Nate Lewis and his art are protected by the warmly lit tent standing outside of the Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown. Artists and guests gather along the perimeter of the tent, drifting from cocktail tables to paintings to sculptures. His family lingers near his work — two pieces he made during his recent artist’s residency on Martha’s Vineyard through the Agora Culture.
This year’s Art on the Vine marks the Agora Culture’s second annual weekend exhibition.
Jessica Stafford Davis, a former AOL executive, founded the Agora Culture in 2013.
“Visual art is very important when you look back on a society; what informs a time and place is the art. It is my call and charge to diversify the story,” said Ms. Davis.
Ms. Davis is an experienced art collector now, but learning about art, especially collecting art, showed her how much of an insider’s world it can be. Ms. Davis believed the art world lacked accessibility, especially for minorities. She recalled her parents feeling similarly while she was growing up.
“I found time and time again a select few had that kind of information, and others didn’t, and I felt that was unfair, and I wanted to change that,” Ms. Davis said.
It called for a certain vernacular, a certain background knowledge for artists and collectors. She built an organization to close the gap by providing salons, workshops, and open tours — and most recently, an artist’s residency on the Vineyard.
“We also want to support a very fruitful infrastructure for artists as well, and that’s what we are trying to do through this residence,” said Ms. Davis. “He spent a couple of weeks communing with the people and artists, and we were really excited to create this opportunity for a minority artist where they could rest, relax, and work on their practice. That’s something we really felt strongly about,” said Ms. Davis.
Mr. Lewis wanted to be a nurse anesthetist like his father. He went through nursing school and started working in an intensive care unit, but to specialize as a nurse, you have to take classes in the hospital. Mr. Lewis found he had a hard time staying awake, so he doodled. Classes took a few months, and by the time they were finished, he had doodled quite a bit.
“And the doodles just got better,” said Mr. Lewis.
His father stood near his son’s exhibition at Art on the Vine last Saturday afternoon. “When he first showed me those drawings, I was embarrassed for him,” his father laughed.
He showed his sister too. She’s an artist, and told him he had something to work with, and that he should learn to draw.
It consumed him. But not just drawing: He also developed an interest in paper. Not paper to draw on, paper as a medium itself.
“I started by using electrocardiograph paper — the rhythms that would come out on the paper,” said Mr. Lewis. He experimented with patterns, cutting the paper and creating different textures on the paper he saw so often at work. Hours slipped away every night to these projects.
“It made paper for me like this living organism in that it had layers to it. I could bring out so many different layers and textures just in the paper,” said Mr. Lewis.
It was a breakthrough moment for Mr. Lewis, and one he described as making his heart feel restful.
“I think as an artist you’re constantly searching or looking or trying to express yourself,” said Mr. Lewis.