ART Gallery brings Oak Bluffs Arts District to life

"Flying Horses" —Renee Balter

The ART Gallery, the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts’ (MVCVA) cooperative gallery in Oak Bluffs, opened for its second season earlier this month, and there have been a few changes. Two new artists have joined the fold, replacing three who have moved on to other ventures, and some of the established artists have taken new directions in their work. Already the gallery is experiencing brisker traffic and more sales than in its freshman year.

“I feel the difference already in the neighborhood,” says coordinator Holly Alaimo, who previously owned the Dragonfly Gallery in the area that is referred to as the Oak Bluffs Arts District. “It just feels like it’s coming alive again. We have such a great group of artists.”

The two new members of the co-op are both established artists who will bring further diversity to an already eclectic mix.

Ruth Kirchmeier designs beautiful one-of-a-kind woodcut prints, created by building up multiple areas of color using meticulously carved wood blocks. Her images range from charming Vineyard scenes to Van Gogh–like floral still lifes. Kirchmeier has earned quite a following on the Island, where she has shown at the Hermine Merel Smith, Shaw Cramer, and Carol Craven Galleries. Currently she is represented by the Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah.

“Having Ruth here is a real plus,” says Alaimo. “She really makes a big statement in the art community.”

Like all of the ART Gallery members, Kirchmeier puts in time manning the shop. She is enjoying the experience of meeting with her customers personally, and working with the other artists. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to hang what I want to hang and be part of a group,” she says.

The other new partner is Joanie LeLacheur, who for years has been crafting exquisite, unique wampum jewelry and mosaic tiles.

The two women are joining a group that includes painters Marston Clough, Anna Lowell Finnerty, Renee Balter, and Elizabeth Lockhart Taft, potter and furniture maker Bill O’Callaghan, ceramicist Heather Goff, clothing designers Nancy Shaw Cramer and the mother/daughter team of Kenworthy Designs, and botanical collagist Peggy Turner Zablotny.

Along with his moody Vineyard landscape paintings, Clough is showing a few examples of his most recent experiment — sculptural chickens made, appropriately enough, from chicken wire. Renee Balter is offering, for the first time in decades, a series of her early monoprints alongside her colorful, folk art–inspired paintings of Oak Bluffs scenes. Balter has also made prints of some of her favorite images, like a catboat at Harthaven and a little lavender gingerbread cottage at night.

Following on the popularity last year of Heather Goff’s vintage hand-decorated tiles, she has begun creating new ones to supplement the stock, along with carved, hand-decorated cups, bowls, and plates. Nancy Shaw Cramer has added a few new items to her line of drapey linen and silk tunic tops and jackets, and is featuring a line of long beaded necklaces as well.

Each artist will have a Thursday evening opening and will occupy the spotlight wall for one week in the summer. One of the nicest things about visiting the gallery is that guests always have the chance to meet one of the member artists, who have all proven to be very supportive of one another.

Although many of them show their work elsewhere around the Island, by and large, the artists have found the hands-on approach very gratifying, and the location to be one that attracts a somewhat different demographic from other galleries.

“I feel like Oak Bluffs is such a multicultural town,” says Kirchmeier. “The opening was very unassuming and welcoming and all-inclusive. There were both art patrons and the merely curious. The town has a feel of its own, and the gallery has a feel of its own.”

MVCVA ART Gallery, 99 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs. Currently the gallery is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. As of July 1, the hours will extend to seven days a week, 11 am to 5 pm.