Great pickins at Chicken Alley on Martha’s Vineyard

Prospective buyers gather outside last year's art sale at the Martha's Vineyard Community Services Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Employees of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven, more familiarly known as Chicken Alley, have been hoarding treasures from among their donated goods all year. On Sunday, August 19, this treasure trove will be offered for sale at the 11th annual Chicken Alley Art Show.

And a lot more than art will be available. “We cull things all year long from what comes in,” Thrift Shop manager Sandy Pratt said. “If the volunteers see something that’s unusual, vintage, funky, or collectible, we put it all in a container, and about once a week we price it and store it for the sale.

“The concept is there is art in everything. Vintage cooking equipment, old tools are pleasing to look at.”

Among the treasures this year are a pair of handmade snowshoes, an old knot-tying collection in a macramé frame, a Rolex watch, Washington Ledesma pottery, a leopardskin pillbox hat, chenille bedspreads, vintage fair posters, and lots of art books. A few local artists also contribute work to the fundraising effort. Artist Enos Ray, who regularly provides something, is executing a jazz-themed painting for the sale. Around 2,000 items — about half of them artworks — will be available, according to Ms. Pratt.

The Chicken Alley Art Show was launched 11 years ago at the suggestion of summer resident Olga Hirshhorn. The art collector, philanthropist, and widow of Joseph Hirshhorn who founded the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum has been a Thrift Shop regular for many years. At one point she purchased a small oil painting there, which now hangs in her art-filled Vineyard Haven home.

“She said, ‘You have great art here. You should let people know about it,'” Ms. Pratt recalled. The first art show was hosted like a gallery reception with wine and cheese and a small crowd. Since then, the show has become a highly anticipated event that draws hundreds of people.

The art show provides funding for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, an organization that helps approximately 6,000 Vineyarders annually through five core services, including mental health counseling, addiction rehabilitation, childcare, parenting skills, disability services, and elder outreach. Last year the fundraising brought in almost $30,000.

The shop also uses the show as turnover time for their wares. Ten days prior to the sale, they offer everything at half off. What doesn’t go at marked-down prices is removed to make way for new merchandise. The shop gets a thorough cleaning and fresh paint job, starting on the Wednesday before the show.

A large corps of community members is needed to pull this all together. “We’re the only group I know of that actually mounts the effort to do something this large by ourselves with an army of volunteers,” Ms. Pratt said. “It takes three days to unpack everything and display it.”

After the show, unsold art show items are available at the shop for a week to 10 days, before new stock is displayed and the shop returns to business as usual.

The annual show has become so popular that it now attracts an early arrival mob. Bargain hunters and art collectors arrive as early as 10 am and wait for up to three hours, hungrily eyeing goods being set up just beyond their reach and rushing the door at opening time to snatch up prizes like frantic Black Friday shoppers.

“The free-for-all doesn’t last all afternoon,” Ms. Pratt said “By 2:30 the rush is over, it’s quite civilized, and there’s still a lot there for everybody.”

Not only does the selection include a wide range from housewares and clothing to art and home décor, the prices range from $3 to $1,200 for the most expensive item this year — a triptych map of the Island that once hung on the porch at Blue Heron Farm. But don’t expect to find the store to be giving anything away. Year-round art show curator Inas al-Soqi, who will head to New York the day after the Chicken Alley show to attend Sotheby’s Institute of Art, conducts online research in pricing the goods. An effort is made to keep prices reasonable.

“We’ve got something for everybody. It’s a fun event and, most of all, it supports a vital part of our community,” says Ms. Pratt,

Ms. Hirshhorn will be on hand, as always. A longtime supporter of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, she is very pleased with the way the show has grown over the years. “We have a fantastic collection of art works this year,” she says, “It’s the best buy in town.”

Chicken Alley Art Show, Sunday, August 19, 1 to 5 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Thrift Shop, 38 Lagoon Pond Rd., Vineyard Haven. For information, call 508-693-2278.