Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse is currently host to an art exhibition by Vineyard artist Michele Ortlip, going on now through Friday, August 7. The solo show is being held in the Playhouse’s Art Space in the Marilyn Meyerhoff Lobby.
According to a press release, the exhibit, titled “Mostly Cliffs, Sea and Sky: Favorite Vineyard Places,” will feature watercolors and pastels of Island scenery and landscapes that hold a special place in the artist’s heart. Originally from Fort Lee, N.J., Ms. Ortlip first visited the Vineyard at the age of 13 with family friends, and thought it to be a magical place. “I felt like I had been transported to another world. Arriving on the ferry and finding these magnificent cliffs and beaches, and the wild roses climbing on rock walls — it was all so amazing to me. I just knew that the Vineyard would play an important role in my life.” She moved to West Tisbury full-time in 1999 to raise her family, after spending nearly 20 years as a summer visitor and getting married on the Island. “The visual power of the Island can still take my breath away. I knew that this was where I wanted to live someday.”
Ms. Ortlip comes from a long line of celebrated artists. Her father, Paul D. Ortlip, was a well-known painter whose works hang in museums and private collections throughout the world, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Naval Historical Center. Ms. Ortlip’s grandfather and grandmother met at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and both had prolific professional careers as artists and illustrators.
Ms. Ortlip was the director of Four Generations Art Gallery in Vineyard Haven for several years. The gallery featured some of her family’s vast collection, and served as an artistic home on the Island for Ms. Ortlip’s father prior to his death in 2008. The gallery was the venue for several exhibits of her own work, and was part of an ongoing project to preserve the legacy of the family’s artistic heritage. The town of Fort Lee, N.J., where the family had a home and studio for parts of three generations, has a tremendous number of her family’s paintings and murals on public display, and is working with the family toward a goal of a permanent museum to honor the Ortlip family’s cultural contributions to the community.
Ms. Ortlip followed a career path in theater and film, primarily as a New York casting director for the past 30 years. However, she has always kept her hand and her heart in painting, as one would expect from someone who grew up surrounded by artists. “I am the youngest of five sisters,” said Michele, “and we grew up in an old house on the Palisades overlooking Manhattan. We had incredible vistas of the Hudson River from our property, and lots of open sky. I think that is partly why I was so drawn to the cliff and seascapes here; it makes me feel at home.” She added, “My sisters and I were always encouraged to express ourselves creatively. Our house was like growing up in an art school and gallery. My father held classes in his studio, and his paintings lined our living room walls. People would come to see the paintings, then head out to the deck to see the view. There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm everywhere.”
Much of Ms. Ortlip’s artwork through the years has been created during breaks from her regular work schedule. Of course, that meant that the Vineyard became a regular canvas for her vision and imagination. “I loved to bring my paints to the beach. Still do. The Island scenery just touches a part of my soul, and inspires me like no other place. Before I had children, the Island was where my batteries were recharged, and that included taking time to focus on the here and now. I mostly paint in watercolors, because I love the spontaneity of the medium. There is that spark of inspiration, and I try to capture that feeling.”
The Playhouse was a natural location for Ms. Ortlip’s show: “I was thrilled when MJ [Bruder Munafo] invited me to have a show in the recently renovated Art Space.” Ms. Ortlip has always loved the organization, and has been part of the Playhouse “family” for many years, which includes helping with their New York casting. “I’m so proud of this theater and this amazing building that has been so beautifully restored. I’m so happy that it will be a wonderful cultural gathering place for future generations.”
Ms. Ortlip also directed one of the Monday Night Special play readings at the Playhouse, on July 27. The play is a new musical about cancer called “Club Meds,” which she has been helping develop in New York. “Let’s just say it will be a busy few days for me! The timing of the shows just days apart is purely coincidental. I’m so proud of the amazing variety of programs that the theater offers to our community.”
“Mostly Cliffs, Sea and Sky: Favorite Vineyard Places” will be on display through August 7 in the Art Space in the Marilyn Meyerhoff Lobby at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Some proceeds from the exhibit go to support the Playhouse and its many wonderful programs. Visit mvplayhouse.org or call the theater box office at 508-696-6300 for more information.