Martha’s Vineyard art with a past

Martha’s Vineyard art with a past

"Before the Storm – Menemsha Creek" by Grace Fitzpatrick. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The scenes may be familiar — the Gay Head cliffs, Edgartown harbor, Menemsha Creek, fishing boats and schooners — but the paintings on display at Indian Hill Fine Art were all done during the early to mid 20th century, some even earlier, and though the vistas have hardly changed, the varied collection represents many of the painting styles from earlier eras.

This weekend, Indian Hill owners Scott and Cynthia Bermudes host a show of their collection along with other rare vintage paintings from another collector, based in Rhode Island. The show, only the second for the new gallery, features more than 100 works of art representing both artists who were very popular in their day and are still collectible, and masters whose works hang in major museums.

The paintings and drawings in the Bermudes’s collection represent many of the schools of art that emerged during the time periods represented. There are works in the style of the American modernists and the Hudson River School, and paintings that emulate the old masters.

On display are two examples of work by Percy E. Cowen, the grandfather of well-known contemporary Martha’s Vineyard artist Allen Whiting. Mr. Cowen executed artwork for popular illustrated magazines and his work shows the vividness, energy, and wit of early magazine illustrators who portrayed American life. His painting “Hauling the Pots” is a vivid depiction of a fisherman bringing in his catch, done with magnificent detail, expressiveness, and expert use of light and shadow that really brings the subject to life.

Another work in charcoal by Mr. Cowen represents a unique perspective with two men at the rail of their sailboat admiring the vessel passing by — a magnificent tall ship under full sail. From their expressions and gestures you can imagine the conversation. This drawing was used for a story in Colliers magazine called “Return of the Halcyon.”

Two of the paintings in the collection are done in a style similar to Thomas Hart Benton’s — the most well-known artist to have spent time working on the Vineyard. A painting by Gilberta Goodwin and one by Grace Fitzpatrick both share the dramatic skies and sense of motion in static objects that typify Mr. Benton’s work. Ms. Fitzpatrick’s painting “Before the Storm” shows Menemsha Creek under an ominous sky. Ms. Goodwin’s is a lively depiction of the Gay Head cliffs.

There’s also a lithograph by Mr. Benton himself, a charming Little Red Riding Hood scene starring the artist’s young daughter and his German shepherd as the wolf.

Other well-known artists featured in the collection include Lois Maillou Jones, a Harlem Renaissance artist whose work hangs in the Metropolitan and other major museums; and Lucius Crowell, who in his day had major exhibitions at the Whitney Museum, the National Academy of Art, and elsewhere in the 1950s and whose work is included in the permanent collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“All of these painting have stories,” Mr. Bermudes said, and he clearly enjoys sharing these with visitors. For example, on a recent visit to his home gallery, he pointed out one painting of a sailing vessel done by Charles Cahoon, a popular maritime artist from Cape Cod who painted during the early 1900s. Cahoon’s brother was the lighthouse keeper in Gay Head, explained Mr. Bermudes, and the artist spent a good deal of time on the Vineyard.

A mural of his depicting the wreck of the City of Columbus decorated a brick barn in Gay Head for many years but, despite preservation efforts, it was lost to the world when the building was torn down in the 1950s.

The gallery is actually the Bermudes’s home, a rustic yet modern post and beam house on 10 acres with an adjacent barn that is home to a family of Dales ponies, a rare breed from the U.K. The lovely light-filled home houses a treasure trove of important art works. It’s a cross between a gallery and an art museum, but unlike other Island galleries, the artists represented are no longer living, and unlike any other art museum, all of the work is by artists who spent time painting on the Vineyard. Most of the scenes are of the Island.

“That’s the difference between us and the stuff that other galleries sell,” he said. “They deal in contemporary, unproven people. We sell mostly older stuff with more proven artists.”

Mr. Bermudes has collected art for most of his life. “I grew up in a family of people who were collectors of antiques and art,” he said. He acquires work in a variety of ways. “I have friends in the business who bring Vineyard type stuff to me. I sometimes buy at auction.”

Mr. Bermudes opened his home to the public as the Indian Hill Fine Art Gallery earlier this summer. For the upcoming show, he invited his friend and fellow collector Steve Motyka to host what Mr. Bermudes refers to as a trunk show of works from his large collection.

“He has a lot of variety,” said Mr. Bermudes. “He collects and he is a dealer. He hand carves and gilds all of his frames. A lot of stuff that I have has his frames.”

While Mr. Bermudes’s paintings and drawings almost all feature scenes of the Vineyard or nearby locales, Mr. Motyka’s selection is all over the map. Among other things, there’s a wonderful circus scene and a Modiglianiesque nude.

Vintage Art Show, Saturday and Sunday, August 10 and 11, 1–7 pm, Indian Hill Fine Art, West Tisbury. For more information, visit indianhillfineart.com.