Garden Club hosts art and flowers show

Nancy Cabot
Red carnations in Nancy Cabot's arrangement echo the bright red apples in the painting above, also her work. Photo by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - June 14, 2007

Not everyone would immediately think of flowers when viewing a painting of an up-Island landscape, a beach scene, a colorful abstract work, or a ceramic sculpture. But this week more than two dozen Martha's Vineyard Garden Club members are studying reproductions of work by local artists, coming up with ideas for how to create flower arrangements which will complement the artwork. After days of painstaking work, from dreaming up a design to gathering and arranging materials, the participants will display their handiwork at the bi-annual Beauty and the Best exhibit June 22 through 24.

As if the deliciousness of the exhibit were not enough, the club will host a gala opening reception on Friday evening, June 22. The benefit event offers beverages, hors d'oeuvres, and a light dinner buffet on the lawn, music by talented Martha's Vineyard Regional High School students, and a first look at this year's show. Betty Ann Honey and Barbara Harnen chair the party and will work with a committee to produce the lavish event. According to Miss Honey, a big helping hand comes from Vineyard businesses and other individuals who are contributing gourmet food items and decorative plant materials for the bash.

Nancy Cabot
Nancy Cabot demonstrates an idea for enhancing art with a colorful arrangement. Photo by Susan Safford

Last Wednesday morning, several dozen club members gathered at the Old Mill in West Tisbury for a demonstration by Nancy Cabot, an artist and former president of the group, about how to combine art and flowers for a creative effect. Using her own still life of apples in a bowl, Ms. Cabot tried out several combinations of fruit, leaves, and flowers, making it look very easy indeed.

"What we are looking for is a nice-looking show," stressed Judy Bryant, also a past president, who is co-chairing the event with her sister, Ms. Cabot. She shared ideas for keeping arrangements looking fresh and perky through the weekend and several savvy club members added their own tips. After Ms. Bryant went over guidelines for the exhibits and plans for the show, each of the more than two-dozen participants received an assignment - a folder containing a photo of a piece of artwork. The pieces ranged from Vineyard landscapes to abstract work, still lifes, ocean scenes, collages, sculpture, photographs, and more.

"Our goal is to get a broad brush of the types of art we see on the Island and give the artists the chance to display their talents as well as giving members of the club, many of whom are talented arrangers, an opportunity to show theirs," said Pat Adler, president elect, who is chairing the show. All of the artwork, most of it by well-known local artists, will be for sale with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Garden Club.

The exhibit is modeled after similar shows in off-Island museums, which incorporate art and floral arrangements. The first established of these is Art in Bloom, held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts each spring, and Vineyard members regularly exhibit there.

Betty Ann Honey relates that she began attending Garden Club meetings at age 12 with her mother, Constance Lord Honey. Years later she was sponsored by Gratia Harrington and Katherine Pangburn and became a full-fledged member herself. Miss Honey proudly emphasized that the club, founded in 1924, has the distinction of being the Island's first conservation organization.

Old Mill
Built in the 1700s, the Old Mill in West Tisbury has been the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club's headquarters since 1942. Photo by Ben Scott

After decades of working in Boston, where she lived in the Back Bay and took full advantage of the city's cultural pleasures, Miss Honey now lives in her comfortable family home in Vineyard Haven, the very house where her mother was born. A talented flower arranger, her garden brings her joy - "It really revives you to go out and dig around," she said. For many years for her birthday, her brother, Bill Honey, has given her a gift certificate for a wagonload of plants from Heather Gardens and she has planted a "Birthday Garden" which she loves. Long an active club member, Miss Honey is now the chairman for special projects. She shared memories while we sat on her front porch surrounded by greenery on a recent warm afternoon.

According to Miss Honey, the club membership does not consist of the stereotypical women of leisure who just want to "tea around," but rather men and ladies of all ages, often already active in the community. Nonetheless, when it comes to tea, refreshments remain a mainstay after every meeting, she said.

An historic home

Many Vineyarders know the old mill with its creaky floorboards and aroma of old wood, as the home of the Garden Club. It was built sometime in the 1700s, according to a document written by Eleanor Mayhew several decades ago. Once a grist mill, it was converted to a woolen mill by David Look, who purchased it in 1809, producing a durable fabric called satinet from local fleece. Going out of service just before 1900, the building was used for auctions and later as a tea room and art gallery. The garden club rented it in 1937 and purchased it in 1942.

Betty Honey
Long-time club member Betty Honey of Vineyard Haven shares rich memories. Photo by Ben Scott

After all these years the club is comfortably settled into the historic building, although it is only used in the warmer months. Upkeep of the old building is a challenge and several years ago a major project was needed to save it from termite destruction.

In the winter, the club meets at the Mary Wakeman Center on Lambert's Cove Road where it maintains a small office. The club also has a thriving greenhouse at that location where several dedicated members start and nurture plants that are sold on Memorial Day weekend to raise funds.

Although the club only holds public exhibits once every two years, members keep busy with projects, most benefiting the Island. The group encourages businesses to decorate their buildings during the summer with window boxes or other plantings and gives awards to those that comply. Members also help facilitate beautification projects at public buildings or other town properties.

Miss Honey pointed with pleasure to the three awards that the club offers yearly at the Agricultural Fair. One of these that she developed offers a $200 prize for an exhibit detailing a proposal for the beautification of a public place on the Island. She said that the club has been a driving force behind several important conservation projects, among these helping to get bylaws passed in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs prohibiting development along State Beach. And she delightedly relates the story of Garden Club members staging a sit-in on Middle Road decades ago to keep the winding country road from being straightened.

Meetings feature guest speakers, authorities on conservation or horticulture from both on Island and away. The 2007 schedule lists both a seed starting and a pruning workshop, a talk on flowering plants for the landscape by Jeanie Gillis from the Heritage Museum and Gardens, a discussion of Martha's Vineyard waters by JoAnn Taylor of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, talks on new plant introductions, as well as discussions of sustainable trees, daylilies, bulbs, and more. Allan Keith spoke of a trip to Bhutan; Brendan O'Neill, director of the Vineyard Conservation Society, reflected on conservation progress on the Island.

Along with regular meetings, the club sponsors trips to off-Island flower shows, a daffodil walk at Seven Gates Farm, and other visits.

Now 276 members strong, the club welcomes new applicants. One need not be an expert gardener to join, Miss Honey said, but an interest in gardening is the only requirement.

"Beauty and the Best" exhibit. Preview gala: Friday, June 22, 5 to 8 pm, preview tickets, $20. Show continues Saturday and Sunday, June 23 and 24, 10 am to 5 pm at the Old Mill, Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, West Tisbury. Show tickets, $5; children under 12 free. 508-696-5901.