six weeks from Christmas until mid February, and the year opening show has always featured a Valentine’s Day related theme such as the Art of Love or Hug, Hug, Kiss, Kiss. This year Featherstone director Ann Smith opted for a more all-inclusive theme and decided to see what local artists have been up in the past month and a half.

“This is such a great way to bring the whole family of Featherstone artists together,” said Ms. Smith. “And hopefully we’ll make some new friends.”

Most of the 30-plus artists who are participating in the show are regulars to Vineyard galleries, but the show has also attracted a few less familiar names including a couple of artists who are showing at Featherstone for the first time.

Among the latter are two women whose media of choice are a bit of a departure from the usual painting, photography, and ceramics lineup. Romilda Marcal Pinto creates fabric art using a process called “patchwork embutido.” Her small, colorful images are pieced together with different swatches of fabric and have a puffy, three-dimensional feel. And Diana Waring has contributed beautiful scarves made from recycled sweaters embellished with vintage buttons and bits of silk.

A few artists who participate regularly in shows at Featherstone have contributed pieces to the current show that demonstrate a departure from their usual work. Ceramicist William O’Callaghan, who teaches pottery classes at Featherstone, also crafts unique furniture and sculpture. The two pieces currently on display — a hanging sculpture and a small table — are made from driftwood with inset panels of multi-colored beach stones. These two pieces, as well as others that he has now turned his hand to, are attractive designs that effectively bring the beach indoors.

Jules Worthington, best known for his oil landscapes, has chosen another type of landscape — of sorts — for his most recent series of acrylics. What appear to be colorful abstract paintings are actually the artist’s interpretation of skin cells as viewed under a microscope. This new direction came about when a pathologist friend sent him a number of skin pathology slides and asked him if he would be interested in painting them. “I’ve always been interested in what you might call a hidden landscape,” said Mr. Worthington. “Things you don’t see every day that show up under a microscope. I did the interpretations of these slides in my own colors.”

The popular septuagenarian artist is continually experimenting with different media and styles. The cell paintings are something that he had put on the back burner for a while until he received the call for artists for the current show. “I decided in order to help boost my spirits I would get those done now,” he said. “Winter’s the time when artists try to go back and clear up all the things they’ve had in mind for some time. I’m glad Featherstone had this show. It got me going.”

One of the highlights of the I (heart) Art show is a striking portrait by Ruth Major. The former teacher, who has for a long time been interested in history and genealogy, has created a stunning oil painting of 19th century statesmen and social reformer Frederick Douglass. When Ms. Major conceived of the project a while back, she approached the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation and was given their whole-hearted approval.

She worked closely with foundation founder, Ken Morris, to execute the work. She asked Mr. Morris and other of Douglass’ descendants to select which photograph they would like her to work from and which characteristics she should keep in mind while working on the portrait. Mr. Morris didn’t hesitate at all before responding. He wanted the artist to portray his ancestor’s determination and sense of justice. The portrait will eventually hang in the foundation’s new east coast offices.

Ms. Major is currently working on another history-based project. Her work will be featured in a one woman show at a gallery in Schenectady, N.Y., this summer. The show is called Prominent Players and will feature portraits of Revolutionary War leaders and other historical figures from New York.

“I love history and I love genealogy,” said Ms. Major, who notes that she can trace both sides of her family tree to the early years of European settlement of the U.S. “My work grows out of my interest in my ancestry. I learn so much more through researching my historical subjects than I would in taking a course.” All of the portraits for her upcoming show were done in collaboration with historians, museum curators, and archeologists. “I would never attempt this this type of historical painting without working with experts,” she said.

Ms. Major finds that she gets a lot out of participating in group shows. “I love Featherstone because they always have very interesting shows. The group shows are great because there might be one theme that you’re working on, and you can have 50 artists each donating a piece that will be so different in style, color, and medium. I learn by looking at the work of others around me.”

The I (heart) Art exhibition is open daily, 12 noon to 4 pm, through February 27 at Featherstone Center for the Arts, in Oak Bluffs. For more information, call 508-693-1850 or visit featherstoneart.org.