Painters among the roster at Martha’s Vineyard Artisans Festivals

John Holladay, one of several Island painters who exhibit at the Artisans Festival, often sketches visitors. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

The twice-weekly Artisans Festivals in West Tisbury host a number of painters whose subject matter and media vary as much as their reasons for choosing that particular venue for their work.

Rachel Paxton creates unique works in acrylics and mixed media. Her multi-layered images often include birds, butterflies, and boats. “They all have a spiritual or mystical metaphor, which relates to memory, the passage of time and the cycle of life,” she says. The works include design elements taken from gravestone rubbings or copied from wallpaper or old tin ceilings, as well as found objects like pieces of hand-dyed maps or sheet music.

James Streicher Evans sets up an easel in his indoor exhibit space and paints while chatting to visitors. The Island-born, former Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student executes surprisingly mature landscapes in oil. His style is simple, his subjects varied — from a serene up-Island pasture with cows to an impressionistic nighttime scene of the Vineyard Haven Harbor from a distance.

Although Mr. Evans, who has a studio in Vineyard Haven where he works when not at the Artisans Festival, has been approached in the past about showing in galleries, he is happy for now working on his own. “I used the past two or three years to learn and develop as a painter,” he says, “and the Artisans Festival has helped me do that. There are no expectations. I’m my own boss.”

On the other hand, Dan VanLandingham, another young artist, owes his presence in two local art galleries to connections he made at the Artisans Festival. Both Don McKillop of the Dragonfly Gallery, and Michael Hunter, who owns PIKNIK Art & Apparel, discovered Mr. VanLandingham at the festival. Mr. VanLandingham, who has been lauded as one of the most promising Vineyard artists, paints in two distinctive styles. He executes striking emotional landscapes with lots of dramatic sky, which he shows at Dragonfly. His more contemporary work — some abstracts, some realist urban landscapes — are featured at both PIKNIKs.

Brandon Newton also uses the bi-weekly festival as a networking opportunity, but the connections he most values are those with other artists. A successful oil painter from Virginia, Mr. Newton moved to the Vineyard this past spring.

“I’ve been having a fantastic time,” he says, “Not only have I been able to sell paintings. I have met two of the most amazing people — Dan VanLandingham and [photographer] Ben McCormick. Both are turning into very good friends. I figured the art market here was going to be a healthy one, but you don’t realize the kind of friendships that are going to come out of it.” Since moving here, Mr. Newton has produced dozens of impressionistic local landscapes, which he shows both at the Festival and at the North Water Gallery in Edgartown.

Prolific artist John Holladay displays examples of his wide variety of work in many media. On display in his booth are large colorful acrylics of flowers, watercolor landscapes and whimsical cartoons, as well as his most recent line of cut-out 3D cartoons. “I can’t get my yin and my yang together,” jokes Mr. Holladay about the range of his styles.

Along with his striking still lifes and moody, luminous landscapes, Mark Zeender, who has also shown his work at a number of local galleries, offers small abstract works created from pieces of old paint palettes. “Whenever I see something that could be a semi-abstract flower, I cut it out and press it onto a small canvas.”

Irish-born Joan Walsh offers a variety of items from cards of the Flying Horses carousel to a few of the children’s books that she has illustrated. The watercolor artist has on display a variety of scenes from around the Island and from her native Ireland, and she also promotes her pet portrait business.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to any painter selling his or her own work at the Artisans Festival is enjoying a break from the solitary life of an artist. “A lot of the time when you’re working, you’re all by yourself. The Artisans Festival gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of people and also gives them a chance to meet the artists,” says Ms. Walsh.

Vineyard Artisans Festivals, 10 am–2 pm, Grange Hall, West Tisbury. 15th annual season. Work by 70+ Vineyard artisans: art, jewelry, furniture, pottery, more. Thursdays through Aug. 30, Sundays through Sept. 30.