Remembering artist and educator Della Hardman

Retrospective exhibit in the Oak Bluffs Public Library is part of the tribute to Della Hardman. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

There is something and everything about the late Della Hardman that makes her revered and so fondly remembered on the Island. By any measure, the artist, activist, and teacher was extraordinary. Her positive influence was quietly but notably contagious to those with whom she came in contact. By example, she created a template for forging a generous and worthy life.

After her death at 83, in December, 2005, the Town of Oak Bluffs proclaimed the last Saturday of July “Della Hardman Day,” in perpetuity; “Savor the Moment,” a celebration of the fine arts and of Ms. Hardman’s life philosophy.

This year the celebration began this past Saturday, July 30 with a sunset concert by the Jim Thomas Spirituals Choir, and the following day, Sunday, Aug. 1, with the poet and playwright Sonia Sanchez appearing at Ocean Park. As part of the tribute, the Oak Bluffs Library opened a retrospective exhibit of Ms. Hardman’s photographs that will run through August 12.

“I didn’t plan to come and sit,” she was quoted saying by this writer in an interview. “I plan to be involved, whereever I am, that’s the way I like it…. Life is interesting.”

A perpetual student and a world traveler whose answering machine instructed callers to “Savor the moment,” she was a West Virginia native, and the granddaughter of slaves.

Ms. Hardman received a master’s degree in art education from Boston University in 1945, and had a 30-year career as associate professor of art at West Virginia State University. At 72-years old, she earned her doctorate from Kent State University.

After her mother died in childbirth, she was raised by her Aunt Della, a teacher, who first brought her as a little girl to the Vineyard. Ms. Hardman often reminisced about paddle boats filling the Oak Bluffs harbor, and about her father, who would sit on a porch in the Highlands with Eben D. Bodfish talking about real estate.

An Oak Bluffs resident since moving to the Island in 1986, Ms. Hardman wrote the Oak Bluffs town column for the Vineyard Gazette, and was an active participant in the Nathan Mayhew Seminar, Oak Bluffs Library, Vineyard Nursing Association, and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society. She received honors that included the Humanitarian Award from the Vineyard chapter NAACP and the Inspirational Woman award from the Zonta Club of Martha’s Vineyard. The National Art Education Association named her an Outstanding Art Educator.

The exhibit of her photography at the Oak Bluffs Library offers visitors the chance to share Ms. Hardman’s view of that which moved her during her life, and possibly, to find inspiration.

“I hear people complain,” she was quoted as saying, “but I don’t have time to do that. Sitting around complaining about it doesn’t do anything about it…What can I do to make things a little bit better for anybody’s life? Make every minute count because you’re not promised anything. I try to make every day count — savor the moment — that’s my mantra.”