Behind the scenes at Chicken Alley Art Show

The Thrift Shop takes on the appearance of a fine arts gallery during the Chicken Alley Art and Collectible Show going on this week. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

According to Sandy Pratt, manager of The Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven, it takes a volunteer army to pull off the annual event at 38 Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven. Every year on the second Sunday of August since 2002 — this year it was opened Sunday, Aug. 14 — the Thrift Shop holds the Chicken Alley Art and Collectible Sale to benefit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). The sale continues all week.

“We have a crew of about 50 volunteers that help us with this event by picking out pieces, cleaning them, and pricing them. We also have people that come down specifically to help with the show,” Ms. Pratt says. “Libby Barringer, who comes from Cambridge, arrives up every morning to help me prepare for the show, and she goes home around 4 or 5 pm in the afternoon, and then she shows up again at 9 am the next day.”

Assistant manager Karen Child says, “We had help from the teenagers working on community service for the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department. They come every year, and they are great.”

Curator Inas Al-Soqi works all winter refurbishing and repairing items. There are usually close to 500 items on display and sale. The shop also has professional jewelers help with jewelry repair throughout the winter and spring.

“The thing we look forward to the most about the show is the camaraderie and team work between everyone,” says Ms. Child. “The whole event has that kind of nature to it; a lot of team work and a lot of people just saying ‘What can I do to help?’ All year long people make a special effort to bring things in specifically for the art show. They’ll say ‘This is art show material, what do you think?’ and most of the time they’re right.”

Ms. Pratt agrees: “A week after the sale is over I already have customers coming in with art show items for next year.” She adds, “The store is like one giant circle that keeps going around. People donate stuff, people who need things come in and get it, and people come in and volunteer to work during the year; it’s not just selling used objects.”

She continues, “We work with Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and the American Red Cross, so if there’s a fire and people need goods they come here. If clients at Community Services lose their housing or need a bed then we try to help them as best we can.”

The Chicken Alley event requires a wide range of accommodations, everything from security to mediation. Ms. Pratt says, “In the past if it’s a hot day we’ve passed out lemonade to people waiting in line so they don’t get dehydrated.” She tends the register every year, while there are volunteers wrapping items and constantly filling spaces with new artwork in the tent outside as well as in the building, while there are more volunteers helping customers in the holding area.

Ms. Pratt describes the show as “a down-and-dirty event,” explaining, “We’ve seen people fighting over pieces, about who saw it first. We set up a holding area with four volunteers for people who want to save things.”

Olga Hirshhorn, the event’s remarkable founder, says, “I’m so amazed at the things that come out of these basements and attics. It’s a small Island; it always inspires me each year how we end up with such a fascinating show.”

She recalls the first year of the show, saying, “We got to see everybody walking out with a full Cronig’s Market paper bag full of items and a happy look on their faces. We knew everybody went home with something they loved. That’s what coming to the Thrift Store is all about, finding a treasure that suits you.”

Every year the art show reserves a spot for “Olga’s Corner,” which displays “worthy and interesting” selections of artwork and collectibles. This year, as in the past, the show has antiques, sculptures, artifacts, books, fashions, and Ms. Pratt says, “All those dusty things people discover in their attics.” Included in the original art that is offered is work by well-known artists such as Washington Ledesma, Alison Shaw, Virginia Bessie, and Nelson Coon.

“For a week The Thrift Shop looks like a flea market or an art gallery, and then gradually as the week goes on we start getting donations again.”

She notes that during this past Sunday’s five-hour opening the Chicken Alley Art Show and Collectibles Show brought in $28,000 for MVCS.

“It’s nice to be able to do something special,” Ms. Pratt says, “and that’s what the art show week is for.”