Given the rustic, rather unassuming appearance of the Old Sculpin Gallery, situated on Dock Street on the Edgartown Harbor, you might be surprised to discover paintings there by artists whose work can also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other world-renowned establishments. However, that’s exactly what you’ll find if you stop by the gallery in the next few weeks.
The Old Sculpin is home to the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association (MVAA), founded in 1934 by a group of artists who painted on the Island. Today, the gallery continues to be devoted to exhibiting the work of its close to 60 current members, as well as former members, teachers, and friends of the gallery whose legacy has lived on long after their passing.
Twice a year — at the beginning and end of the summer season — the MVAA shows off some of the treasures in its collection. For the June exhibit this year, the 80-year-old organization has pulled out a few special pieces for display, some of which have never been shown before. Among these are two works by Vaclav Vytlacil, one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists group, who has been ranked alongside top modernist painters including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and others.
Two of the works by Vytlacil have been in storage at the Old Sculpin for many years, but have never been exhibited before, due in part to their condition. A recent grant has allowed the MVAA to fully restore the two spectacular oil paintings — one of a fisherman and one of a colorful fighting cock. Another Vytlacil, which will be making its first appearance at the gallery, is a purely abstract painting that was donated to the MVAA a few years back.
Another artist represented in the exhibit is landscape painter Francis Chapin, whose works are in permanent collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere. His oil-on-board painting “Lighthouse” is among the many Island scenes included in the collection.
Ruth Appeldoorn Mead captured another iconic Vineyard image in her painting of a Menemsha lobster shack. “What’s really wonderful about this collection is that you often see an image of something that’s no longer there, or that has changed drastically,” says Rosalie Ripaldi Shane, who is in charge of the permanent collection. “They give you the feeling of a simpler, quiet place. There’s something very innocent, even primitive about these shacks. One of the precious things about our collection is that it’s a snapshot of a time gone by.”
Ms. Mead was the one responsible for founding the MVAA in 1934. She studied with world-renowned artists Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers and, along with Vytlacil and Chapin, was among the first of the American abstract painters.
A portrait of Ms. Mead by Mary Drake Coles is also currently on display. Other works include paintings by Marion Freeman Wakeman, Theresa Duble, and inventor and painter Frank C. Wright, whose work hangs in the Smithsonian Institution and in embassies around the world. The selection of artists is rounded out by the inclusion of beloved Island naturalist and seaweed artist Rose Treat, who died in 2011.
In 2008, the MVAA brought a traveling exhibit of some of the work from the permanent collection to all of the Island libraries. “We wanted to get it out there, because we’re a nonprofit organization, and we’re very, very conscious of the fact that we need to serve the community,” says Ms. Shane.
Ms. Shane is a member artist, board member, and former board president who has been in charge of the permanent collection for almost 20 years. “It’s part of the Vineyard’s history,” she says. “Some of these artists were well known, some were local artists who were popular in their day. We keep the collection on view to the public as often as we can, because the Old Sculpin is so much a part of the history of the Vineyard, and this collection really captures what life was like in earlier times. It’s exciting to go through these pieces and see what was happening.”
Ms. Shane will be exhibiting her own artwork in a show at the end of July.