Anne Gallagher makes art her passion

Anne Gallagher stands next to an array of the art she has collected over the years. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Artist, activist, supporter, friend, collector – if an activity involves art, Anne Gallagher’s name will rise to the top like cream. The Oak Bluffs summer resident’s longtime devotion to art and the Vineyard will be recognized on Friday, August 3, when she receives the first Inspiration Award from the Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater.

The award, an engraved sculpture, pays tribute to Ms. Gallagher as a Martha’s Vineyard leader who has maintained an extraordinary commitment to Island arts and artists. Chaired by Olga Hirshhorn, the ceremony to honor Ms. Gallagher will launch three days of opera. The one-act opera “Gianni Scicchi” will be performed.

Ms. Gallagher’s involvement with art began early. As a youngster, she would hop aboard the Chicago ‘L’ (elevated train) and head for the Institute for Art, sketchbook in hand, to take art classes. She majored in art at Bennington College, then took courses in art history at Harvard University and Lincoln’s DeCordova Museum after marriage brought her to the Boston area.

During that period of her life, Ms. Gallagher put her expertise to work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where she lectured for 20 years in every gallery except, she says, Early American Furniture. Children in particular have benefited from her insights and enthusiasm about art.

One life-changing experience came while she was lecturing at the museum to a group of gifted middle-school students from Chelsea. At their twice-a-month meetings, the students would tell her what they wanted her to lecture on. But on one occasion a student asked if he could talk about abstract expressionist Jackson Pollack’s triptych. Why not, Ms. Gallagher decided.

The boy had visited the museum to study the Pollack on a Saturday when admission was free. “The first thing I heard is a Bach fugue,” he said, referring to the painting, then asked the rest of the students what the painting’s theme was. His commentary dazzled a lecturer who had taught in front of that particular work for 18 years.

“It blew me away,” said Ms. Gallagher. “He took those kids right inside that painting.” When she sat in the cafeteria with the class later, she asked them what they’d like to do in the future. Not one of them said college, because they came from families that couldn’t afford it.

“Each one of you is smarter than I am,” Ms. Gallagher said. “Every college in the U.S. has scholarship money for you.” One member of the class ended up attending M.I.T., and it is hard not to believe Ms. Gallagher provided the inspiration. After relocating to Marco Island, Fla., for the winter, Ms. Gallagher transferred her art teaching skills to the public school system there.

Ms. Gallagher bought her first work of art when she was 12 years old, a small painting by a Cuban artist from a Cape Cod gallery. “I paid for it with my allowance,” she says, and she’s been collecting art ever since. When art dealer and consultant Diane McManus Jensen, a fellow Vineyard summer resident, compiled “The Art of Collecting,” she included a chapter on Ms. Gallagher and her collection of contemporary regional art.

“Never buy a painting to match your couch or go over your mantel,” Ms. Gallagher says. She describes her own collection as eclectic, always led by a gut reaction to the work. She discovered sketches at the Thrift Shop for one of the late Tom Maley’s celebrated sculptures playing outdoors next to the Field Gallery.

Ms. Gallagher’s enthusiasm has led to friendships with artists such as Allen Whiting, and she laughs about the time at a dinner party, when a guest who didn’t know who Mr. Whiting was asked him what he did. “I raise sheep,” he said.

Although she never turned professional herself, Ms. Gallagher continues to make art and take art classes. Among them is the life figure workshop started by Mr. Maley. After the artist died, Ms. Gallagher made sure the classes continued. They now take place Tuesday mornings at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

Besides art, Ms. Gallagher has found time to work for former governor Michael Dukakis’s wife, Kitty, among other political activities, and to serve on many Island boards, including the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Vineyard Conservation Society, and Featherstone Center for the Arts. Her enthusiasm leads her to embrace much.

On August 3, 4, and 5, the theme will be Puccini’s one-act opera, “Gianni Schicchi.” Think of Ms. Gallagher as one of the stars to take her place among singers Janinah Burnett, Robert Mack, and Kenneth Overton.

Anne Gallagher Celebration, Friday, August 3, 6 pm, Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs. 646-872-7249.