Museum’s annual Evening of Discovery proves a success

Past, present, and future are celebrated.

Julia Burgess of Vineyard Haven, left, comes to the musuem fundraiser every year. Julia was joined by her friend visiting the island, Claudia Alleyne, right. — Photo by Siobhan Beasley

A large tent upon a hill overlooking the Vineyard Haven Sound was the setting for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s annual Evening of Discovery Gala and fundraiser last Saturday night.

The tents in front of the former Marine Hospital were crowded with volunteers, staff, board members, and guests overflowing with enthusiasm and hope for the evening. The sold-out event welcomed more than 400 guests. In addition to celebrating another successful year for the museum, the night helped to raise funds to continue the museum’s expansion into the Marine Hospital building.

Saturday’s event raised the most yet in the Gala’s 17-year history (as usually happens every year). According to Katy Fuller, marketing, membership, and events manager for the museum, approximately $200,000 was raised, compared with the previous record of $185,000 from last year.

The evening began with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a raw bar, and a large silent auction full of items that included a wagon full of beach toys, a private photography session with Alison Shaw, local jewelry, fine art, exclusive access to the Edgartown Lighthouse for the 4th of July fireworks, a sailing excursion on the Gannon and Benjamin sailboat Charlotte, a weekend on Nantucket, trips to Greece and Hawaii, and even a visit to the set of “Downton Abbey.”

Another offering at the event was the chance to adopt a museum object for a year. For $250, anyone could adopt one of the 50 objects featured in the museum’s latest book, “Island Stories: Highlights from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.” The adoption also includes a one-year membership in the museum. Those who couldn’t make the benefit are still able to adopt objects by calling 508.627.4441.

The evening took its black and white theme from the museum’s exhibit of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photographs of Island people. Elegantly framed and deftly captured, the timeless images by one of the 20th century’s most celebrated photographers remain iconic of their era. The photos from the celebrated photojournalist who summered on the Vineyard for 50 years were on display throughout the tents. Mr. Eisenstaedt’s work is perhaps most recognized for his storied photo of a soldier kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, titled “V-J Day in Times Square.”

The future of the museum

The new space conceived for the museum at the former Marine Hospital will be more suitable for exhibitions and education, and will include state-of-the-art exhibition areas, a glass encasement room for the cherished antique Gay Head Lighthouse lens, and plenty of room for educational programs. Another upgrade from its existing Edgartown property will be climate-controlled rooms, which will improve preservation of archives.

The Marine Hospital was the Island’s first hospital, and home to the first x-ray machine and elevator on-Island. The building has strong significance not just medically but socially as well. Around 1920, the people who benefitted most from the hospital care and facilities were often fishermen, Navy sailors, and people on boats. Given home birth was the norm in those days, the original hospital did not see too many births.

Dan Waters, the museum’s development director, has been involved with raising funds for the new museum for the past two years. Prior to that he was involved with the expansion of the West Tisbury library for seven years, where he was a trustee.

“It will take around $24 millions to renovate the old building and transform it into a museum. Part of the funds required to conquer the project will come from the endowment of the sale of the museum’s location in Edgartown, which will be put on the the market, and whoever wants to buy it will be able to do it so. The current location is in a residential zone, and in all likelihood it will be purchased by a private person. The Cooke House will be preserved, as it has historical significance,” says Mr. Waters.

The museum has an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs, relics, and even heirlooms that have been in many Island families for years. “The museum’s job is to reach out to every member of the Island community and tell their story. The museum carries different objects of the various communities on Martha’s Vineyard, and one of the communities that is missing is the Brazilian community,” says Mr. Waters. “We are very interested to hear from the Brazilian community, we are interested in objects, oral history, artifacts that would represent their story on the Island. There are a lot of stories that are happening here now; children are being born, people are getting married, and families are being raised here and they are becoming Vineyarders. The museum would love to embrace that.”

The museum in the community

Ann Ducharme, the museum’s educational director, has the job of examining the collection and assessing what strengths of the museum can be incorporated into a curriculum for children. Strong themes include the lighthouses, whales, Revolutionary War, and the history of farming. The museum is really open to exhibiting anything, and its mission is to make it creative and fun. “We can take something like the lighthouses and talk about the Fresnel lens, which is composed of 1,008 prisms, then give the kids prisms and have them have a lesson about the science of light, how light is broken up into rainbows, and then they will do watercolor rainbows. That is how we have people engage and connect with our collection,” says Ms. Ducharme.

Ms. Ducharme often works with local teachers (usually in third, fifth, and eighth grade), and acquaints herself with what they are teaching, working together to look for curriculum overlaps.

“My favorite part of working for the museum happens outside, when I am at Stop and Shop or on the street, and a little kid says, ‘Hey, Mom, Dad, it’s Ann from the museum.’ I will usually get a hug and asked to tell them about the whales,” says Ms. Ducharme.

Julianna Flanders, volunteer turned board of directors member, spoke candidly about the importance of the museum in every Islander’s life. “I got interested in the museum because I am a history major; I was born and raised here and my family is in the 12th generation. Education is a key to visitors, for kids growing up here; when people know about the history of the Vineyard, it makes it so much more special. There are so many interesting aspects about this Island,” said Ms. Flanders. “My dad passed away in 2008, but prior to that [the museum’s oral history curator] Linsey Lee had done lots of great stories; the museum did the Stanley Murphy exhibition, and the last painting that Stanley ever did was of my dad — they spent a year doing it, and they had a lot of fun. The show came out, and I went to the museum to watch and there were headphones, and I heard my dad’s voice, and it was so beautiful. What a great thing to have at the museum, not just for me personally but for people to have those kind of experiences.”

Siobhan Beasley contributed reporting to this story.