The benefits of art

Friends of Family Planning Art Show and Sale
Guests thronged the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury last Thursday for a gala reception kicking off the annual Friends of Family Planning Art Show and Sale. Photos by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - May 31, 2007

From the flowering potted plants on the front porch where volunteer Tim Lasker greeted guests at the door, to the delicious hors d'oeuvres by Jan Buhrman's Kitchen Porch and the jazzy background music by Jeremy Berlin, the annual opening party for the Friends of Martha's Vineyard Family Planning Art Show was a truly gala event. The first big art show and benefit of the season, this Memorial Day gathering traditionally draws dozens of Islanders out to visit with the friends and neighbors they may not have seen all winter while getting in practice for the busy season in a delightfully low-key way. Conversation flowed smoothly as did the cold wine and beer donated for the occasion by Our Market, Offshore Ale, and several other contributors. A number of bakers contributed sinfully sweet desserts to top off the array of delicacies.

But aside from all the partying, the main focus of the evening was on the artwork - walls and display panels and tables filled with pieces provided by more than 100 artists and artisans to help raise funds for the Family Planning of Martha's Vineyard clinic.

fertility symbol sculpted by Jay Lagemann
A lush, robust fertility symbol sculpted by Jay Lagemann appeared to preside over the festive proceedings.

The clinic began in 1978, providing reproductive health services to women. Since then the program has expanded to include a wide range of clinical, educational, and advocacy programs for both men and women. Among the services now offered are routine check-ups, tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, birth control consultation, and confidential HIV testing and consultation. The Vineyard clinic is an agency of Health Care of Southeastern Massachusetts through which it receives state and federal funds. But additional local fundraising is crucial to allow the clinic to meet the demand for services here.

There was something for everyone among the art offerings, which ranged from works in every media by painters, illustrators, photographers, and sculptors. There were quilts and collages, jewelry, hand-turned wooden bowls, and one-of-a-kind wearables. Ceramics and glass pieces included the utilitarian and some that were just fun. There were window shades with a natural look, apparently fashioned from wood and grasses, two vast voluptuous feminine sculptures, and a pair of statuesque dolls in ethnic garb.

This year's poster design winner from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School was student Ashley Drake, and other winning posters were displayed on one wall. Each year the school's art department holds a competition, with one poster being chosen for advertising the event.

Susan and Bruce Desmerais
Susan and Bruce Desmerais take a wine-and-hug break beneath Carolyn Daniele's "Blue Dog with Yellow Shirt."

Names on many of the offerings were well known, but a there was a selection of fine work by less familiar artists too - a happy surprise. And prices ranged as widely as the size, style, and subject matter, from charming and inexpensive packets of note cards by several photographers and artists to some canvases by noted artists just waiting for that major donor/art lover to arrive with a healthy checkbook. Many price tags in between, though, were manageable enough so that by Sunday afternoon a number of pieces had sprouted red "sold" dots and happy contributors were coming in to pick up their treasures.

"The art was extraordinary - wonderful, wonderful art," said an exhausted but exultant Judy Salosky, president of the Friends board, as she helped volunteers begin closing down the show on Sunday evening.

For years the benefit was held at a variety of venues, from the Vineyard Playhouse to Murdick's Fudge before finding a regular yearly home at the Ag Hall. The location provides both an excellent display and browsing space for the extensive collection of art as well as a welcoming setting for the opening party, which has become a Vineyard favorite.

According to Ms. Salosky, everyone associated with the agency lends a hand in making the show a success. A committee (this year chaired by jewelry maker Sarah Young) has responsibility for the show but, Ms. Salosky said, most staff and board members help out, whether by working to obtain and hang the art, setting up the hall, handling clerical tasks, or even passing the scrumptious hors d'oeuvres at the gala. And a number of community members who are not otherwise connected with Family Planning extend their support too, like Sally Lasker who assisted with art sales and Marney Toole who was chairman of this year's opening gala.

Janet Messineo and Lanny McDowell
Taxidermist Janet Messineo's sparkling fish seem to leap from the water as painter Lanny McDowell's waves crash in the background.

Organizers begin during the winter to solicit artwork, much of it from a number of creative Vineyarders who participate annually. This year, a call for new artists brought a good response with at least 10 bringing their work to join in the mix. Artists receive 60 percent of the purchase price when their work is sold with Family Planning getting 40 percent. Other revenue at the event comes from cash donations and ticket sales for the reception.

"This is to keep the clinic going," said Ms. Salosky, when she was asked how the art show's proceeds would be used, then listed a spectrum of necessary costs from rent and maintenance of the building, to advertising services and buying condoms for free distribution.

And, she added, this year for the first time the Friends will sponsor a second major benefit to help support the agency. On August 8 the group will host an evening program titled "Reproductive Rights as The Keystone to Women's Freedom, a book panel discussion of Mary Ann Sorrentino's "The A-Word - Abortion: Real Women, Tough Choices, Personal Freedom" at the Old Whaling Church. Vineyarders who wish to support an important cause, mark your calendars!

For more information on Family Planning of Martha's Vineyard, call 508-693-1208.

Jody Barron Blair
Laden with gourmet cheeses, dips, and fresh fruit and vegetables, two buffet tables kept guests coming back for more, and kept Jody Barron Blair (above) and others busy replenishing the spread.
Jeremy Berlin
Jeremy Berlin's music added a jazzy atmosphere to the party.
The variety of artwork offered food for thought and contemplation.