Featherstone celebrates 18 years and counting

From left: Ann Smith, director; Nancy Blank, artist and instructor; Francine Kelly, director emeritus; and Amy Custis, gallery staff. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

In 1996, an association named Meetinghouse for the Arts purchased the six and a half acres on Barnes Road that now house the Featherstone Center for the Arts, the nonprofit dedicated to promoting the arts and developing community through the arts. Now 18 years later, Featherstone has expanded its facilities, programming and schedule of classes, the scope of arts represented, and the number of artists and community members it serves. To celebrate the anniversary, the main gallery is hosting a show called 18 x 18, which features work those dimensions (in inches) or smaller. The current show, which includes the work of 53 artists, is one among a 2014 schedule of 16 group shows plus 11 solo shows in the smaller Pebble gallery.

That’s quite a change from the days when Francine Kelly took on the job as executive director in 2003. At that time, the gallery was open two days a week and hosted two shows a year. Now the main gallery is open every day, 11 months out of the year, and hosts a themed show every two and a half weeks. This year’s shows include themes set around media — photography, ceramics, sculpture, pastels, graphic arts — as well as concepts — flowers, animals, poetry in art. This range gives a chance for artists from many sectors to participate. And that includes both amateurs and professionals. Every show is non-juried and open to all.

“The great part about being a community art center is that there are always new artists coming,” said Ann Smith, Featherstone’s current director. “From the novice to the professional, they hang side by side. It’s a nice setting for those who are just starting out. I think the best thing about Featherstone is that great sense of community.” She points out that the openings provide artists with the opportunity to mix and mingle. “They get to know the other artists and their patrons.”

Last Sunday, at the opening for the current show, a number of the artists attended and there was a good mix of both the well-known and newcomers among Vineyard artists.

Jean Cargill was showing for the first time at Featherstone. Her delicate little watercolors feature nature scenes, a natural subject for the former biologist who now lives on the edge of the Southern Woodlands, the area where Featherstone is located.

“I’ve always liked being out in the woods,” says Ms. Cargill, who hikes through the surrounding trails every day. “I’ve always had something to do with nature. The thing with my artwork is I have to be consistent with nature. If someone paints a six petal flower with five petals it really irks me.” Despite the small dimensions of her watercolors, every detail is correct, including the number of needle clusters in a picture of a pine tree with crows.

Many of the participants at the shows are students. The arts campus offers dozens of classes that operate all year long.

Chetta Kelley has been taking classes for many years — both as a summer resident and since she relocated full time to Vineyard Haven four years ago. Ms. Kelley has studied various mediums with a number of Featherstone’s art teachers. “It’s so much fun,” she says. “The diversity of all the teachers makes it really like going to an art school.” Ms. Kelley’s interesting oil painting of a storm at sea viewed from the perspective of a man taking refuge under a blanket on the beach shows the inspiration of a natural artist with the skill of a trained professional.

Some artists use the individual shows as a chance to experiment with new mediums. Linda Thompson, an accomplished artist who is known for her landscapes in oil, contributed three small acrylic paintings on wood and masonite. “These are all the birds in my backyard,” she explained, pointing to the charming primitive depictions of turkeys, pheasants, and guinea hens. “Someone gave me some acrylics for Christmas. I’ve never painted with acrylics.”

Ms. Thompson is a frequent contributor to Featherstone shows, as is ceramicist and painter Washington Ledesma, who has given classes at the arts campus for eight years and has been showing his work there for five or six. “I have promised to participate in any shows that are relevant to my work,” he said. He is currently showing two small nudes that are a bit of a realist departure from his fantasy work. “It’s a nice way to participate because you support the whole community on the Island.”

Throughout the years, Featherstone has expanded to include the performing arts and even writers. “Featherstone was meant to support Island artists and create a community for Island artists,” Ms. Smith said. “From that we can define it as broadly or narrowly as we wish. We’ve chosen to define it broadly. Our main commitment is to the visual arts, but we’ve grown to be a venue for the other arts as well.”

Among the events scheduled for this summer are poetry readings, open air opera, the popular musical Mondays series, and the Tuesday Flea and Fine Arts Market, which has grown from a gathering of six vendors in 2003 to 70 participants plus a waiting list for this summer.

Coming up next at the gallery is a show that is truly all-inclusive. The show will feature selfie photos. All are invited to send their self-portrait pictures to featherstone@featherstonearts.org.

The 18×18 show runs daily, 12 noon to 4 pm, through March 19. The entire Featherstone 2014 schedule of shows, classes, and events is currently posted on its website, featherstoneart.org.