Updated June 12, at 10 am
Among the new businesses to open this spring on the bustling Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs are two art galleries; they’ve added their welcome presence to a stretch that has more than its share of T shirt and souvenir shops. For years the only art gallery to be found on Oak Bluff’s main drag was the venerable Cousen Rose Gallery at the top end of the street. Now a couple of enterprising artists have relocated their existing or former galleries to Circuit Avenue, and both are a great addition to the town’s active business district.
Island Images, featuring Vineyard Color
Photographer and gallerist Julian Wise realized a longtime dream two years ago when he opened a shop just off Circuit Avenue, next to Vineyard Vines. The gallery/store has moved just across the street. Island Images features the work of Vineyard Color, and now shares the space with the Edgartown National Bank (the building that was formerly home to a string of restaurants, including most recently the Oyster Bar). The new location is spacious, bright and cheerful. The work, all Vineyard-themed, is varied, both professionally executed and aesthetically appealing, and not least of all, very attractively priced.
“That was part of the business plan from the get-go,” says Mr. Wise. “I know the word ‘gallery’ can have a certain connotation. I wanted to provide a space where regular people could find premium-quality art on the Vineyard. It’s a delicate line to walk. You want to keep your prices down and maintain the quality, but you need to be economically viable.”
Mr. Wise has managed that balancing act by following his grandfather, Lester Palestine’s, business model. Mr. Palestine founded one of the first discount department stores, Arlans, in New Bedford in 1945. “One of the keys to my grandfather’s success was his philosophy of saving money on production, without compromising quality,” says Mr. Wise, who is managing a similar ideal by doing much of his own framing and conducting a lot of research to find the best and most cost-effective printing resources around.
But don’t expect chain-store quality at Island Images. There’s a pleasant surprise when one’s glance falls from a stunning print of a photograph or painting to the price tag. You almost have to ask if the price includes the work of art or is just for the framing.
One entire wall is dedicated to the photographic line Vineyard Color. The local team of photographers produces beautiful images, some iconic, others of the hidden beauties of the Island, like a wonderful Asian-inspired photo of a water bird perched among a few reeds in a tranquil pond in the fog, or a winter scene of a dock dripping with ice. The photo prices range from under $200 to $500 for framed or dye-infused metal prints.
Mr. Wise has also contributed many examples of his collection of Island photos, which sell for between $200 and $300 for large-format prints. Mr. Wise’s striking images include Lucy Vincent Beach, Menemsha, and the Ocean Park gazebo lit up by fireworks.
Prints of paintings are also very reasonably priced. Mr. Wise collaborates with eight different local artists to create popular Island images. They are printed on wrap-around canvases or framed to give a polished look. Scenes include some lovely landscapes by Kenneth Vincent and Linda Thompson, whimsical work by Don Almquist, and a couple of giant prints: one of a Campground cottage, another a close-up of piping plovers on the beach.
Mr. Wise, a former birdwatcher, carries a number of bird images, including a series of enlarged postage stamps titled “Birds of Martha’s Vineyard.” He plans to offer a similar “Fish of Martha’s Vineyard,” series and eventually will create actual postage stamps of both series.
One of the gallery’s biggest draws is a wall of gyotaku fish prints by Jeffrey Canha. The images are created by pressing actual fish rolled in ink onto rice paper — a traditional Japanese art form.
Another section of the store features many different varieties of antique Martha’s Vineyard map prints. All in all, the gallery offers a variety of styles and subject matter to suit every taste — and budget. There’s even a stack of $5 discontinued prints.
Mr. Wise credits his wife, Stacy, for the gallery’s look. She was responsible for the interior design, decoration, and layout. The gallery has a very inviting feel, and those who are drawn off Circuit to walk in, often walk out with a print. Not often the case with gallery visitors.
Island Images also offers some original work, but the focus is primarily on prints, which sets it apart from traditional fine art galleries. Mr. Wise appreciates the fact that the Vineyard is home to a number of galleries. “In many ways we’re flying at a different altitude from these other galleries. It allows us to coexist without competing.”
It’s easy to determine, with one glance at Debra Marlin’s centrally located Circuit Avenue gallery, what the owner’s passion is. Everything in the beautiful and welcoming space — original paintings, photos, poster prints and even a few books — was inspired by Ms. Martin’s abiding love for her golden retrievers. The gallery, aptly named the Yellowdog Gallery, is the latest in a string of similarly named galleries that Ms. Marlin has operated over the years.
Though the theme is limited, Ms. Marlin notes that people find her work has a universal appeal.
The attraction was evident last weekend, as flocks of people stopped in. Visitors were clearly charmed by the large, colorful works of art. Some visitors were dog owners, many not. The gallery windows display a couple of huge works executed in Ms. Marlin’s distinctive style; just a simple outline of a dog’s face and features enlivened with expertly placed splashes of color, giving a lively impressionist feel to the work. The paintings reveal the artist’s mastery of color and motion, but the real appeal is the way Ms. Marlin has captured the classic happy, eager-to-please countenance of her chosen breed.
“The thing people say when they walk in is ‘You’ve captured the essence of a dog,’” says Ms. Marlin. “They see the spirit of all dogs or the way we feel about dogs. People see their own dog in the paintings, regardless of what breed they are.”
Our country’s love affair with dogs helps to explain the level of success Ms. Marlin has attained as an artist, photographer, and author. She has owned and operated popular galleries in Edgartown; Charleston, S.C.; Maine; and Carmel, Calif. Previously, Ms. Marlin owned a series of high-end jewelry stores called Jambu, located in Edgartown, Copley Place in Boston, and Sarasota, Fla. It was the popularity of a small selection of Golden Retriever drawings in one of the Jambu stores that encouraged Ms. Marlin to devote herself full-time to dog art.
After that, her career as a photographer and artist took off. Ms. Marlin has had two books of her photography published, as well as a book of her paintings. She is currently working on a memoir on her life as a gallerist and her travels around the country with her dogs. Ms. Marlin has a large following around the country; her work hangs in the homes of a number of influential people all over the world. She even has a painting hanging outside the Oval Office in the White House. A recent portrait of President Obama, done in her classic expressionist style, is destined to find its way into the painting subject’s collection (although a number of recent gallery visitors would have been happy to take it home with them).
At one time, Ms. Marlin was known as one of the preeminent dog artists/authors in the country. Now, as she explains, two of the others — Stephen Huneck and George Rodrigue — have passed away, and dog art is hotter than ever.
Ms. Marlin has had a number of ups and downs throughout her life, which has provided her inspiration. She recently spent two years caring for her mother, and also fought off a serious illness. Still, she maintains a positive attitude. Her work, for her, is spiritually uplifting. “I feel that on the blank canvas the colors are all in there. I’m just helping them to emerge,” she says, “I feel like I am the channel.”
Color is an important element in Ms. Marlin’s work, but there’s much more to her paintings. Last weekend a customer commented, “It’s amazing that you can paint this big pink painting of a dog and yet we don’t notice at first that it’s pink.” What one does see is the abiding love between Ms. Martin and her chosen subjects, and the intelligent, almost human countenance of her dogs.
“I had goldens instead of children,” she says. “They’re like the sweetest child you could ever imagine.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Yellowdog Gallery’s owner as Deborah Martin. Her name is Debra Marlin.