Restaurants Support Island Art

Nathan Shepherd's oil painting of fisherman on Menemsha jetty provides the perfect image at Menemsha Cafe as artists Wendy Weldon and James Langlois enjoy lunch. — File photo by CK Wolfson

Not all great local art is to be found in Vineyard galleries. The work of some of the preeminent and up-and-coming Island artists can be seen in local eateries, from high end to homey. It’s a win-win situation with restaurateurs benefiting from a free design boost, artists getting exposure to a large and diverse audience, and the public having the opportunity to view works by some of the artists who have helped establish the Vineyard art scene.

Holly Alaimo, artist liaison and former owner of the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs, laughs when she remembers, “I found (artist) Traeger diPietro in the bathroom at the Park Corner Bistro.” Spotting a small urban landscape that Mr. diPietro had donated to the Bistro owners, Ms. Alaimo was immediately captivated, and brought the artist’s work to the Dragonfly six years ago and, in her words, “The rest is history. He managed to capture the hearts of the Island.”

Mr. diPietro, an established artist with work in both Dragonfly and PIKNIK Art and Apparel, continues to display his paintings in restaurants on and off the Island. He often offers to create a site-specific piece, and made such an offer to Scott Mullin, owner of Sidecar, shortly after the small restaurant opened in Oak Bluffs. “Artists love empty walls,” Mr. diPietro says. “They look at it and picture what would go there.”

Mr. diPietro has also created works for the former Balance restaurant, and Atria, and is working on commissioned pieces for some off-Island restaurants.

Artists whose work demands a large space, find restaurants to be perfect match. “There’s very limited space for large projects,” says metal sculptor Steve Lohman, whose work graces a number of local eateries. He and his partner, mosaic artist Jennifer Strachan, have a long history with the Oyster Bar Grill restaurant on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Lohman says, “I love those walls. I love how the work looks in there.”

Currently at the restaurant, his sculpture of a trio of dancing women and a large fish flank an impressive triptych by Ms. Strachan. Ms. Strachan says she’s pleased to have the complete work on display, adding that the restaurant’s customers have commissioned pieces from her based on her work there.

Mr. Lohman says, “It’s very good to be able to say to potential clients, ‘Go look at my pieces.’ They can see them in an optimal setting, properly lit, and they can envision living with them.”

He was approached by Albert Lattanzi on the ferry while “doodling” with some wire, and Mr. Lattanzi commissioned a piece for one of his Edgartown restaurants. Now a number of Mr. Lohman’s sculptures are displayed at the restaurant. In typical Vineyard style, Mr. Lohman bartered for the pieces. Says Mr. Lohman, “He keeps getting sculptures and I keep getting pizzas. I love his food.”

The work of photographer Jeffrey Serusa is a natural fit for neighboring Beach Road restaurant Blue Canoe. Mr. Serusa’s spectacular photos — shot with film on large format cameras — are typically marine-themed, perfect for the walls of an ocean view restaurant. His signature shot of the departing Islander ferry, “Seasmoke,” is prominently displayed in the restaurant’s entryway.

Blue Canoe owner Susan Bowen (in partnership with her husband Stephen Bowen) says, “We wanted something that represented the Island but we didn’t want the typical. We wanted to have a little more edgy, modern twist.”

The two businesses formed a mutually beneficial working relationship. Mr. Serusa sends gallery visitors to the restaurant and diners admiring the work are referred to the gallery. Ms. Bowen says, “I wish we had more walls. We loved all of them.”

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the cozy Menemsha Cafe houses work by some of the most notable names in the Vineyard art world, some of whom lent or donated their work for display there. Paintings by Allen Whiting, Wendy Weldon, Marjorie Mason, and Nathan Shepard, and sculptures by Scott McDowell add a distinctively stylish atmosphere to the small restaurant. Nancy Aronie, Mr. Aronie’s mother, also displays her whimsical wall sculptures there.

Not only is the artwork representative of up-Island life, many of the artists, who live in the general vicinity, are restaurant regulars. Mr. Aronie says, “Wendy Weldon is up here at least once or twice a week. Allen [Whiting] comes in often, and Sheila Hughes and her husband come in at least once a week.”

Ms. Alaimo stresses the added value of viewing art outside of a gallery environment. She says, “It’s like seeing a painting in a home setting. It’s different. Seeing work in a life situation can give you another perspective.”