Galleries : Snap. Success.
Martha's Vineyard's summer arts scene brings people together in shared appreciation of the beauty of our surroundings and the artwork that it inspires. It was just such a casual circumstance that brought regional high school graduate Marshall Pratt an opportunity that changes his professional trajectory.
By the time his artwork came off the walls of Periwinkle, 23 of his pieces were slated to enter into the distinguished collection at the Boston Athenaeum, a membership library with distinguished art and sculpture galleries and a vast book collection. Another example of Island serendipity.
As a college student living in Boston, Mr. Pratt discovered a wealth of new material to photograph. His collection, "Vineyard Boy in Boston," shown this past August in a solo show at the Periwinkle Studio in Oak Bluffs, included uniquely presented and rather melancholy images of greater Boston.
Photo by Susan Safford
Periwinkle Studio owner Judi Drew Schubert first saw Mr. Pratt's work at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, which was showcasing the talents of Island high school students. "I was just blown away by Marshall's photographs. I just loved them," she recalls, noting she knew Mr. Pratt as a friend of her stepson.
After his first year of school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mr. Pratt returned to share some of his new work with Ms. Schubert, such as his series, "Wonderland," a documentation of the area around Revere Beach.
"It's a weird and sad place, in some ways it reminded me of Oak Bluffs," Mr. Pratt says, "the ice cream store, the tee-shirt store that's closed. I remember riding on the [MBTA] and it seemed like everybody there was singing 'America the Beautiful' while gargling whiskey and motor oil."
Another of his projects focused on Wan's Convenience Store and Deli in his Roxbury neighborhood, a place he spent a lot of time photographing, as well as eating hot pastrami sandwiches. He showed that collection to Ms. Schubert somewhat reluctantly. "My nose was so buried in that project that I couldn't see it anymore," he admits. "I didn't want to look at it, I didn't think it was worth showing anyone, let alone worth a gallery."
It was those photos, however, that Ms. Schubert was drawn to, and the one-man August show was born. "What I liked about it," Ms. Schubert says, "he shines the light on the interest, not necessarily the beauty, of everyday things you might not notice, or even think about. It's just person cooking pastrami; it's just a deli, but look how funky it is."
The edgy subject matter filled Periwinkle's gallery walls and generated an interesting response. "The subject matter had a mixed reaction: it was inner city, it had a little bit of a rough edge to it," says Ms. Schubert. "But there was an energy about the show that everyone liked. Something alive...I can't explain it."
Islander Sumner Silverman attended the show, and was so taken with Mr. Pratt's work that he wanted his wife, Sally Pierce, to see it when she returned to Martha's Vineyard.
"My gallery is also my studio," Ms. Schubert explains. "When there's no show there, I use it. I was planning on taking the show down and getting back to work." But when Mr. Silverman disclosed that his wife, the curator of prints and photographs at the Boston Athenaeum, would be interested in seeing it, the show was held over for an extra week.
The Athenaeum was a precursor to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, with a renowned assemblage of work detailing New England's history. A sophisticated jewel in Boston's crown of arts and culture, its collection includes works by Winslow Homer and Paul Revere, and its membership has included the likes of John Quincy Adams and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
So when a 20-year-old from Martha's Vineyard manages to sell 23 works to the museum, it merits attention.
Ms. Pierce is interested in adding depth to the Athenaeum's collection of images of Boston's underrepresented areas. Her first purchase was the Wonderland series, for the Print Room collection. Shortly after, she purchased 21 silver gelatin photographs of Wan's Convenience Store and Deli.
"Marshall's series on the deli provides a quirky, affectionate, in-depth exploration of a spot that is so much a part of the low-down, everyday fabric of existence that it is almost beneath notice," Ms. Pierce says. "To me, it's a report from the home front of Marshall's art-student days. I am interested to see what comes next."
Mr. Pratt calls the experience "a mini-dream come true." His career in photography began in a humble, Vineyard fashion. "When I was six, I won an honorable mention at the Ag Fair for a photo of a flock of flamingos." With that bit of encouragement, he entered the regional high school and took his first photography class. "I can't say enough about the (Martha's Vineyard Regional High School) Art program. It's spectacular." He remembers attending a college photography course and thinking, "I learned this in Photo 1, freshman year of high school."
The financial component to photography didn't even hit Mr. Pratt until he left high school. "The film was free, the prints were free (in high school). I get to college, I'm spending $600 on paper a semester."
Currently attending School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mr. Pratt is focusing his studies on photography but also taking classes in screen printing, drawing, ceramics, and steel, plaster, and wood sculpture. "You get to dip your hands into all sorts of different things. Mixed media collage classes have affected my style."
The beachcombing of Mr. Pratt's youth has morphed into what he calls "city combing," looking for thrown-away tidbits that act as "a document of space and time, a moment that was once there. I'm kind of like a crow; if it's shiny, I'm going to look at it," he says. He then incorporates the ephemera into his work. "I don't think I can define what I do as 'photography.'"
Ms. Pierce followed her well-honed instincts to broaden the body of work at the Atheneaum, so that it will continue to tell the ongoing tale of Boston. It doesn't surprise her that a person as young as Mr. Pratt already exhibits such potential. "When I look at books or exhibitions about artists' careers there is something special about their early work. If Marshall and the other artists fulfill their early promise, I will be proud that the Athenaeum collected them and encouraged them in their careers."