Art of environmental stewardship at Sargent Gallery

"My Island Hideaway," 36x36 oil on canvas. —Margo Balcerek

If you haven’t made a trip up-Island to the Sargent Gallery this year, now is the time. Over the Columbus Day weekend, gallery owner Megan Sargent will be hosting an open house featuring work by many of her popular artists, and a few who are new to the space.

The 40-year-old gallery is dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship. “We have fairly dynamic work focused on the beauty of the Island landscape, but also about the beauty and fragility of nature in general,” says Sargent.

All of the artists currently featured at the gallery have interpreted the gallery’s mission in their own personal ways. Work by a number of acclaimed photographers will be on display, including National Geographic photographers Joel Sartore and Jim Brandenburg, as well as a number of others.

One of the standouts of the exhibit is photos from Barbara Norfleet’s series “Dark Eden.” The seasonal Vineyard resident has captured scenes of swampy areas in vivid color and startling detail, showing both a sense of primitive beauty, mystery, and even a bit of foreboding. Norfleet captured the photos over a period of years starting in 2005. She traveled all over New England in search of appropriately isolated swampy areas, often tramping through virgin forests and muck to seek out subjects. She notes that she believes some of her scenes had possibly never before been witnessed by humans.

Norfleet’s other series on display is titled “Manscape with Beasts,” which chronicles the collision of wild nature with the human environment on Martha’s Vineyard. For the “Manscape” series, Norfleet spent time on the Vineyard during a Guggenheim Fellowship, capturing animals in an unusual way. She put out food in various locations to see what wildlife she might attract. Among the photographer’s images on display are one of an intrepid squirrel attempting to climb up the slippery slope of Norfleet’s windshield in search of food she had placed there for birds, and one of a skunk scavenging on a patio table, with a beautiful sunrise on the water for backdrop. The images are unusual and surprisingly captivating.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston recently acquired 40 “Manscape” photographs for its collection. Norfleet’s work is also in major museum collections, including MOMA’s.

Another photographer with a unique viewpoint who is represented in the collection is Alexander MacLean, awardwinner and author of 11 books, who specializes in aerial images shot from the cockpit of his airplane. The images of manmade landscapes are quite beautiful in their striking color and, in many cases, gridlike uniformity, but there’s also a cautionary message to be found. According to his website, “MacLean has portrayed the history and evolution of the land from vast agricultural patterns to city grids, recording changes brought about by human intervention and natural processes. His powerful and descriptive images provide clues to understanding the relationship between the natural and constructed environments.”

Felicia Murray will be showing images from her latest book, “Edges of Time,” featuring black-and-white portraits of people and scenes from around the globe.

Painters represented by the gallery include Margo Balcerek, whose work Sargent describes as “based partly on real places, partly from imagination,” and Mariella Bisson, who uses her striking, expressionistic images of nature as a means to represent many of the facets of humanity, nature, and their interaction.
Also on display will be some new woodcut prints by Ruth Kirchmeier, work by landscape painters John Nickerson Athearn and Judy Howells, abstract landscapes by Peter Roux, and oils by Julia Purington, and works by painter and metal worker John Sabraw, among many others. Also on view will be beaded jewelry by Aquinnah artist Janette Vanderhoop.

Sargent Gallery, 832 State Rd., Aquinnah, is open most weekends 12 to 4 pm, and is enthusiastic about appointments. Call or text 508-560-7911; or call the gallery landline for hours — 508-645-2776.