Brandon Mayhew Wight, known as Brandy, died peacefully at home at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2017. He would have been 102 years old in May. A celebration of his life will be held later this year on the Vineyard.
Brandon Mayhew Wight was born in Pawtuxet, R.I., and graduated in interior design and architecture from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1937. He worked in that field in New York City, Baltimore, and Dubuque, Iowa (where he sold so much carpeting door to door that he purchased a brand-new Studebaker!). In New York he worked for Baker Furniture Co. under Hollis Baker Sr.
WWII intervened, and he was sent to camouflage school so as to utilize his art training. He was sent to the South Pacific, first to Okinawa and then to Saipan, as head of the motor pool. (He was very happy with this, however, as it gave him use of a Jeep.) His unit crushed the coral and built the runways for the B-29s to use on their way to Japan.
After the war he returned to New York City, working first for Baker Furniture and then in the furniture department of the Manhattan store of Lord & Taylor. During this time, he and friends went to Europe several times, always purchasing decorative items. A friend suggested that they leave New York and open a shop on Martha’s Vineyard, where they could dispose of some of their European purchases and items Brandy had brought back from the war.
Why Martha’s Vineyard? Brandy’s father’s maternal family was from there; his grandmother Mayhew was born on the Vineyard in an area known as Windy Gates, later the estate of Roger Baldwin, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Mayhew family on Martha’s Vineyard dates back to the 1640s, when Thomas Mayhew was made governor. Childhood summers were spent on the Vineyard visiting relatives. Brandy’s mother and father had retired to a Mayhew homestead on Music Street, West Tisbury. With high hopes, Brandy and his partner opened in a small lower-level space in Edgartown. Based on where he had visited and purchased things, it was called the Flea Market, after the Marche aux Puces in Paris, and was a kind of boutique, the first on Martha’s Vineyard, selling items from abroad. Shortly after the opening, a hurricane hit Martha’s Vineyard, and floodwaters poured into the shop. Other shop owners had helped move merchandise to higher ground, so most was saved. Then another hurricane hit, with the same results. But the season gave them hope to plan for another year.
One advantage to the location was that it was on the small road to the Chappaquiddick ferry. People coming and going from there stopped in, and soon Brandy was well-known to Chappaquiddickers. One such couple were Vance and Virginia Packard, he the author of such books as “The Hidden Persuaders,” “The Status Seekers,” and “The Waste Makers,” and she an artist. Here Brandy also got to know Clare and Betty Barnes and their children.
By 1960, seeking more space and a year-round population, they bought a three-story building in the port town of Vineyard Haven, renovating it into two floors of shop with an apartment on top, with a view of the entire Vineyard Haven Harbor. The second floor became a gallery of antique furniture and artwork. Paintings were hung over pieces of furniture as if in a home, not just on walls with nothing below. One of the first artists featured was Virginia Packard. In time her audience grew to the point that there was a long line waiting for the doors to open!
An early supporter was the actress Katharine Cornell. She brought her houseguests in, and would often playfully stand in one part of the shop and call out to her guests, such as Noël Coward or Vivien Leigh: “Noël, o Noël Coward! Over here, it’s me, Kit Cornell!” She said she knew it was good for business. And it was: Word got around that if you wanted to see celebrities, you should go to the Flea Market. Others brought their houseguests: Opera star Beverly Sills brought actor Joel Grey, actress Ruth Gordon brought Katharine Hepburn, etc. Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, who had come to admire Brandy’s displays, came in every August when he got off the ferry to ask, “Who’s on the Island now?” Brandy relished these contacts, as he was a theatre buff, his first Broadway show being “The Cat and the Fiddle,” in 1932.
By the mid-1970s the Vineyard had been discovered, and crowds of day-trippers jammed the sidewalks and streets, keeping away many of the residents who simply did not want to cope. It became evident that it was time to move.
Parking was now an issue. Brandy and Bruce Blackwell searched for a new location out of town, but it was difficult, because zoning restricted the location of business, and most of the areas were already filled. They eventually found an old red barn with almost an acre of grass for parking in the middle of the Island, in the town of West Tisbury. Although it was in need of repair, they bought it, as it was grandfathered for business by zoning. Part of the barn had been used for grain storage, and had wire cloth (a small chicken wire) around the top, bottom, and sides to keep the rodents out. Brandy saw this as an ideal medium for hanging paintings, and he and Bruce whitewashed it. With S hooks, it was perfect! The couple decided to change the name of the business to the Granary Gallery at the the Red Barn. Although the gallery was sold in 1996, it maintains the name and look.
The gallery became a destination, and attracted more celebrities: Walter and Betsy Cronkite, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Taylor and Carly Simon, president of M.I.T. Dr. Jerome Wiesner and his wife Laya, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his wife Gay, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Onassis, and others. Of special importance was a visit from President Bill Clinton, along with Hillary and Chelsea. They came to view photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt, and to meet him, as he was having a show and sale of his signed photographs at the Granary Gallery. From that visit, when Brandy and Bruce gave the president a historical document, a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on toile circa 1800, came his invitation to visit the White House, where Brandy celebrated his 80th birthday in the Oval Office.
The Granary Gallery has received the Best of the Vineyard award for art gallery or antique shop every year since the awards have been given out.
A notable event was attending the final birthday party for the Shah of Iran at the embassy in Washington, with friends Frank and Jayne Ikard. The interior of the building was encrusted with pieces of ceramic and mirrors. The buffet table was a huge rectangle around a courtyard. From a distance it appeared that there were bass players at the four corners. When they got closer, the bass players turned out to be sides of beef, standing on the ground with the leg upright, and carvers! One room was devoted to desserts; another held the bar (of course alcohol is forbidden in the Muslim world).
In recent years Brandy had been vacationing in the Smoky Mountains, where as recently as age 96 he went whitewater rafting and hot-air ballooning.
After moving to Oak Hammock, Brandy enjoyed the Performing Arts Center, the Gainesville Community Playhouse, the Hippodrome State Theatre, and other area cultural venues. In fact, just 14 days before his death he attended a concert, the Ariel Quartet at the University of Florida. It was one of the 18 concert tickets purchased for this season.
Burial was in Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, a green cemetery. Countryside Funeral Home prepared the body. No superfluous caskets, liners, etc. Just wrapped in a cotton shroud tied with native vines, brought to the gravesite on a wagon pulled by a man. No headstones, just a small brass marker with name and dates.
The family suggest these charities for remembrance: The Benevolent Fund at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, 5100 SW 25th Blvd., Gainesville, FL 32608, which is a 501(c)(3) charity for those Oak Hammock members whose resources have been exhausted; and Haven Hospice, 4200 NW 90th Blvd., Gainesville, FL 32606-3809, havenhospice.org.