Last Friday the Martha’s Vineyard Museum opened its doors to the Island community and visitors for the 2015 summer season.
The accomplished African-American painter Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–98) and many of her selected Island works are one of the museum’s new exhibits this summer. The pieces in the exhibit are almost entirely works on loan from private and personal collections that have never been shown in public before. Among the attendees at the museum’s party was one of Ms. Mailou Jones’ nephews, Laurence Holland. “This is a great exhibit, with a lot of paintings, and some of these selections I have never seen before. It is really an honor to have the Vineyard, a place she so deeply loved, give her this honor,” said Mr. Holland.
The Island house Mr. Holland is spending his summer at was a studio built by Ms. Mailou Jones, located right off of Edgartown Road. When asked if he had some stories of his acclaimed artist aunt, Mr. Holland shared some sentiments that he carries close to his heart. “She wasn’t just an artist, she was my great aunt and an integral part of our family. Once, at a Thanksgiving, I was just sitting at the table with my sister, and she took out a sketch pad and started to draw my sister and me, and then just handed it to us as a Thanksgiving present.” He recalls being mesmerized by the ease with which she would do things like that, and how her whole house was filled with so much artwork, from top to bottom. Mr. Holland also remarked that his aunt’s favorite paintings were her vibrant Menemsha landscapes, representing calmness and solitude.
Ms. Mailou Jones won many jury prizes in her early years, and those award-winning pieces were submitted on her behalf by white friends, because black artists were not always allowed to enter competitions at the time. In 1937, the artist won a fellowship that led her to Paris, where the color of her skin didn’t matter. The experience encouraged her belief in her talent.
The second exhibit unveiled by the museum is “Identifying Eisenstaedt,” everyday Island images by Alfred Eisenstaedt, pioneering photojournalist. The display features captured images dating back to the early 1950s that Eisie (as everyone on the Island knew him) took of the less touristy side of the Vineyard. Some of the pictures show people voting in Edgartown, dancing at a church in West Tisbury, and even getting a haircut. The museum hopes that people who visit the exhibit will help them identify the subjects of the pictures. Toby Condliffe, a visitor to Friday’s event, was able to recognize some of the Islanders photographed, including painter and cartoonist Denys Wortman in his home at Hines Point, and Everett Donald Poole, father of Everett Poole, who appeared in a picture in Menemsha.
Additionally, Friday’s event saw the release of the book Island Stories: Highlights from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, written by chief Museum Curator Bonnie Stacy, which features photographs by West Tisbury photographer Wayne Smith, and is now available for purchase. The book shows 50 of the museum’s treasures, representing rich pieces of the Island’s history. A popular 1880s roller skate, the “Vineyard” model, is featured in the book; it was designed and manufactured by Samuel Winslow and sold all over the world, and was named after the Vineyard Roller Skating Rink, built in 1879. The establishment would hold gatherings for people to skate and listen to music played by the orchestras that Mr. Winslow would hire for entertainment. The rink was damaged beyond repair in 1892 by a fire, and never rebuilt.
Another piece that is part of the book’s collection is a signature quilt signed by familiar Island names, such as Fisher, Collins, Pease, Hammett, and more. Students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School are currently working with educators and curators to learn as much as possible about the mystery quilt and its makers, to unveil additional history about the Island.
One of the more exciting passages in the book is details on the museum’s new Vineyard Haven location, now in development. The new home will be at the former Marine Hospital, and not only will the addition significantly increase the space for exhibition with museum-quality climate control, but it will provide another space for the museum that is deeply rooted in the cultural and historical landscape of the Vineyard.