Every summer I relish visiting the studio and gallery of Island artist Ashley Medowski. This summer when I arrived, she had a few pieces laid out that she was working on, including one for Laura Fahrner titled “The Love Boat.” Ashley described it as “mostly made out of driftwood, copper, and shrinking acetate.” It is a commission for which Ashley created six portraits of family members, “trying to capture the character of each person. Their daughters are playing cards together. Her sister is a beautiful photographer, so she has a camera. Her husband has a newspaper. Her brother-in-law has a Martha’s Vineyard brochure. And to capture Laura, because she has such an essence of love and light, I tried to capture her portrait eight times before I finally got her right. She also asked me to put both of her cats in.” You may think we’re talking about paintings, but these are miniatures which peek from the portholes of “The Love Boat.” This year Laura is also getting a piece about the Ag Fair that shows cars backed up behind Chester Vincent, locally known as the slowest driver.
Laura lives in Plainfield, Ill., about 45 minutes outside of Chicago. Around 30 years ago, Laura was staying on Cape Cod with her young daughter and another one on the way. They were visiting her husband’s college roommate while her husband, an attorney, was tied up with a court case. Laura suggested they take a day trip to the Vineyard. She says, “As soon as I walked on to the Island I [felt] I would move here. I don’t usually like to travel that much, I just loved it and felt like I belonged. The next year we started to come here instead of Cape Cod. My sister Sue, her husband, and kids come, so it’s our [extended] family time.” Her family rented a house near Ashley on Lambert’s Cove Road for their first 15 years. When it was no longer available, they tried Chilmark and then Aquinnah, where they’ve been happily renting one house for the older family members and another next door for the 20- and 30somethings.
Laura worked as an elementary school social worker for 30 years before retiring in 2013. She says, “I remember calling [Ashley] after we left the Vineyard to see if I could buy [a painting I loved], and she told me it was sold. My husband surprised me that year and got me that painting of Middle Road for Christmas. The next year I bought these little shoes; inside the sole she drew these little daisies. She’s so magical. I started buying more of her work.”
Laura has collected throughout her life, including antique children’s books and old Christmas decorations, among other things. “I love Ashley’s stuff because everything she does she tells a story, and I love history, the history of Martha’s Vineyard. I love folk art and primitives,” Laura said. “I love the fact she makes it all from finds and children’s stuff like glitter.” They’re like representations “of my kid’s memories,” Laura said. “Everything on the walls in my house is a memory. Now every year I buy something [of Ashley’s] for my kids and my sister, and still a few things for me, though there’s not much wall [space left].”
Laura loves Ashley’s property, telling me, “That place is like a work of art, her grandma’s house, the gallery. I love to go and talk to her. All the work I have are my favorite places I love to go [on the Vineyard]. I have a little [piece] of the Art Cliff Diner at night. We had walked there at night once, and the [piece] has everything … the little twinkle lights … I love it. I have a mobile of fishing lures she found, and a mobile of stuff she collected on the beach in another room. I love her sea glass … everything.”
I can see why Laura has amassed the largest collection of Medowski’s art. “I love her and love her work, it’s magical,” she says.
Laura says she appreciates that all of Ashley’s work “is so different,” and her passion for using found driftwood, found objects in nature, the sea glass windows, integrating them in a unique folk art/primitive style of subtle three-dimensional wall works, mobiles, or sculpture to hang or stand alone. Ashley sends pictures of works-in-progress to Laura so she can see how the artwork is moving along, and they speak on the phone during the process. Laura also appreciates that “she can do everything — she can paint, she can carve, she uses [shrunken acetate], she sculpts, she’s so talented.”
Another thing Laura knows, because her sister is an artist and both her daughters are in the arts, is that artists need support, and she’s not just talking about money, but support of them as artists so they can grow, so they can blossom. Laura’s support of Ashley and her work has been and will continue to be an anchor for the artist. One day Ashley hopes to visit her work at Laura’s home.
Ashley Medowski Gallery, 367 Lambert’s Cove Rd., West Tisbury. 774-563-5112. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. ashleymedowskigallery.com.