Elizabeth Eisenhauer is one of the Island’s luckier gallery owners. Unlike many others, her gallery usually remains open year-round, and much of her business happens online at her website, eisenhauergallery.com. As a result, the pandemic hasn’t hit her as hard as it might, even though her Edgartown gallery will remain closed until the crisis is over.
The pandemic “has offered me the opportunity to pause without hesitation or deadline,” Eisenhauer said in a telephone interview from her winter home on Lubbers Quarters Cay in the Abacos Islands of the Bahamas. “My whole life has prepared me for this.” For assistant gallery director Amy Cash, the pandemic means working at home, and she’s found the website to be very active.
Not much has changed in terms of the gallery’s business. “So far our sales are on target,” Eisenhauer says. “I imagine that will change soon.” She isn’t discounting, but she is considering commission-free opportunities for her VIPs to ensure the artists make enough sales to sustain them. All the gallery’s 40-plus artists have appeared on the website for the past 25 years.
“Collectors can purchase directly from the website and ship anywhere in the world, all online,” she says. “It is a huge part of our business.” She relies on email for business contacts and curating images but prefers the telephone to connect with the artists, using Messenger and WhatsApp on Facebook. “I learn how they are coping with love, life, and now the quarantine. We laugh, we cry and then we problem solve.” Like so many artists, she says hers have maintained their day-to-day schedules. “It’s in their social life with friends and family that I hear their sadness.” Some of the gallery’s artists feel more comfortable creating smaller, more affordable pieces now.
The shipping logistics continue to flow smoothly. Eisenhauer avoids using single-use plastic, as has been the case for many years. “If I was not a seasonal established business, my responses would be very different,” Eisenhauer says. Working remotely as she has always done prepared her for the current crisis. “Ask me again in July. Maybe I will become a regular at the beach. What fun to swim and soak in the sun on July Fourth. I’m going to roll with the flow for now.”
Eisenhauer moved her gallery from Block Island to the Vineyard in 2000 to take advantage of the school system for one of her three sons. The Island’s relaxed pace and business practices appealed, which means she can open an hour late or go to the beach for the day. A bout with Stage 4 breast cancer four years ago taught her to concentrate on keeping healthy. “I am living with cancer, and I am thriving,” she says.
“I’m a pretty social person, but I’ve been enjoying the solitude,” she adds. She is working on finding ways to move the artwork. One issue is the scheduling of shows. Eisenhauer planned them a year ago, but there’s the question of when businesses can open again. She sees the summer audience as trickling, not congested. “I think people are going to be apprehensive,” she says. One thought for her has been to go nonprofit for a year. “I can survive for a year,” she says, “and it would be a new way to bring income to the artists.”
Eisenhauer and her husband, Paul Caval, have been spending winters at their house in the Bahamas for 20 years. This year a challenge has been to recover from Hurricane Dorian, which arrived in September 2019 as the most powerful storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Eisenhauer does not have power yet and is often without telephone service, so the couple fishes and conches, as well as working on house repairs from the storm damage.
“I think Mother Nature took a big sneeze to make us all pause,” she says on her website. “While her droplets settle, we hope you are staying home and safe.”