Outside the galleries: shopping for art at Vineyard marketplaces

The Chilmark Flea Market celebrates its 45th year this season. — Photo by Tara Kenny

The Vineyard boasts dozens of galleries where one can find the work of hundreds of local and off-Island artists. But there are also other options for collectors who may be looking for affordable original works and who enjoy the chance to meet, and buy directly from, the artist.

The Vineyard Artisans Festival has given local artists and artisans the chance to sell their work to the public for 17 years. Twice a week in the summer, on Thursdays and Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm, more than 60 vendors set up shop at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Along with ceramics, jewelry, clothing, woodwork, baskets and more, visitors will find the work of about 10 painters and five photographers.

The selection of fine art ranges from Vineyard landscapes in oil by James Streicher Evans, Brandon Newton, and Dan VanLandingham; to whimsical folk art by Brian Kirkpatrick; to mixed media paintings and collages by Rachel Paxton and Beldan Radcliffe. Mark Zeender creates spectacular moody sunset scenes. Valentine Estabrook and John Holladay both work with a variety of subjects and styles. Both Mr. Holladay and Mr. Streicher Evans create work on premises.

Among the photographers who exhibit at the Artisans Festivals are Benjamin McCormick, whose spectacular underwater closeups tend to attract attention, and Janet Woodcock, whose unique sepia and silver tone photos are produced with film and developed in the darkroom. She focuses primarily on nature and animals, producing wonderful stylized works of art.

Mr. McCormick also sells his work at two of the three Island outdoor markets: the Chilmark Flea Market and the Featherstone Flea and Fine Arts Market.

The Chilmark Flea has been operating for 45 years now, making it the oldest flea market on Island. Every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the summer, from 9 am to 2 pm, the isolated field located at 142 North Road in Chilmark is packed with vendors.

Find antiques and collectables, ceramics, glass, jewelry, linens and lace, vintage goods, clothing, and more. Admission to the market is free. For more information, email chilmarkflea@gmail.com.

Considering its location on the Featherstone Center for the Arts campus in Oak Bluffs, it’s not surprising that the Featherstone Flea attracts a number of artists. Among the more than 60 vendors at the weekly flea are locals specializing in painting, printmaking, and photography. “We’re proud of the fact that we provide a venue for independent smaller artists – both professionals and novices – to showcase their work and sell to a large audience,” says Featherstone director Ann Smith.

A direct sales market is ideal for artists whose work may generate conversation. Linda Ferrini sells handmade floor cloths decorated with starfish, fish, and tile designs in pastel colors. She likes to explain the history of her craft to visitors to her booth.

“It’s an old fashioned art,” she says. “They started using floor cloths made from sailcloth in England in the 1700s. Before they used flooring it kept the dirt down…They’re really durable and you can wipe them off easily,” says Ms. Ferrini.

Rocco Vitelle also enjoys fielding questions from potential customers. “I love to talk to people,” he says. “They’ll ask me, ‘How did you come up with this?'” Not a surprising question considering that his artwork tends towards the fantastical and features unexpected juxtapositions of images like Mozart rival Antonio Salieri playing piano to a grinning jack-o-lantern. His busy, colorful marker drawings feature, variously, images from “The Wizard of Oz” and “Alice in Wonderland,” Indian deities, standard horror movie monsters, and pop icons like Jerry Garcia. He always includes a tiny rag doll figure hidden among the crowded hallucinogenic landscapes of his drawings. “He represents me,” says the artist. “It’s become like Where’s Waldo. Kids love to look for him.”

Although many of the artists and artisans who work the markets have created art for years, the Featherstone Flea also provides an opportunity for new, as yet unknown artists to show their work. Pastel artist Lowely Finnerty is selling her paintings for the first time this year. She creates lovely soft focus landscapes.

Linda Anderson sold handmade jewelry for many years but recently switched to artwork. She is selling charming cards decorated with pressed flowers and watercolor washes, as well as signs decorated with seashells.

For some, the flea market is a good way to generate new audiences for one’s work. Photographer Michael Johnson, who winters in San Francisco and spends summers on the Vineyard, has a gallery in Vineyard Haven, just off Main Street. He also does the flea markets – both Chilmark and Featherstone.

Mr. Johnson shoots with both film and digitally. He creates striking images of the Vineyard and also has a series shot in Cuba. His Vineyard scenes often feature a unique perspective like a shot taken from the interior of the Tabernacle looking out into the campgrounds, or a lesser-captured iconic image like the summer morning Polar Bear swimmers off Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Johnson offers a range of large horizontal images. He uses multiple shots seamlessly combined to create these “focus stacked panoramas.” Striking scenes using this method include the Gay Head beach stretching to the lighthouse, Ocean Park, and the Oak Bluffs Campground.

The personable photographer enjoys discussing his process and subjects with visitors, and appreciates the chance to spend the day among other artists and vendors. “It’s a diverse environment in terms of the items, the art media, the skill levels and the price ranges,” he says.

On the opening day of the Featherstone Flea, Jeffery Auerbach of Los Angeles stopped by Mr. Johnson’s booth and chatted for a while before purchasing a photo. His choice was a shot of Cuban schoolchildren at a march in Santiago. “My wife studies Cuba,” he says. “She has photographs in her office.” Mr. Auerbach doesn’t consider himself a collector but he likes to purchase original art when he can. “I would say there’s a discrepancy between me and my bankroll,” he says and laughs. The price was right for the photo and so was the timing of Mr. Auerbach’s visit to the flea market. His wife’s birthday was the day before and she was home in L.A. “It never hurts to come back with something when you’ve been away for two weeks.”

In the past, Mr. Auerbach spent summers on the Island but this was his first Vineyard vacation in 30 years. Of his visit to the flea market, he says, “It’s a great way to spend some time. It’s a perfect mix of vendors selling old knick knacks and artisans.” Furthermore, he adds, “This is great way to get a sense of the place – the joy of the Vineyard.”