Linda Thompson
Artist Linda Thompson, descended from generations from farmers, enjoys the rural countryside. Photos by Jeremy W. Smith

Place to paint

By Jacqueline Sexton - November 16, 2006

Landscape artists have of course been around since the era of the cave paintings, although they've learned a lot about light over the centuries. Later, the religious painters needed a landscape, however flat, as a backdrop for their stories. And all those Adam and Eve paintings are landscapes, usually jungles bristling with seductive symbolism. But through the generations, and with the development of perspective, not to mention digitalization, landscape painting has become an art in and of itself, especially, perhaps, on Martha's Vineyard.

The Island's panorama, wild or tamed, continues to excite the imagination of painters and photographers, locals as well as those from away. Seascapes, skyscapes, sandscapes - they're all part of the landscape and they're all around us all of the time. The settlers knew it intimately, not always happily, and their descendents know it today and can point out exactly where a certain slab of granite, a stone wall or cliff or stretch of beach is or should be in a painting.

Lucy Vincent Beach Grasses
in the almost abstract, "Lucy Vincent Beach Grasses," the landscape is infused with a mystical quality.

This month Linda Thompson, a relatively recent addition to the ranks of Vineyard landscapists, is showing new oil paintings at the Chilmark Public Library. Her landscapes are not generic but, rather, place-specific, and she so titles them. In her four versions of "Road to Beach" and two paintings of the path to "Lucy Vincent Beach," she focuses, she says, on the approaches to water. These paintings claim the viewer's feeling right away. Anyone looking at her "Lucy Vincent Beach," for example, can feel the August heat and see and smell the skunk cabbage and other rampant growth on the way to the beach through the soft hot sand. It could only be Lucy Vincent. A few slats of the snow fence precariously keep the dunes in check on the right and a hazy mist of colors on the other side of the path reminds viewers of the marshy vegetation flourishing there. She does not paint the ocean, per se, but indicates its presence ahead. The scene suggests the fragile balance between man and nature, and perhaps even the futility of man's ceaseless efforts to tame it, however kindly and gently he tries.

The artist's clear blue ponds - Chilmark Pond, Menemsha Pond, serenely reflecting the blue of the sky - are views of near-perfect places for contemplation and meditation. The paintings in this show are all of the dunes, the grasses, the marshland, and beaches of Chilmark and Aquinnah.

Walking the Fall Road
In her oil painting, "Walking the Fall Road," the artist conveys the atmosphere of the season.

Linda Thompson, a graduate of Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) in industrial design and art, and of the Pratt Institute, is a plein air painter, "Except in the summer when all the beach people, all the kids, stop to watch me paint and get sand all over my stuff."

In the past she did abstracts, "but this isn't the time for that. I've gone back to basics because I want to document scenes that will look different after I've lived here for a while," she says.

She and her husband, Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the land-use planning agency, moved year-round to Chilmark from Montreal four years ago after 20 years of being summer residents.

"I love it here," she says. "I'm a rural person. My family have been farmers for generations - sheep, chickens, horses - and we grew all our own food." She and her husband walk the beaches and hike the hills with their cameras and Linda's painting gear. They jumped into Chilmark community life from the beginning, serving for a time on the board of the community center's summer program. And, today, as co-secretary of the Friends of the Chilmark Library, Linda is a mainstay and generator of ideas. Earlier this year she started and maintains the in-house book sale, which has become an important source of revenue for the library. She is fine-tuning a plan to organize a once-a-month overnight baby-sitting-with-a-movie plan "to give parents at least one night a month out."

Some of Ms. Thompson's paintings are on display at Island Alternative Energy, Chilmark selectman Warren Doty's new venture that opened last month on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven.

As a freelance interior designer of "fancy kitchens," Linda travels to Montreal occasionally for a week or two of intensive work. But her heart remains in Chilmark.

Opening reception for Linda Thompson, Saturday, Nov. 25, 3 to 5 pm, at the Chilmark Public Library, South Road.