Galleries : Etherington's Collection
Mary Etherington, owner and curator of Etherington Fine Art, was born to a family involved in collecting in Avilene, Kans., a town of roughly 6,500. But that is only the beginning. Were her life summed up as a work of art, it would be a collage of different materials, textures and moods.
"I had no experience in art as a kid, but my father trained my eye," she says. "He would always point things out - architecture, art, and buildings. He was a funny visionary and a developer," she says. "I come from a tradition of collectors - cars, marble, art, antiques. So, I have studied collections. That is how I think of my gallery, as a collection." Collections and beautiful things speak to the viewer as, she says, her artists are all individuals whose work "spoke to her."
She recalls her first visit to Martha's Vineyard - a cross-country drive to Martha's Vineyard with a friend. "I had never been to the East Coast. I had a visceral feeling that this was home and I kept coming back."
She has been going to and from Martha's Vineyard for over 30 years on ventures that include apprenticing as a bookbinder in New York City, designing and binding fragments of a biography by Anthony Burgess in Verona, Italy.
She had her first son, Simon, on Martha's Vineyard, with the help of midwives Fran Finnigan and Arba Clark. "I worked at The Black Dog in the bookkeeping department. I learned bookkeeping on the spot, and Simon would go to work with me. I kept a crib in the office for him." She recalls what a different time it was then.
In 1979, Ms. Etherington, a single mother, sold her Island house, the Cape Verde Dance Hall, and with Simon, moved to San Francisco to study typography with the world's then expert on the Janson Typeface, Jack Stauffacher. To pay the bills, she took on a corporate job, selling high-end printing with a company called Kuegar until they dissolved their West Coast office.
"I realized there were no women in positions higher than me, and so I moved on," she says.
There was a short stint working doing post-production sound for motion pictures in New York, but for one reason or another, Martha's Vineyard called her back. "Basically, this was home base, and I did whatever jobs fell my way."
Photos by Ralph Stewart
In 1986, she enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, and earned a Studio Arts degree in bronze casting. During her schooling, she married Chris Burrell in 1989. She graduated in 1991, the day before her second son, Harvey, was born. From North Hampton back to Martha's Vineyard for the summer where Lucy Mitchell and Rez Williams asked her to gallery-sit their barn.
This time, she stayed. Ms. Etherington and Ms. Mitchell decided to do an art show together. None of the galleries suited them. "We decided to rent our own space and do a gorilla-girls show," Ms. Etherington says, "and here we are 17 years later."
The gallery, Etherington Fine Art, has been in four locations: in the Luce house across from Humphreys, down on Beach Road, on Main Street near Bramhall and Dunn and now above the Green Room. Ms. Etherington especially liked being up-Island, but she contracted Lyme disease, and a sensitivity that necessitated moving down-Island.
Moving her gallery to its present location in Vineyard Haven has made great sense for Ms. Etherington. "Harvey was going to school off-Island and I wanted to be freer to be near him without leaving an empty store-front on Main Street. One day I was walking down Main Street and I saw the sign for the space above the Green Room and I knew it was for me," she says.
"I love it here. People treated the other gallery like a museum. This space is better, it works for me. People are comfortable here. It is a good fit," she says of the current gallery space.
The artwork displayed in her gallery represents a variety of artists from Martha's Vineyard, the nation and from abroad.
"The art tells a better story about what I am interested in than I could ever tell," she admits. "My intention never was to move back here. Chris wanted to stay and I agreed," she recalled. But when asked if she would do it all again differently, she confesses that she needed to do her own work in order to promote the work of others and she says she would have kept the NYC apartment.
At that time, there was not a foundry on Martha's Vineyard. To dive into her own work, she began to write. This took her back to New York for the winter where she was published by the New York Post and was sent to St. Moritz in Switzerland and the Italian Alps for a ski story. It was the balance that she needed.
"The other part, of giving up my own career as an artist, is the age old problem of money and art. How was I to support myself and my children with something unproven? Although, after a flood in my beach road gallery and a loss of $56,000 not covered by insurance, I thought, hey I could lose that with my own work."
"But there are benefits to this life," she says. She was able to keep her children with her while she worked. For example her desk in the gallery was her brother's bed. When Harvey was small, he slept in the bed while Ms. Etherington worked. Later the bed became what she sentimentally calls a "besk."
Her sons also attended the art openings and grew in their own creativity. At one opening Harvey asked, " When will you hang mine?" So for his fifth birthday Harvey worked with Gretchen Baer and made tons of art and hung it in the gallery's pre-season show that May. All her artists attended the show and while Harvey refused to sell anything, he stood in the center of the room announcing, "This is living," she recalls with a smile.
Ms. Etherington is again exploring new options that might include moving again. The gallery is open in the fall, and will remain open by appointment during the winter. And while she waits for her house to be renovated, she travels to different art shows, like Art Basel in Miami and spends time near Harvey's school in Western Massachusetts.
"I have made every mistake there is and I am still here. But more and more I am doing what works for me and I am happy with the results." An honest straight foreword way to approach life any day, especially when the worst thing about her job she says, "is getting lunch." The best thing: "Being surrounded by great art."
Etherington Fine Art, 2nd Floor, 71 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-9696, etheringtonfineart.com.
Tamar Russell is an artist who is on The Martha's Vineyard Times graphic design staff.