Galleries : The unique world of Stella Waitzkin
In the midst of the hushed and calm surroundings of the Martha's Vineyard Museum (MVM) with its display cases of scrimshaw, old photographs, and historic artifacts, one current exhibit is so visually striking and charged with energy it seems to shout its presence.
Stella Waitzkin would have been pleased.
The modestly sized room is filled with her replicated world - floor-to-ceiling shelves of real and molded ornamented books in polyester resin. It is Stella Waitzkin's signature work, created works in series in varying hues and translucencies. Appearing at the same time familiar and bizarre, aggressively colored objects - garish slashes of orange and reds, subtle greens and black - have been embellished and embedded with salvaged scraps. There are also religious images, cherubs, birds, bottles, pots, and her more recent focus, fish, all made singular and strange by her hand. Molded faces grimace from behind bottles and bookbindings. The real and unreal form secret pacts, everything implying something personal and meaningful in a wordless clutter, not to be deciphered.
Ms. Waitzkin, who began as an abstract expressionist painter and a performance artist, was a student of Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning, accepted into the inner circle of New York's abstract expressionist art scene, the Beat artists of the 1950s, including Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, poet Allen Ginsberg, and others.
It was a long and self-determined course that brought her from the privileged suburbs of Long Island (her father owned the Globe Lighting company) to her apartment in Manhattan's eccentric Chelsea Hotel, where she lived and worked in polyester resin for 35 years. Leaving the Chelsea (neighbors complained about the fumes from the melting resin), she came to the Vineyard, first visiting in 1958 with her then teenage son Fred (Fred Waitzkin, author of the memoir, "The Last Marlin," and "Searching for Bobby Fischer," about his prodigy son, Josh).
In 1980, she began spending months at the Chilmark cottage of Fred and his wife Bonnie, and in 1990, she bought a house on Music Street in West Tisbury, where she lived and worked until her death in 2003 at 83. Her work has long been represented on-Island by gallery owner Mary Etherington, who met Ms. Waitzkin during her New York days.