Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s permanent art collection

"Moonrise/Summer," oil on linen by Kib Bramhall, outside the intensive care unit waiting room. — Photo by Susan Safford

The new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is a 90,000 square foot, $48 million center for the practice of modern medicine. Generous Islanders, seasonal visitors, corporations, and foundations built it without tapping Vineyard taxpayers.

It is a nonprofit, 24-bed affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital, and its sleek and formal style, expansive hallways, and spacious public areas would be welcome in any community.

But, of course, the bright, modern two-story structure with the brick facade, it’s not in any community. It’s here, and it’s Vineyard-ness is a particular part of its plan.

“We started talking about what we could do to make this hospital unique to the Vineyard,” hospital board vice chairman Edward Miller of Chilmark said recently. “The hospital’s architects offered us art, but it was all generic. You could be anywhere. And we wanted you to know you were on the Vineyard. We have so many creative people on the Island, we thought it would be a fantastic thing to bring that creativity into what would otherwise be very institutional.”

Mr. Miller, who helped spearhead the Island branch of the capital campaign for the new building, serves as chairman of the committee responsible for soliciting artists for their contributions to the hospital’s permanent art collection. Efforts began about nine months ago under the direction of hospital board chairman, Tim Sweet, and, although many more artists will continue to be approached, the results are already impressive.

The two men stroll the hospital’s corridors pointing out the art already on display. Among the second floor patients’ rooms, flashes of color from Alison Shaw’s brilliant photographs snap-crackle the eye to attention. Each of the 24 contemporary patient rooms has one of her large color photographs.

Each room also displays one of Janet Woodcock’s cerebral black and white studies: close up photos of farm animals, nature scenes, images that inspire reflection and provide the room’s inhabitant with company.

Mr. Miller, who says, “We believe in the power of art for healing,” is clearly enthused about the project.

The men pause to admire photographer Bruce Davidson’s remarkable Islander portraits along the second floor acute care hallway: Tashmoo Farm’s Elsie McLaughlin, Leonard Vanderhoop with his granddaughter Juli, Andrew Woodruff, Beetlebung Farm’s Marie Scott, and Donald Poole in his wonderfully cluttered fishing shack.

Suesan Stovall’s collage, “Education,” faces the nurse’s station at the emergency entrance, where Kara Taylor’s striking painting, “Arboretum at Dusk,” hangs.

“It’s like coming into a new house,” a smiling Mr. Sweet says, “it doesn’t feel like home until you put your things in it. This was the hospital, and our goal was to make it our hospital by bringing in the wealth of talent we have here.”

As the two men sat for a moment on a couch in the maternity wing, Rez Williams’ dramatic “Georges Banks,” a large painting of a New Bedford fishing boat hung on one wall behind them, and on the other, “Vineyard Landscape,” Bob Jewett’s elegant abstraction in wood.

When a reporter suggested that people might start walking through the hospital just to see the art, Mr. Sweet said, “It’s already happened. People are coming to see Margot’s mural” – a 25-foot by 10-foot vertical mural of marine life being painted by Margot Datz in the Community Research Room. “And people are bringing people back to look at things they’ve seen. Other than galleries, there’s really no place to see the wealth of talent we have here.”

Kib Bramhall, one of whose contributed paintings, “Weather Coming,” is on the second floor by the elevator, explains his contribution.

“When Edward gave me a tour of the hospital, I was struck by the quality of the spaces, and immediately, I wanted to be part of it. It was a no-brainer. Each painting, uncluttered and clearly visible, is given respect. I think they are going to wind up with a very important collection of contemporary painters… I can see it becoming a destination.”

“They are the best walls on the Island,” Rez Williams says. His eight-foot by six-foot painting of the New Bedford dragger, “My Way,” its green hull reflecting on the water, will be installed this month at the end of a corridor connecting the new and old buildings.

“As they led me around the hospital, that spot just spoke to me,” Mr. Williams says.

Mr. Sweet admits the committee was at first nervous about approaching artists for contributions: “It asks a lot of artists to give up their work and in essence, their livelihood. But everybody has been incredibly generous and willing and wanting. So it’s been fun.”

“I get asked to contribute my paintings for a variety of causes every year,” Allen Whiting said. “This one felt good from the beginning. The hospital saved both of our lives [referring to his wife Lynn], and we are grateful that it exists. Giving these paintings allowed me to feel like I was contributing in a meaningful way. Being asked to enhance a huge new facility that’s the result of such a community effort and will benefit the Island for so many years to come is flattering. In fact, I probably would have felt pretty bad had I not been asked.”

Two of the artists approached the trustees before the process of creating a permanent collection was launched. Kara Taylor offered her painting, and Alison Shaw, who contributed in abundance, remembered when her parent was a patient in a Maine hospital that had a wonderful display of art that affected her in a profoundly positive way.

It’s a sentiment Mr. Whiting supports: “It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to be able to give my artwork in situations like this, where anyone from the community can hopefully find enjoyment and comfort in its presence.”

Once an artist is contacted, they are taken on a tour of the various sites available. Committee members visit the artist’s studio where a majority decision is made on what to select. But the process is flexible and Mr. Sweet says, organized “to be as pleasant and as considerate to the artists as possible.”

It will be an ongoing process, selections based on purely subjective preferences, and not to be interpreted as any comment on who’s better or best. Clearly, the variety of art on display reflects a consensus of personal choices: Sally Cohn’s photo of Lucinda Childs in performance, Ray Ellis’s, “Long Point and Beyond,” at the first floor elevators, photographer David Fokos’s large environmental images, including “Beach Comet,” at the front door. Ben Cabot’s sculpture will soon be displayed.

There are plans for a rotating exhibit by the courtyard, and a computer picturing each piece with the location, medium, and artist’s biography.

Mr. Sweet smiles and gestures toward Mr. Whiting’s painting, “Black Point – Chilmark,” that shimmers against a bright green alcove on the second floor landing and says, “It’s already transformed the feel and look.”

For information about the hospital’s permanent art collection, contact Rachel Vanderhoop, Director of Development: 508-693-4645, or email