New gallery brightens Vineyard winter

The Belushi Pisano Gallery. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The Belushi Pisano Gallery, room after room of inspiration. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By James Burrrows - January 12, 2006

The Belushi Pisano Gallery in downtown Vineyard Haven is Martha's Vineyard's newest art gallery. Kicked off with a preview on Dec. 15, the gallery opened its newly painted doors to observers and collectors interested in a variety of work by well-known local and national artists. Featured are a collection of paintings, mixed media, handcrafted furniture, sculpture, glass, and jewelry.

The Belushi name is a prominent one, but gallery co-owner Judith Belushi Pisano hopes that this will not conjure up an image of a strictly elite crowd, which might deter some people from coming. On the contrary, from its aesthetics to its purpose, the gallery has a warm, inviting ambiance, and it is not-for-profit.

Victor and Judy Pisano. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Victor and Judy Pisano.
The gallery is a new subsidiary of The Second Chance Foundation. Established by Ms. Belushi Pisano in 1991, the foundation has served the Island community since then, providing assistance to individuals with financial difficulties while also encouraging an appreciation for the arts.

Originally funded by an auction of John Belushi memorabilia from the Judith Belushi Pisano collection, the foundation grants two annual awards to Islanders in need. Rather than monetary gifts, the awards have ranged from a pair of glasses to food stamps, from a college scholarship to help with the cost of a new kidney. Most recently, a fundraiser was held to assist with career and medication expenses for 22-year-old Felicia Taylor, an aspiring singer with congestive heart failure.

"The objective is to get the award recipients what they need rather than just handing some money over that might be lost in the shuffle of day to day expenses," said Ms. Belushi Pisano.

Ms. Belushi Pisano said she was thinking of ways to further the foundation this year, when her stepdaughter Jessica Pisano, believing that the foundation should become more directly active in the community, suggested the idea for the gallery. Ms. Pisano is a graduate of The Art Institute of Chicago with a master's degree in Arts Administration. She was working in Seattle but wanted to return to the Island and find a management job in non-profit arts. She wrote a business proposal that was examined formally before being approved by Mrs. Belushi Pisano and her husband, co-owner Victor Pisano. Jessica Pisano took over as director of the gallery, working closely with her father, stepmother, and gallery coordinator Kali Wingood.

The Belushi Pisano Gallery. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The gallery exterior welcomes you.
From the time of Ms. Pisano's proposal this summer, it did not take long for the gallery to open with the presentations of quality artists. Displayed around the gallery are works by Island artists - tapestries by Julia Mitchell, John Thayer's fine furniture, and Deborah T. Colter's abstract contemporary acrylic paintings. Works from off-Island artists include Graceann Warn's mixed media assemblages, Jennifer J L Jones's mixed media on wood panels and acrylic paintings by Duy Huynh. In addition, Ms. Pisano has exhibited some of her own hand-painted photography. Also for sale are a few pieces of John Belushi memorabilia. Fifty percent of sales go to the artists, the other half toward the annual Second Chance Foundation awards.

To assist in accomplishing the owners' and staff's vision of a welcoming atmosphere, the gallery has been designed with the feel of a Vineyard home, but with beautiful works of art adorning the walls and tables. The family has worked together painting and renovating while Mr. Thayer chipped in to build an espresso bar, which helps make the house itself a work of art. The bar is set up to serve coffee, drinks, and baked goods with all profits going toward the foundation. Mrs. Belushi Pisano makes it clear that the purpose of the bar is not to compete with coffee shops and bakeries, but to make the gallery more inviting and put visitors at ease. School field trips are also being arranged to further community activity and introduce children to the arts. Referring not only to the children, Ms. Belushi Pisano quotes her husband: "we wish to increase the ranks of the inspired."

The Belushi Pisano Gallery is located in Vineyard Haven on State Road just before its intersection with Main Street. It will be open from 9 am to 5 pm, excluding Mondays, throughout the winter. Summer hours have not yet been set, but events will include one or two fundraisers and a number of two-artist shows running in two-week cycles.

James Burrows is a freelance writer who lives part-time in Vineyard Haven