“Bountiful” is a feast of facts and photos

— Photo courtesy of Alan Brigish

“Bountiful,” the lush new book by Susan Klein and Alan Brigish combines a wealth of decades-spanning photographs with the fascinating story of how the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and the Livestock Show and Fair took root and thrived. A rich tribute to agricultural tradition on the Island, the volume presents the 150-plus-year saga in captivating detailed narrative. There are bright contemporary photos showing every favorite aspect of The Fair and fascinating images of Fairs long past. Views of Ag Society events including potlucks, dances, festivals and the 1995 barn raising and historical images of farmers in their fields add more depth.

It all began two years ago when Ms. Klein needed some Fair background for “Now and Zen”, an earlier collaboration with Mr. Brigish. Learning that no complete history existed, she was inspired to write one. Ms. Klein and Mr. Brigish submitted a proposal, and in February, 2011, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society commissioned them to write the book. Publication was to be in time for this year’s Fair.

“We did the book in 16 months, which is madness,” laughed Ms. Klein in a recent interview.

The collaborators soon discovered that historical documents, photos, and information were extremely limited. Although the Ag Society owned a number of old Fair Premium Books, many were missing, as were the organization’s oldest meeting minutes and records. Historical photos seemed non-existent, and only a few snapshots from the more recent past could be found. To their amazement, no one had a complete poster collection.

Disappointed but determined, the pair reached out. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum (MVM) scheduled two days last winter inviting anyone with fair photos, documents, or stories to share them. Images were scanned for the museum collection but made available for the book. Community members searched in files and albums and attics for contributions.

Islanders telephoned, like Ann Burt of West Tisbury, who offered a placard bearing the 1946 Fair schedule.

Ms. Klein termed the task of researching the history of the Agricultural Society and Fair from 1858 to the present “a long and arduous process.” She studied decades worth of Vineyard Gazettes on microfilm, looked through dozens of premium books. Fortunately, collections of writings by Henry Whiting and Leavitt Thaxter, major figures in The Fair’s beginnings, had been preserved at the museum. She went through three boxes of papers from the society’s early years and conducted some 60 interviews.

It was even more challenging for Mr. Brigish. Although he had shot countless photos at The Fair and other Ag Society events in the past few years, and other slightly older images could be found in publications and snapshots contributed by Fairgoers, he had hardly any visual records earlier than 1940. Also, donated photos were often not in usable condition.

Then came what he calls “The Big Find.” Museum staff discovered a treasure trove of images stored away. The 1,163 historic glass transparencies of old Vineyard scenes had been saved from a trash heap by the late Basil Welch in the 1950s. They were given to the museum in the 1990s, where they were carefully wrapped, labelled, and set aside. The collaborators went through the collection and found many relating to their subject.

“This made the project come alive,” said Mr. Brigish.

Still, he had much more work to do as many of the images had begun to deteriorate. He painstakingly restored them on the computer, often bringing out details that were not at first visible.

All the while the pair were pushing for a strict August deadline. They had high praise for copy editor/proofreader Susanna Sturgis and their designer, Jennifer Daddio of Bookmarks Design and Media Inc. in New York City. The final steps, though completed on computer, were challenging too. Mr. Brigish and Ms. Klein had to choose from some 500 photos, then meld images with text. At last, the material was ready, and the books were printed by the Sherman Printing Company in nearby Canton.

“We’re delighted to say our books are made in the U.S.A. and in Massachusetts,” said Mr. Brigish.

The books arrived on August 2, and with barely a moment to breathe, Mr. Brigish and Ms. Klein had their first presentation and signing at the Ag Hall last week.

“Bountiful” will be sold at The Fair with the collaborators on hand. A second book event is set for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum on Sept. 11.Ms. Klein said that although “Bountiful” is packed with information, there is much more to be discovered.

“I hope this book inspires people to share their memories of the Ag Society and The Fair so we can create a more complete history,” said Ms. Klein.