With the iffy weather and brief lull before the true beginning of summer on Martha’s Vineyard, now may be the ideal time to visit Oak Bluffs’ newest enterprise, the Barn Bowl and Bistro. Owners Sam Dunn, Bob Sawyer and Barry Reeves celebrated the establishment’s grand opening this past weekend with food, drinks, and most important, bowling. Oh, and art.
Walk into the Uncas Avenue establishment and you’ll be greeted at first by the cozy, dimly lighted atmosphere. But round the corner to the hostess counter, and you’ll be struck by slick lanes and shiny pins, and above that, spanning the entirety of the wall, a detailed rendition of the Aquinnah cliffs, illuminated brightly across five panels. The scene, painted by Dana Gaines, was originally part of a section of a map titled All About Martha’s Vineyard, which Mr. Gaines published 23 years ago, in 1992. The full map features intricately detailed renditions of iconic Vineyard locations, accompanied by historic information. As Mr. Gaines joked in an interview with The Times on Monday, “To actually hand-paint [the original image] at 55 feet long would be like [painting] the Sistine [Chapel] ceiling.” But with considerable dedication (and Photoshop), Mr. Gaines was able to scale the original image and print it onto five panels, forming the expansive mural.
The map All About Martha’s Vineyard was completed while Mr. Gaines was living on Chappaquiddick. “I got carried away with the detail,” he said, “as I always do.” In order to best depict the Aquinnah cliffs as seen from the ocean, he began by kayaking out into the Vineyard Sound and photographing the area. “I remember taping five or six photographs together to make that panorama,” he said. He then sketched the image on a large sheet of graph paper, transferred the sketch to the final poster (about 5 feet by 5 feet) and finally added color, using predominantly watercolor paint and colored pencils. The map was a time-consuming undertaking, considering that the cliffs were only one small portion of the whole, and each image on the map followed a similar process.
Mr. Gaines was initially worried, he said, that the expansion into the bowling-alley-sized mural would skew or injure the minute details of the piece, but numerous hours spent on Photoshop “cleaning it up” insured that no detail was sacrificed, and Mr. Gaines was happy with the results. He did not see the finished panels until one of the Barn’s “soft” openings, and admitted to being nervous before entering. “I was so relieved when I walked into the party; I was so nervous that it was going to be washed out or too light. I was very, very, happy to walk in and see how it looked.”
The nerves were justified. Mr. Gaines explained, “In the old style of printing, it was always terrifying — you’d just hope for the best when they’d start running things off the press, and it would never look like the original art. That’s gotten a lot better now.” The first printing of All About Martha’s Vineyard provided an example of this issue, which Mr. Gaines referred to as a “rookie mistake” on his part. It was his first foray into printing in color, and he was not present while the maps were printed. While they were made a bit too dark for his liking, Mr. Gaines’ audience met the maps with warm enthusiasm, unaware that they were anything other than what he must have intended. Aside from the new mural at the Barn, Mr. Gaines’ maps grace many Island walls and countless dining tables in the form of placemats.
Mr. Gaines grew up on the Vineyard, leaving to attend Williams College and obtain a B.A. in studio art before returning to join the Vineyard art community. Despite his work in architectural art (he’s also known for the line drawings used to illustrate the cover of The Real Estate Guide), Mr. Gaines had not met architect Sam Dunn prior to the Barn project. Mr. Gaines noted that Vineyard designer Carol Kolodny connected the two in November when she showed Mr. Dunn some of Mr. Gaines’ work, and the project commenced shortly after. Mr. Gaines said he felt that it was “serendipitous that Sam called me, and I dug this out and started looking at it again.” The project was completed by mid-January, and the panels were sent to U.S. Bowling Corp. to be printed.
The panels were printed as masking units, which cover the area above the lanes that disguise the pinsetters. The landscape murals are specific to the Vineyard and now we can reveal one of the most exciting features of the artwork, which has been kept under wraps. The five panels of the mural can be rotated to each display a different painting from across the other five towns on the Island, including representative scenes from Menemsha, Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and West Tisbury. Mr. Gaines printed the alternative pictures on the second side of the panels to show the breadth of the Island landscape. The panels can be rotated as Mr. Dunn, Mr. Reeves and, Mr. Sawyer see fit, so be sure to keep an eye out.
Dana Gaines’ artwork can be found and purchased online at gainesgraphics.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story omitted the name of Barry Reeves, one of three owners of the Barn, Bowl and Bistro.