Martha’s Vineyard galleries off the beaten track, worth the trip

Ashley Medowski runs Saltwater Gallery on Lambert's Cove Road. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Some Island galleries lie off the beaten track.

That may be due to the remoteness of their location, but not entirely. Three of those that sit below the gallery hopper’s radar are Saltwater Gallery in Vineyard Haven, Gossamer Gallery in Chilmark, and the Gay Head Gallery in Aquinnah. Each has a distinct vision, as well as its remote location.

Saltwater Gallery

Saltwater Gallery, whose proprietor is artist Ashley Medowski, makes its home in a small barn. Thanks to Ms. Medowski’s special talents, it’s a barn with a difference.

The setting at 367 Lambert’s Cove Road is quintessential Vineyard. Beyond the driveway and Ms. Medowski’s grandmother’s house, Saltwater tucks itself into the gentle slope of a field heading towards James Pond. Ms. Medowski has researched the Native American name for the pond, Onkokemmy, or “land beyond the fishing place.”

“Once you come once, I gotcha,” she says. “Or the land’s gotcha, or the barn’s gotcha.” As a result, she has a lot of repeat customers. The care that goes into the mixed media and paintings Ms. Medowski creates is flavored by her appreciation for her place in the Island’s history as well as the barn’s. Ms. Medowski is the 13th generation in her family to live on-Island.

Counting the root cellar she discovered in 2001 after her grandmother and her father bequeathed the building to her, Saltwater has four levels. Three of them have evolved into gallery spaces as their owner has restored them. An old typewriter and a sailor’s sextant hold pride of place in one room, in addition to art; another room doubles as workspace for the artist’s upcoming exhibit on up-Island farms. The materials of Ms. Medowski’s work don’t hide in the third room, they decorate it purposefully.

Mason jars hold collections of the sea glass that she makes into jewelry or window mosaics. Ms. Medowski sold sea glass jewelry at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals and flea markets for years, developing a following. Now she makes the jewelry by commission.

“I try to keep everything nostalgic,” Ms. Medowski says. “In a way, people are drawn to that.” Even the frames for her paintings are made of reclaimed wood, brought to her by friends.

“I find beauty in things that have already been used – not recycled – that have history, have been around,” the artist says. They feed her imagination. In one landscape she uses dots of paint that glow in the dark for fireflies. In another of the Captain Flanders House, she may add a working windmill, or not. At Saltwater Gallery, Vineyard history and art complement one another.

More than African sculpture at Gossamer

Up-Island in Chilmark, Joan Merry runs Gossamer Gallery, a two-room summer shack that once served as a studio for the late painter Stan Murphy. This tiny building that sits in the middle of a field fairly bulges with Island artists and work from the African sculptors Ms. Merry and her husband Don Lyons discover on their frequent trips to Africa, Zimbabwe in particular.

Gossamer takes full advantage the field surrounding the gallery. Shona sculptures of people, animals, and natural or abstract forms dot the area around the building. So do antic work and driftwood pieces by The Mad Potter, aka Bill O’Callaghan. Indoors, visitors will discover David Geiger’s art. Most recently this protean artist has been casting glass sculpture, including spread-winged angels and small houses. Kathy Poehler has made seaweed her medium, and from Zimbabwe, Margie Wallace has sent her exquisite porcelain tableware. The list of artists and types of work – Sandy Turner’s farm animals, for instance – could go on much longer.

If fair-traded Shona art has provided Gossamer Gallery’s signature, Ms. Merry says, “I want people to realize we have more than just African sculpture.”

Because drivers tend to barrel down the straight stretch of South Road where Gossamer is located, Ms. Merry looks for occasions to entice people to stop. She is planning plein air demonstrations, including her own marbling work. A trunk show of wearable art is in the works, and August will bring an opening of art by the late abstract expressionist Albert Alcalay, who summered on-Island for many years. It has been made available by his widow Vera Alcalay.

“I’m really excited about that,” Ms. Merry says. Picnic dinners with music are another possibility. In the meantime, Ms. Merry has her little garden next to the gallery, where she is growing tomatoes.

Gay Head Gallery combines art and environment

Specializing in contemporary art and photography, the Gay Head Gallery, located at 32 State Road near the farthest end of the Island, makes it home in a handsome old Vineyard house. It has re-opened after a 10-year hiatus. It’s a gallery with a mission.

“Art can connect people to the intrinsic value of the natural environment,” says owner Megan Ottens-Sargent, who ran the Gallery for many years with her late husband Bill Sargent.

Gay Head Gallery offers an array of local and regional artists, including Doug Kent, Wendy Weldon, Linda Thompson, Julia Purinton, Katherine Zens Twombley, Scott Cameron, Gloria Burkin and Vasha Brunelle, along with photography, sculpture and other works. It plans two major art events over the summer. The first is called “MegaFauna: African Elephants, North Atlantic Right Whales and Wolves––the Land and Waters.” “Mega-Fauna” opens Sunday, July 22 and runs through August 10. The second, “Endangered Land and Seascapes: The Intrinsic Value of Wild Nature,” comes in August

For the MegaFauna show, Ms. Ottens-Sargent plans to spotlight a group of artists who have a deep commitment to issues of conservation, sustainability and the environment, both in their work and their personal lives.

Another artist who will show at the Gallery is Brooklyn-based Zaria Forman, who works in pastel concentrating on water and clouds. As a child, Ms. Forman traveled all over the world with her fine-arts landscape photographer mother, the late Rena Bass Forman. Her connection to the Gay Head Gallery came through a friendship between Islander Valerie Sonnenthal and the artist’s late mother. Visiting remote landscapes fostered Ms. Forman’s passion for water and the environmental concerns around it.

“I’m really excited to be in the exhibit,” Ms. Forman says. She hopes to evoke the viewer’s compassion for environmental issues through her work.

“Each show benefits featured non-profits not only through the sale of art, but by attracting members, volunteers and donors to the conservation organization,” Ms. Ottens-Sargent says.