Artists breathe new life into former West Tisbury police station

Artists David Wallis (left) and Ken Vincent are the new tenants of the former West Tisbury Police department building. — Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen last week chose Vineyard landscape artists Kenneth Vincent and David Wallis to be the new tenants of the former West Tisbury police station building next to Mill Pond on the Edgartown Road. They will lease the building for five years at $600 per month.

There were five bidders in total interested in the 1,000-square-foot, weathered building vacated when the police moved into their new station house on State Road in March. Selectmen chose the two painters at their December 17 meeting over Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) MV. The continuing education group proposed to use the space as its main office with a full-time staff of one and several part-time staff. The vote was two to one in favor of the Island artists.

At the Wednesday meeting, selectman Richard Knabel spoke in favor of renting to ACE MV because of its value to the community as an educational group. He said the choice between the two bidders “was essentially a draw.”

Selectmen Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Cynthia Mitchell voted in favor of the two artists, who they said contributed to the cultural goals of the town, and offered more money and a longer-term lease. The ACE MV bid was for 3-year term at $500 per month.

New canvas

The artists will use the old station as a painting studio and have no plans to display or sell their work there but hope to begin a mentoring program for a few select young artists in the future. Both men exhibit their work at the nearby Granary Gallery on Old County Road, where Mr. Wallis is the gallery manager.

In conversations with The Times both artists expressed surprise and elation with the news of their winning bid.

“When we applied I thought we didn’t have a chance to get it,” Mr. Vincent said. “We were just taking a stab in the dark. I am super excited. It is heated, and has natural light and ventilation and is only a mile from my home. I have only painted above ground one year in my career. It is a beautiful spot and we will be across the street from Rez Williams.” Mr. Williams is a well-known painter.

Born on the Island, Mr. Vincent’s Vineyard family roots go back many generations. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and paints primarily in oil. He also illustrates children’s books in addition to the landscapes he is best known for.

He lives in West Tisbury with his wife and two children. For the last three years he has taught art at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School at the junior high and high school level.

Mr. Wallis said he and Mr. Vincent were “stunned” to get the space. “It’s a dream come true,” Mr. Wallis said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. We feel like we have won the lottery. We hope we will be able to stay there forever.

“Imagine being an artist and being represented at one of the finest galleries on the Island and then having your studio at the Mill Pond where you could lean a fly rod at the corner of the building and say, you know, I’m just going to stretch my legs and cast a few after the trout have been stocked in the pond.”

Mr. Wallis studied commercial illustration at Syracuse University and moved to the Vineyard in 1992. He is the president of Vineyard youth soccer and lives in Oak Bluffs with his wife and two children. He has painted from a garage studio on Stonewall Pond in Chilmark for 20 years. “It has been a long commute,” he said.

The artists expect to move in sometime in January after the paperwork with the town is completed.

The bidding

Selectmen issued a request for proposals (RFP) to rent the building in October. The minimum monthly rent was set at $500. Lease terms included no residence, no kitchen, and an occupancy limit of an average of four persons daily on an annual basis. There is parking for only three vehicles on the .32-acre parcel of land. The RFP asked that bidders provide a service to enhance the cultural, environmental, and recreational needs of the town and the Island.

Selectmen excluded two of the five bidders based on traffic. Dr. Judith Fisher, a primary care doctor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, proposed leasing the space for use as a health consultancy office that would be home to a physician, administrative staff, and potentially one medical assistant or home care nurse.

Artist Robert Hauck proposed a work-studio with a public dimension. The building would have been a place where artists could meet and interact.

The fifth bidder, Peter Johnson of Vineyard Haven, was excluded from further consideration because he did not provide the town with the required tax compliance certification. Mr. Johnson, a fisherman and owner of the well known Robert’s Lures, proposed using the building to assemble, package and ship his products.

In other town business Wednesday, selectmen voted unanimously to increase the hourly pay of election workers, constables and the warden from $8 and $9 to $9 and $10 respectively, in 2015 and to $11 and $12 in 2016. Town clerk Tara Whiting presented the proposal and said the town pays less than any other Island town. She said the poll workers had not had a raise in at least 10 years.