West Tisbury’s Hermine Merel Smith Fine Art is quietly celebrating its 35th year. This summer, gallery owner Hermine Hull is showing her own work and that of woodcut printer Ruth Kirchmeier. The gallery has evolved through several permutations.
In 1982, Hull — Hermine Merel Smith is her maiden name — moved to the Vineyard from Connecticut, where she had worked in several galleries. The first version of her own gallery was located in Edgartown, and her focus was works on paper and picture framing. Before long she began meeting other Island artists, including Nancy Furino and Fae Kontje, both of whose work Hull wanted to show. She also brought in artists from Connecticut, other parts of New England, and New York.
“As my interests changed and developed, the gallery changed and developed,” Hull said recently. What started as a collection of original prints and drawings shifted to a greater emphasis on watercolor and oils because of buyers’ interests. She moved the gallery to West Tisbury in 1987, after her husband Mike Hull built the handsome one-room site.
“All I asked for was the curved doorway,” Hull says. “It looked very spiffy.” During that period she showed as many as 20 different artists. Through her husband, Hull met Ruth Kirchmeier.
“So Ruth is like family to me,” Hull says, and she has frequently displayed Kirchmeier’s work.
The gallery thrived for 10 years showing the artists Hull met and liked. She continued to be interested in works on paper at the same time as she included other mediums, and, as she puts it, the gallery became itself. In time, her interests expanded.
“I wanted to be a full-time painter again,” Hull says. “I wanted a different life.” A Southern Connecticut State College art graduate in the 1970s, she started painting again in the mid-1990s. Her work now consists of landscapes, still lifes, and figurative work. “The paintings are rooted in the world I live in,” she says.
At the same time, she continued to like being in her gallery, looking at new art coming in the door and seeing how people did what they did. While there were traditional galleries in Edgartown, she found those up-Island were more personal. The late Stan Murphy exhibited every other year, and Allen Whiting showed his work in his living room. In her Edgartown gallery, Hull had presented herself like a professional dealer, but in West Tisbury she says, “I didn’t have to dress up anymore.”
She found it hard to stop showing many of the artists she had, because she loved their work. She asked herself, Would she go broke, could she fill the gallery? When she started painting again, her canvases were small, and she stacked them on the floor, since the gallery’s focus remained on other artists. She did continue to pair her own work with Kirchmeier’s, but she had also developed a broader interest in the world. “There are other things out there,” she says. A friend inspired her to earn a certificate as a nurse’s assistant, and she focused on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care.
“I became fascinated with learning about brain functions,” she says. “It’s become a passion.” She found she was good at it, and that she didn’t want to be in the gallery seven days a week. The people she worked with became very dear to her, and she didn’t want to leave them in the summer. So she gradually cut back on gallery hours. This summer the gallery is open on weekends. “It’s a juggling act,” she says.
Hull has also begun writing about art. She feels her gift is to come at it from a different perspective from someone who doesn’t make art. “On Island,” the book she collaborated on with this author, came out in 2014, with her paintings and my poetry. “I’ve even begun writing poetry,” she says.
She still enjoys having people come into the studio. “I like talking about my process, how I figure things out, how I start with a blank surface and come up with something,” she says.
In the past two years, Hull has also been taking care of a small child, whom she calls “my darling Iyla.” She loves spending time with Iyla, but she still makes art. And she likes being part of the art community on the Island. “I need the quiet time in my studio,” she says. “I love my painting as the world I see inside my head.”