The art of collecting

Among John Holladay's Mickey Mouse collectibles are cups and saucers and stuffed animals. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In its three decades of serving as the Island’s public arts campus, Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs has developed a community of artists and introduced the public to the work of hundreds of painters, sculptors, photographers, and others who aren’t necessarily a part of the commercial art scene.

Now, with their first show of the 2012 season, Featherstone will give visitors an intimate look at approximately 30 members of the Featherstone family by exhibiting the personal collections of many of the artists who show there.

What Island Artists LOVE to Collect is a new take on the traditionally love themed Featherstone Valentine’s Day show. From the conventional — decoys and seashells to collections that include frogs, turtles, and giraffes — to the eclectic — cowgirl memorabilia, Disney figurines, and religious icons, local artists will reveal their passions to the public starting with a reception on Sunday, Feb. 12. The show runs through the end of the month.

“Rather than doing the same show, we decided to do something that showed a different side of the artists,” said Featherstone director Ann Smith. Previous Valentine’s shows have featured hearts, flowers, and other signs and symbols of the season.

Greeting visitors of Featherstone’s Virginia Weston Besse gallery will be a small army of grinning Mickey Mouses. Painter/cartoonist John Holladay is a serious collector of Disney memorabilia and the small sampling of his collection that he has contributed to the show includes figurines, puppets, a Mickey Mouse Club megaphone, a tiny tea set, an original animation cel, and a couple of large posters. In his artist’s statement accompanying his display, Mr. Holladay credits Mickey Mouse with encouraging his earliest artistic efforts as a child, and for prompting him to take up cartooning as an adult.

Kate Hancock’s fascination with giraffes dates back to her childhood when she fell in love with her siblings’ giant stuffed giraffe on wheels. She estimates that she now owns 400 giraffes and giraffe-themed items, including clothing and jewelry. Among her small display at the gallery are paintings, African carvings, and stuffed animals. Enjoying a prominent spot is Ms. Hancock’s favorite item — an elegant stuffed giraffe from Paris decked out in couturier taffeta, lace, and pearls — a childhood gift from her aunt who was a foreign buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue.

Painter/printmaker Leslie Baker inherited an attraction to antique tins, as well as part of her collection, from her mother. Among her collection are a number of tobacco tins, tiny medicinal containers, and European tins that once held food products. “Each one is kind of a treasure for me,” Ms. Baker said. “They’re little works of art.”

Aside from their aesthetic value, Ms. Baker appreciates her little tins for their functionality. “People actually reused these,” she said. “That’s why they’re still around.” Ms. Baker notes that some of her purchases still had little things, like pennies or paperclips in them, when she bought them. She utilizes some of her collection to store keepsakes and small objects. They also serve as mementos of her travels. “They all represent a place I’ve been and love, and collecting them is part of the fun of visiting.”

Last summer, Valerie Sonnenthal came up with the idea for a Featherstone Personal Altar show that served, in part, as inspiration for the upcoming collections show. “So many artists have personal altars and amazing collections,” she said. Her own collection began when her children were little and she started buying them odd little Japanese plastic figurines, which she calls art figures, at a store in New York City called Toy Tokyo. Ms. Sonnenthal, a photographer/mixed media artist/writer, continued collecting the often surreal animal and humanoid figurines after her kids had outgrown them, and she now has about 40. “There was something about the whimsy, the colors, and the wildness of someone’s imagination,” Ms. Sonnenthal said.

A decidedly more down-to-earth fascination can be found in painter/mixed media artist Genevieve Jacobs’s display. Ms. Jacobs has accumulated an impressive natural history collection through her frequent walks in the woods and on the beaches of the Vineyard. Her finds include bones, bird skulls, and insect exoskeletons, as well as eggs, nests, and interesting rocks. Adding dimension to the collection are some scavenged souvenirs gathered during a cruise from Alaska to Tahiti.

Ms. Jacobs is a nurse, as well as an artist, and she has found that both her occupations have contributed to her appreciation of anatomical finds. “There’s a definite beauty in the way that nature operates,” she said. “The way people and animals and organisms are put together. It’s an elegant, perfect unity. There isn’t any junk out there. It’s all beautiful. Some would find it macabre. I find it beautiful.”

Graphic artist Karen Huff and her partner, picture framer Kathy Morris, discovered a shared interest in cowboy memorabilia early on in their 20-year relationship. They’ve continued with a combined collection over the years and by the time they got married last year (in a cowgirl-themed wedding) they had a houseful of western items, ranging from Roy Rogers salt and pepper shakers and a bucking bull coin bank to books and posters. Over their small display at Featherstone, which features a lot of cowboy boot decorations among other things, hangs a banner that sums it up. It reads “Cowgirl Heaven.”

She will use the first show of the year as an opportunity to announce the 2012 schedule of gallery shows, which will include some interesting new themes. Of the upcoming season, which follows on Featherstone’s 30th anniversary year, Ms. Smith said, “We feel like we’ve really raised the bar.”

Artists’ Reception: What Island Artists LOVE to Collect, 4–6 pm, Sunday, Feb. 12, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. Show runs through February 29, 12 noon to 4 pm daily.