Animal art gets big response at Featherstone

Artist Billie Sullivan stands with her painting created with house paint on corrugated cardboard. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

One sure way to get someone talking is to ask about their pet. And, apparently, one sure way to get Vineyard artists out of winter hibernation is to ask them to use their various talents to depict their pet.

When the Featherstone Center for the Arts sent out the usual call for artists for the gallery’s latest show, For Pets’ Sake, the staff was amazed at the response: 33 artists contributed work. “That’s kind of crazy for February,” said Featherstone assistant Veronica Modini.

Pets of many descriptions currently fill the walls of the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery, bringing some cheer to the dead of winter. The species are as varied as the artist’s styles. There’s a cat wall, a chicken wall, a barnyard animals wall, a few birds, some horses, one frog rendered in a Japanese style and, of course, lots of dogs. “I think the number of artists attests to the popularity of the theme,” said director Ann Smith. This is the first show of 2014 for Featherstone and the first glimpse of the gallery since the facility closed for six weeks after Christmas to paint and prepare for the upcoming season.

Like faithful canine companions, two large dog paintings greet guests at the entranceway to the gallery. Wendy Weldon’s collage work “Molly and Her Friends” features a painting of her own pup surrounded by a pack of other pooch photos. Billie Sullivan’s Boxer painting is one of two marvelous modern works done with house paint on cardboard. Ms. Sullivan, who owns Tivoli Paints, used splatters and drips to good effect adding lots of color and interest to her pet portraits.

Other doggy standouts include a lovely skilled oil painting by Paige Guizzardi of the head of a golden retriever and a large manipulated photo by Steve and Peggy Zablotny featuring their two terriers with haloes over their fuzzy heads.

In the cat category, Jules Worthington’s pile of sleeping Siamese (titled “Catatonic”) and Fred Jason Hancock’s “Checkerboard Floor with a Black Cat”  use the pet genre to produce highly stylized works that will appeal to non-cat fanciers as well as feline-ophiles.

An impressionistic trio of ducks by Eva Cincotti and a small painting of a horse by Leslie Baker attest to the talent of some of the Island artists working in oil.

The chicken wall will cheer up any sufferer of the winter blues. With typical wit, Washington Ledesma created a large colorful rooster painting, and Ruth Major contributed two charming portraits of chickens looking very regal with the equally aristocratic monikers of  “Capt. Russel Crow” and “Lord Tisbury.”

The back room of the gallery features a charming old-fashioned cross stitch by Charlotte Cole and a pair of sketch collages by a mother and daughter duo. Cynthia Wayman has turned a number of her lovely bird sketches onto a collage piece, while daughter Holly Wayman has done the same with little sketches of birds and cats done in a variety of styles.

A couple of artists chose less commonplace media to interpret the theme, and in both cases the results are spectacular. Two hooked rugs by Genevieve Jacobs dominate the back room. One features a collie and the other a black and a white standard poodle pair. The pooches are rendered as portraits in yarn work frames complete with their names. They are very appealing and eye catching.

Multimedia artist Amy Custis contributed two gorgeous stained glass pieces. Both are round framed head shot portraits — one of a boxer and one of a horse whose flowing mane comes to life thanks to the use of a swirled type of glass used for that that portion of the work. With or without light streaming through them, they are striking.

Photographers are also well represented in the current show. Luckily for the Island, we have two pet photo pros — Lynn Christoffers, whose recently released book “Cats of Martha’s Vineyard” has been selling very well; and Lisa Vanderhoop, whose Sea Dogs calendar is a perennial favorite. Included in the show are some wonderful representations of both women’s work, along with lots of other cats and dogs by both amateurs and professionals.

There’s even a video piece by Graham Smith. He memorialized a friend’s late husky/malamute mix by creating a digital loop of the dog running, which is displayed in a small format in the gallery’s back room. The piece, “Luna Runs Forever,” shows the athletic animal doing what she loved best.

Featherstone always selects an appropriate theme for their first show of the year. In recognition of the love we lavish on our pets, former Featherstone director Francine Kelly and Ms. Modini came up with this year’s theme. In keeping with the holiday atmosphere, the Featherstone staff passed around little heart-shaped cookies, cupcakes, and chocolates at the opening this past Sunday, Feb. 9. Many of the artists were in attendance and it was obvious that they got as much pleasure from having their work admired as they did from talking about their subjects. Who doesn’t love their cat, dog, chicken — or frog?

For Pets’ Sake kicks off what should prove to be a full and varied year of shows and events for Featherstone. The complete 2014 schedule is now posted on the website. Also launched this past week was a new winter series of events called Ladies Night. On the first Monday of each month, Featherstone will host an evening devoted to a small craft project along with refreshments and socializing. On Monday, Feb. 10, a group of women gathered to make unique cards. Other Ladies Nights projects include tissue paper still lifes, found object art, and paper flowers. All are suitable for artists and non-artists alike.

For Pet’s Sake runs daily, 12 noon–4 pm, through February 26. Featherstone is located in Oak Bluffs. For more information, call 508-693-1850 or visit