Doug Peckham's
Doug Peckham's "Surrounded." Photos courtesy of Old Sculpin Gallery

Old Sculpin potpourri

By Brooks Robards - August 31, 2006

Five members of the Martha's Vineyard Art Association have joined forces to produce a lively show at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown that will be up until Sept. 1. The five artists are Dan W. Smith, Douglas Peckham, Gail Rodney, Sheila Hoerle, and David Higham.

Mr. Smith, who spent more than 20 years as a commercial illustrator, graphic designer, creative director, and photographic retoucher, has turned his talents to painting in the past five years with interesting results influenced by pop art.

Last winter, the Aquinnah-based artist decided it was time to break out of the landscape mold. He produced a new series, "Introspectus," where figures hang suspended by black ribbons, cirque de soleil style in the case of "Epiphany" and by jeweler's cord in "Lines of Support (Ties That Bind)."

"Kids Crabbing," by David Higham.

In another group of mixed media paintings, "Postcards from Home," Mr. Smith creates Vineyard scenes as if they were postcards, complete with postmark indicia. In a series titled "Balance," brightly colored cairns, or rock totems used by Native Americans as trail markers, loom at the viewer from stylized backgrounds. A stone added, removed, or changed provides a message.

"I did think of (environmental artist) Andy Goldsworthy a lot while I was doing them," says Mr. Smith, who has tried to explore many dimensions of mixed media.

Doug Peckham, who also spent many years working as a commercial artist before turning to fine art, shows a group of powerful seascapes and boats using acrylic and a palette knife. All his new work has been done in acrylic, which he finds more immediate, less of a mess and faster drying than oil, although the exhibit also includes earlier watercolors and pastels. He says he loves them all.

"I try to paint like oil in acrylic," says Mr. Peckham, who teaches art at the Chilmark Community Center. "I always wanted to express myself in a heavy medium." Included in this Oak Bluffs impressionist painter's works are "Clay Cliffs at Aquinnah," which won first prize for acrylic painting in the All-Island Art Show this month and "Menemsha Clutter," which won the Vineyard Treasure award.

The decommissioning of the Islander inspired New Yorker Gail Rodney, who summers on Chappaquiddick, to create a series of vivid pastels of the On Time and the Islander. It's the first time she has focused on one theme in her work.

"This ties in so closely to what it means to be on an island," she says. "You have to think to go to Edgartown." Ms. Rodney spent time this summer sketching on the ferry and also worked from photographs, saying, "I really had to capture a moment."

In "On Time Ferry to Edgartown," she depicts the little boat packed with cars and leaving behind a wake of greenish and white water. A passenger in shorts props his work-booted foot against the ferry railing, red-topped cooler on the deck next to him in "The Islander, Sunny Deck II." The intense colors Ms. Rodney uses reflect the summer light and festive atmosphere.

Sheila Hoerle, who summers in Edgartown, shares a studio with Gail Rodney in New York. Working in watercolor, she wields a delicate touch in "Up-Island Beach." Using a less forgiving medium to work in than pastel, Ms. Hoerle aims for vivid colors in her work, and talks about how she combines opaque and transparent colors to see how their chemistry works, producing sometimes unexpected effects.

In a wonderful, Breugelesque rendering in "Menemsha to Lobsterville," David Higham, who divides his time between the Vineyard and South America, captures the vitality of that busy world in pen and ink and watercolor. For "Two Boats," the artist animates boats, sky and water through deft use of color and line.

Gallery director Amse Hammershaimb says the board of the Old Sculpin, a nonprofit gallery, is redefining its mission this year after the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust assumed responsibility for their dockside building. "Now we can focus on the artists and on education," she says. Sharon Rosenfeld and Linda Mott-Smith will be featured next week, along with selections from the permanent collection.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.