You walk into the main exhibition room of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Overhead lights blaze with that artificial excitement projected at a Broadway musical. On all four walls, artwork assembled from unusual collage materials has been mixed and matched according to themes for each month of the year. The total effect is beautiful and absorbing.
The artists, all 11 of them, are residents of Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Many of them never considered a professional exhibition of their work would fill out a chapter of their lives. The individual who brought it together is in the alchemical role of being both a docent of the museum and a lifelong artist and teacher who has spearheaded an Art Club at Windemere every other Tuesday for 12 years.
Introducing Nancy Cabot: “I was born in Boston in 1941 and soon moved to Needham, yet the Vineyard always felt more like home,” she said. “Every June, after the last day of the school year, we would leave Needham for the Vineyard. Summers were spent at the family home, Glimmerglass,’built by my grandparents in 1903. The land has been in the family for over 300 years, originally the site of the Luce Mill on the Tiasquam. I attended Wellesley College for two years, studying art history. In 1961, I married Dan Cabot upon his graduation from Harvard. We spent the next 39 years [on staff] in boarding schools, in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, while we raised our three sons, Ray, Davies, and Ben.
“During the time we were in Pennsylvania, I attended Wilkes University, completing my B.A. in studio art. I then taught art at the Solebury School in Pennsylvania. My husband and I retired from Solebury in 1999, moving to the Vineyard full-time. At first we lived in the old summer home, and in 1972 built our own house on the property. I worked for many years at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury while my husband worked for the MV Times. I began volunteering at Windemere at the suggestion of Chilmark friend Gail Derrick. Since 2003, I have been going to Windemere twice a month to make art with the residents. I often take my granddaughter Violet with me.”
Enter museum directors Ann DuCharme and Katy Fuller and, on the Windemere end, recreation therapists Betsy Burmeister and Mary Holmes. Throw in grants from the Permanent Endowment Fund and Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank Charitable Fund, and Nancy Cabot was commissioned to put together a show of the art collected over her 12 years of service to Windemere.
The show itself was a daunting challenge to assemble. Ms. Cabot had stored away bags and bags of all the work collected over those dozen years. At the museum library, she spread out all the sheets of paper — hundreds of them — then, slowly spotting patterns, she saw her way clear to mounting tableaux of images depicting each month of the year.
Displays are unified by color, tone, and imagery. There’s the Fourth of July; a dreamscape of poppies; suitably subtle and drab hues for winter, with glimpses of holidays to add cheer. Ms. Cabot has supplied her artists with an interesting array of materials, everything from cotton pads to snipped sections of Cronig’s bags, to red Swedish candy fish (to be dipped in paint and deployed as stamps).
An eye-catching installation lies straight ahead as one enters the exhibit, a summery sand-castle motif, with cutouts from varying grades of sandpaper, arranged into castle turrets arrayed with colorful flags. Ms. Cabot pointed out that one of the artists had created the same look with brown paper towels, dampened and rearranged. Another had painted flowers amid the battlements, while a quirky artist daubed a Rapunzel figure in one of the high windows, red tears dripping down the castle walls.
“What I do to get people inspired,” Ms. Cabot explained, “is put together a sample myself. Then I direct them to the same materials and urge them to try their own version.” Thus, similarly themed canvases can be grouped to represent a “month in the life of a year.” Ms. Cabot pointed out that occasionally — and this always makes her proud — someone takes off on his or her own tangent. For one of the classes, Ms. Cabot had produced brocade-like wallpaper cut into vase shapes. Participants used colored tissue paper brushed with water and Elmer’s glue to yield flowers. Resident Elizabeth Mendolia looked at the supplies and announced she preferred to draw. She painted birds and sunshine, and her iconoclastic canvas hangs in pride of place.
Another entire spread, representing August, is devoted to red and pink poppies. Ms. Cabot explained, “I grow poppies in my garden. For that day’s class, I brought in a bouquet and directed the artists to a fresh batch of colored tissue, water, and glue.”
Opening day for the exhibition took place on May 4. Only three of the Windemere artists were able to attend: Helen Blasi, Barbara Alconada, and Kathleen Mackey. All three were delighted to see their own work, along with the art of their colleagues, and they also remarked on the wonders of the overhead lighting and how it caused the art to sparkle. Now that the weather shows every sign of turning springlike, the other artists will be given opportunities to view their work. And they are Elaine Christensen, Ron Green, Elizabeth Mendolia, Mary O’Rourke, Fran Maciel, Mildred Gault, Barbara Moment, and Helen Boufard.
“12 Months A Year — The Art of Windemere” will run through June 14 during regular museum hours, Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday, 12 to 5 pm. For more information, visit mvmuseum.org.