Galleries : Off-Season At North Water
Even without Edgartown's frenetic summer crowds and gallery-goers, there remains a full agenda of tasks at the North Water Gallery.
"I do miss the summer buzz, but this is a great time to reconnect with clients, and we still stay open Thursday until Saturday," says Jonathan Ralston, co-director of the gallery where he both works year-round and shows his artwork.
And according to North Water's co-director and watercolor artist David Wallis, the Vineyard's art scene definitely doesn't disappear with the tourists.
"We don't necessarily have the summer's foot traffic, but we still continue to service our customers year-round," Mr. Wallis says. "Even if people aren't coming into the store physically, it doesn't change the fact that art is always here... Although the walk-through crowd evaporates, we still stay very busy with summer customers calling and also handling Internet orders," says Wallis. The art is shipped to places around the country and in some cases abroad. The holiday season creates an occasion for additional orders to be sent out.
Photo by Diana Waring
Unlike many Islanders, Mr. Wallis relishes the off-season as an opportune time to touch base with the gallery's consistent customers.
"The summer is so busy and by the time it's over, you're pretty exhausted," he says. "I don't really dread anything about the off-season. I look at this as a time to catch up with old friends and see everyone again."
The North Water Gallery specializes in contemporary realism, and is one of three art galleries owned by West Tisbury residents Chris Morse and his wife Sheila. The Field Gallery and the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury are the others. Each gallery has its own website that introduces its artists and their work. Among the artists whose work is shown are Thomas Hart Benton, Margaret Bourke-White, Patience Brewster, Ben Cabot, Ray Ellis, Edward Hewett, Lois Mailou Jones, Alison Shaw, Scott Terry, and Mary Sipp-Green.
According to Mr. Wallis, the gallery adjusts to the diminished walk-through crowds by shifting gears and downsizing staff. After the shoulder season and Columbus Day have passed, the three galleries cut back from a total of 18 employees to five or six.
The North Water Gallery, which features the work of both locally and nationally known artists, relies on the less demanding retail time to solidify their relationships with both customers and artists, as well as to formulate their plans for the coming season. The off-season allows the gallery time to consider which new artists to represent and which ones to renew.
Photo courtesy of North Water Gallery
"We use this time to develop our show schedule for the summer, sending a letter to artists and starting to coordinate specific dates," says Mr. Ralston.
"We've never had any trouble attracting interest and always have kept a nice inventory of artists," says Mr. Wallis, who has been represented at the Granary Gallery since 1989. (He moved to the Vineyard in 1992.) "All of the recent exposure for Martha's Vineyard has really generated an increased interest for artists all over the world. Some reside here full-time; others are visitors that return as often as possible to the Vineyard because they find Martha's Vineyard a great source of inspiration."
Outfitting corporate clients also occupies the quiet winter months.
"We just came back from outfitting a law firm with work and often receive requests during the summer months for corporate clients, so that's also something we like to do in the off-season," says Mr. Wallis.
According to both Mr. Wallis and Mr. Ralston, the unique Vineyard connection keeps the galleries thriving year-round. Mr. Wallis says, "The staff has really developed long-term relationships with clients. We've hosted cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners, clients stop in with their friends - it really has a different feel."
Andrea Kasprzak is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.