Cousen Rose Gallery launches season with Donna Straw

Bold lines define Donna Straw's acrylic portrait of the Oak Bluffs steamship terminal, on view this week at Cousen Rose Gallery. — Photo courtesy of Donna Straw

Saturday afternoons at Cousen Rose Gallery in-season are happening times.

A trio of women – old friends from New Orleans, who were visiting the Vineyard for the first time, found their way to the little gallery in Oak Bluffs last weekend on a friend’s recommendation. A group of eight sisters from Boston stopped in, as they do every summer. Two artists and one author were delivering new work and lingered to chat with the two groups of visitors. It was a rather typical scene at the gallery, according to owner Zita Cousens.

Many of the artists who show at Cousen Rose Gallery are regulars, including Donna Straw, whose work will be featured at the summer opening show on Saturday, June 23. Ms. Straw has been represented by the Cousen Rose Gallery for five years. Saturday will mark the opening of her first solo show at the gallery, and she’s got a lot of new work to display.

Although her palette relies consistently on understated colors, with a signature sparkle of metallics brightening up her scenes, Ms. Straw paints in two distinctive styles, and both will be represented in her upcoming show.

A retired Nyack, N.Y. high school art teacher, Ms. Straw moved to the Vineyard full time five years ago. Using straight lines and color blocks, she creates highly stylized paintings of birdhouses and Oak Bluffs homes and landmark buildings with a touch of whimsy and a great eye for color combinations. Most of her architectural renderings will be familiar to Vineyarders, and she tends to isolate them. Union Chapel stands alone in a barren landscape showing off its angularity against a graphic, color-lined sky and moon.

Recently Ms. Straw started working in a more painterly fashion, capturing land and seascapes in almost monochromatic blues, browns, and greys. Some of the linearity remains in her striated horizons, but with a newly freed hand, Ms. Straw captures the flow and curves of nature. Using unobtrusive splashes of metallic gold, she manages to light up her sandy scenes with brilliant sunlight glints.

For Ms. Straw, the beauty of the Vineyard lies not in its depth of color but its peaceful austerity. When lit by sun, it evokes an incomparably beautiful contrast. A standout of Ms. Straw’s newer style, a depiction of Menemsha Hills, stands out with its panoramic vista of land and sea and gold metallic patches of sun on roads, stones, trees and rooftops.

“I didn’t want to represent water and rocks in a hard edge style,” Ms. Straw says. “I had to be more fluid. It’s more emotional for me, much more soulful, less cerebral, more expressive. I had to dig deeper. It pushed me further.

“It’s like comparing Bach to Debussy,” she continues. “With the Campground cottages, everything fits together like a puzzle. The landscapes are more like Debussy. It’s a more soulful style, and you can play around with it more.”

The Vineyard Haven-based artist has also combined the two styles. “I’m having a great time, and I’m challenging myself,” she says.

Also featured will be work by two jewelers who both use chunky stones to create statement necklaces.

The Zelda line by Adrienne Childs features large, colorful beads with unusual pendant pieces. Zelda necklaces are all great conversation starters.

Marie Allen fashions standout pieces using interesting beads from around the world. Her pediatrician son David, whose work takes him to diverse points on the globe, gathers stones for his mother’s one-of-a-kind pieces.

A lot of the 33-year-old gallery’s popularity has to do with Ms. Cousens herself.

A trim, stylish woman, Ms. Cousens combines an open, engaging manner with an air of elegance and hospitality that is irresistible. She began the business with her former business partner, Stephen D. Rose, in a building on mid Main Street in the 70s but has occupied the same spot -– just past the Sweet Life Cafe – for the past 23 years.

During that time, Ms. Cousens, who has been coming to the Vineyard since she was a baby, has acquired a huge circle of friends – some artists whom she represents, others as clients, many just browsers who enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of the gallery and the fact that there are very affordable items including small paintings, cards, books, and a line of the popular “Sisters in the Bluffs” tee shirts and hats.

Cousen Rose’s weekly Saturday afternoon receptions are bound to be, as always, very popular Oak Bluffs summer events, where laughter and a sense of neighborhood combine with an opportunity to shop for books, cards, clothes, and unique local art.

Artist’s Reception, Saturday, June 23, 5–7 pm, Cousen Rose Gallery, Oak Bluffs. Summer Solstice wine sip and exhibit with featured artist Donna Straw, acrylic on canvas. 508-693-6656;