Martha’s Vineyard’s Featherstone bustles with art for all comers

Musical Monday provides a venue for local musicians.
File photo by Meg Higgins

Musical Monday provides a venue for local musicians.

Nestled into a dip at the top of a grassy hill between a cow pasture and a garden, Featherstone Center of the Arts, in Oak Bluffs, stands as a testament to the generosity and creativity of the Vineyard community.

Ann Smith, executive director at Featherstone, greets visitors to the gallery with the warmth of a person who loves her job. “We feel like there’s something to do here every day of the week, 12 months a year,” she says.

Featherstone’s filled-to-the-brim week features gallery shows, classes, camps, special events, and weekly music and flea markets.

Weekly Musical Mondays bring talent to Featherstone’s beautiful venue, a tree-sheltered outdoor stage whose surrounding hills serve as a natural amphitheater. The next show features Joanne Cassidy singing pop and soul on Monday, July 2 at 6:30 pm.

Every Tuesday the Flea and Fine Arts Markets includes more than 65 artists and vendors from 9:30 am to 2 pm. “It’s a great way to bring audiences to Featherstone,” said Ms. Smith. “Arriving for the crafts they often learn everything else that Featherstone offers.”

Featherstone’s most popular medium is in ceramics. With classes and open studio time for artists of all ages, the seven wheels and two kilns of the Pottery Studio bustle with activity. Other buildings house classes in mixed media, drawing, and painting.

Art shows housed in the Main Gallery rotate every two weeks. The Pebble Gallery, home to the off-season’s popular ukulele jams, hosts events and shorter duration shows that often feature more alternative art.

Poetry often takes the podium at Featherstone, and writers as high profile as Billy Collins and Naomi Shihab Nye have performed on Featherstone’s outdoor stage. On July 17, local poets Steve Ewing, Justen Ahren, Fan Ogilvie, and Dan Waters will be performing at 7pm for the Summer Festival of Poetry. Guest poets throughout the summer include Carolyn Forche and Terrence Hayes.

One of the highlights for the summer art scene is the Copley Society show. For the first time all 12 of the local members of the Copley Society will show their works together on the Island. This show’s opening is from 4 to 6 pm on Sunday, July 1. The show runs though July 18.

Featherstone was originally a horse farm owned in the 1990s by Mary Stevens and her husband Bill. When they were thinking of selling the property, Ms. Stevens was determined that the land not become condos. She had been involved in arts on the Island and used one of the buildings as a painting studio for herself and as a ceramics studio for her daughter, Sherry, who had built the outdoor brick kiln.

In 1996, Virginia Besse and her husband Arthur donated most of the money needed to buy 6.5 acres of the farm for what was then the Meetinghouse of the Arts and Featherstone Farm was turned into Featherstone Center for the Arts. The buildings of the farmhouse have since been converted to studios. The photography, monoprinting, and weaving studio still bears the dressings of its life as a horse barn, the stable dividers and ramps giving a rustic feel to the art space. The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchased an additional 18 acres of the farm that they lease to Vineyard farmers, leading to the iconic cow out front and a garden in the back.

The grounds are open to the public. “A lot of people come at lunch to sit, meditate, and find their center. They find it to be a very peaceful place,” said Ms. Smith. “The campus is pastoral. It makes you feel happy.”

Featherstone also has a variety of Summer Camp programs available for students age three to teen. The students are split into three different age groups and are given materials and tutoring to create art of their own.

“Ann and her mother, Francine, have the extraordinary ability to create shows that are marvelous…[Featherstone] has a wonderful facility that is open to every age group,” said local jeweler Richard Hamilton. “They’ve expanded horizons for the whole Vineyard in a way that nobody else has.”

For more information call 508-693-1850 or go to featherstoneart.org.