Poster artist captures Fair feeling

Jackie Mendez-Diez
Jackie Mendez-Diez, shown with her dog Minnie, presented her contest-winning Fair poster painting to the Chilmark Public Library where it will hang in the Children's Room. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

By Pat Waring - August 9, 2007

As an artist and long-time Fair fan, it makes perfect sense that Jackie Mendez-Diez is the winner of this year's Fair poster contest. Her bright-colored design, which features an engaging piglet on hind legs leaning on a hand-lettered sign announcing the up-coming event, has already been appearing on this year's Fair program booklets. But next week when the gates open, the whimsical piglet will be seen adorning tee-shirts all over the fairgrounds, and posters will be heading out to decorate homes far and wide Ms. Mendez-Diez couldn't be more delighted. "I could sell 10 paintings at a show and it does not even come close to winning the poster contest," she said in a telephone interview this weekend. "There's something about it that's very thrilling. It just makes me smile."

Making her first summer visit to Martha's Vineyard in 1971 with a group of Boston-area friends, Ms. Mendez-Diez was instantly smitten. She became a frequent visitor and in the 1980s, now a divorced mother of two, she began vacationing in Chilmark with her children Alexandra and Stefan every summer.

"I went to my first Fair in the early 1970s," Ms. Mendez-Diez reminisced, "and I've carried that same feeling about the Fair - and about the Vineyard - ever since. There was a feeling of being at the Fair - that there's a simplicity to life and nothing feels complicated. It's really wonderful!"

Ms. Mendez-Diez had graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, earning a BFA degree from Tufts, and, as a visitor, painted Vineyard landscapes for many years. But when she moved to Chilmark year-round in 1999, her focus honed in on birds, which she depicted in portraits with striking personality. While primarily an oil painter, she also does occasional watercolors and drawings. She is now represented by the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs, and has shown at the Chilmark Public Library, the Sovereign Bank branch in Chilmark, and at various community arts events as well as at her home studio. This summer, her work also hangs at the 20 Kennebec Bistro in Oak Bluffs.

Every year when Ms. Mendez-Diez saw the poster contest announced she would think of entering, and even submitted a design several years ago that did not prove a winner. But she was still determined to try again. "One of the things I love about the Fair are the posters," she says. "The fact that individuals get to do their own take on it."

The contest is open to all who are interested. Members of the Fair Committee, joined by one or two artists, select one lucky winner each year.

This year Ms. Mendez-Diez came up with the inspiration to use a pig, although she had never painted one before. "I just knew, 'I'm going to find a pig I want to paint, and I really want to win!'" she recalls.

The determination was there, and the talent too. But it took a while to find the pig. After visiting real pigs around the Island and looking at photos, Ms. Mendez-Diez finally found her perfect model - on the Internet! She chose the primitive block lettering for its informal hand-done, rather than computer-generated or "fussed over" style.

Ms. Mendez-Diez submitted her painting, and then kept her fingers crossed. In early April, right after a telephone conversation with her daughter, Alexandra, about her hopes of winning, she got the long-awaited call from Fair Manager Eleanor Neubert. "It was so much fun to be told my painting won, and the most fun was telling my kids," she recalls. As a volunteer for the Big Brother/Big Sister program, she also took great pleasure in telling her "little sister" who is now in high school.

Ms. Mendez-Diez said that she received a modest stipend for having her art chosen, but that the money was the least important reward. "It's really fun telling people it was my art work this year," she says. "You couldn't ask for more publicity. They're giving you a huge honor and tremendous publicity."

Ms. Mendez-Diez has donated the painting to the Chilmark Public Library, where it will hang in the Children's Room, delighting young readers for years to come. She might have kept it in the family, but said she could not have chosen only one of her two children as the recipient.

And she knows she could have offered it for sale with a hefty price tag. "I didn't want to sell it; I wanted people to see it," she explains.