New roles for Martha’s Vineyard galleries

Robin Morse Nagle, director at North Water Gallery, uses the Internet frequently. — Photo by Angelina Godbout

Once upon a time galleries hung art on their walls, opened their doors, and waited for customers to walk in. Maybe it wasn’t really that simple, but in the 21st century, art establishments are finding new ways to bring together the work of their artists and the public. Take two Edgartown galleries as an example.

North Water Gallery’s director Robin Morse Nagle has dived into the Internet head-first. She uses e-vites (email invitations) the same way she would a flyer to keep customers apprised of upcoming shows.

“Facebook is free,” Ms. Nagle says. “I have people following the gallery there. It’s a way of having a dialogue visually.” She works to keep her Facebook wall fresh by changing it regularly. Over the winter, the gallery set up a game for Facebook where the first e-visitor to guess a North Water work from a detail or close-up won a prize.

When she gets a new painting, Ms. Nagle puts it up online. “I can see the reactions,” Ms. Nagle says. After a new Ray Ellis horse came in, for instance, she put it on the web. The horse received plenty of play; another painting, of New York, not so much. She can also learn what people are doing in the art world from the Internet. “To me, it’s a no-brainer. I enjoy it.”

North Water also reaches out to the public by letting potential buyers try a work in their home to see if it will work in their space with their lighting. A customer can even take two works and see which fits better.

“It’s a stress-free way to know for sure if the work is right for you,” Ms. Nagle says. “It’s kind of fun.” Since she arrived two years ago, Ms. Nagle has added table linens and pillows to the gallery as a way to bring in customers interested in different kinds of purchases. The gallery carries a Carol Maguire line, including napkins and tablecloths, and has planned a trunk show to extend its offerings.

Another way the gallery reaches out to the public is through “Coffee and Conversation” events. It has already held two for popular artist Ray Ellis. Mr. Ellis will be part of North Water’s next show, scheduled for August 9.

“It’s an opportunity for people to know Ray Ellis,” Ms. Nagle says. “He loves to hold court.” Of course, the word goes up on the Internet.

At Eisenhauer Gallery, also on North Water Street, owner Elizabeth Eisenhauer seconds the importance of the Internet and how it has come to play in her business. She uses the web a lot, and 20 percent of her gallery’s income comes from there.

“The gallery is the foreplay for the final lovemaking,” she says. For that reason, she counsels her staff not to feel disappointed if a customer walks out empty-handed.

Eisenhauer has built a name for itself by sponsoring music in the courtyard outside the gallery. The festive atmosphere Ms. Eisenhauer has created by sponsoring such events encourages the public to come and see what’s happening in her gallery. From her first gallery job, she took away her boss’s appreciation for arts in the plural sense. Once she opened her own gallery, she decided to transfer some of the catering budget to live music. It becomes a contribution to the community’s culture.

In Eisenhauer’s next musical event, the Jeremy Berlin Jazz Trio will perform on August 2 from 6 to 8 pm.

North Water Gallery, Edgartown. Call 508-627-6002 or visit

Eisenhauer Gallery, Edgartown. Call 508-627-7003 or visit