Art for the layman: Island Images opens in Oak Bluffs

Owner Julian Wise, and official greeter Beatrice the Chihuahua, staff Oak Bluffs' newest gallery. — Photo by Kelsey Perrett

“Many artists say people don’t buy art anymore,” said Julian Wise, owner of the newly opened Island Images Gallery in Oak Bluffs, and he wanted to know why. High prices were the primary suspect.

“I asked myself, what if you had really high quality art, but you were able to get the price into a range where average people who love art could suddenly afford it?” said Mr. Wise. “I believed a lot more people would buy art under that circumstance, and that was the genesis of the idea for this business.”

Mr. Wise originally intended to take his idea to the online markets, but when the opportunity to buy the former Jabas Gallery arose, he directed his attention to starting his own gallery at the intersection of Circuit, Kennebec, and Narragansett avenues. Island Images, which opened July 1, has been drawing in customers on a formula based on “friendly service, beautiful art, and affordable prices.”

The vibe is that of a good-old-fashioned business, the inspiration for which came from Mr. Wise’s grandfather, Lester Palestine, who founded Arlans Department Store in the 1950s. According to Mr. Wise, Mr. Palestine’s business revolved around “eliminating unnecessary overhead and passing the savings on to the customer. As a result, he had customers for life.” It’s a model Mr. Wise hopes to follow. “I’m getting quality art, but I’m working behind the scenes through volume purchases, and relationships with framers and vendors to lower the price and make the art more accessible,” he said.

Another aspect of his business model comes from President Harry Truman, a store-owner in his early years who Mr. Wise said “put himself out of business by being so warm-hearted.” Mr. Wise said he “has to keep the lights on” in the gallery, but he’s expressed a similar generosity by welcoming Island nonprofits “to come by anytime for a complimentary print.”

Despite the savings, the art in the gallery is of remarkable quality. Island Images features Vineyard-themed work from artists with local, national, and international backgrounds. Mr. Wise said he chose carefully when selecting each of these artists. “I wanted their artwork to be fantastic, they had to be professional and able to hit a deadline, and they had to be nice to work with,” said Mr. Wise. “By applying those filters I’ve had an absolute pleasure working with these artists.”

Some artists, like Swedish painter Niklas Szuhodovszky, had pre-existing reputations in the art world. Others, such as photographer Robin Gottesman, literally walked in off the street one day. Kristen Caldwell, who has an image of the North Road gas pump in the gallery, met Mr. Wise by happenstance while their daughters were playing at the playground. The gallery also includes works by D.W. Kann, Barbara Reynolds, Kenneth Vincent, Linda Thompson, Kip Richmond, Don Almquist, Lois Palestine, Maggie Rose, Vineyard Colors, and Mr. Wise himself.

Mr. Wise also offers a wide collection of vintage and antique maps of Martha’s Vineyard. Between maps, fairly priced prints, notecards, and decorative coasters, Mr. Wise hopes to make Island Images a go-to spot for last-minute gifts.

So far, he says he is pleased with the progression of the business, and the relationships he has forged with customers and artists. “I don’t need to get rich off this,” Mr. Wise said. “I love this work so much, I just want to keep being able to do it. As long as I can make it into the next month, I’m happy.”

Opening Celebration for Island Images, Sunday, August 11, 5–8 pm. For more information, visit or call 774-563-0109.