American masters at the Granary Gallery

Those not in the know might be surprised by the selection of national art treasures to be found in an unassuming red barn on Old County Road in West Tisbury. Throughout the 20-plus years that Chris and Sheila Morse have owned the gallery, they have amassed a collection of work by some of the country’s pre-eminent artists, such as Thomas Hart Benton and Alfred Eisenstadt. This year, Chris Morse has added a few new pieces to the impressive collection — including two works by American master Andrew Wyeth. “He’s one of the artists who inspired me early on to an appreciation of art,” says Morse.

Wyeth is one of the most well-known of American artists. His melancholy painting “Christina’s World,” showing a woman sprawled on a dry field facing her family’s farmhouse in the distant background, is one of the most identifiable images in 20th century American art.

Last fall Morse acquired a Wyeth drawing of the Olson Farm in Cushing, Maine. The farm is the setting for “Christina’s World,” and the woman in the famous painting is family member Christina Olson. The drawing shows the back of the house, as opposed to the front view seen in the renowned painting. The 1942 drawing was gifted to Wyeth’s most well-known model. On the lower right-hand corner Wyeth inscribed it, “To Christina and Alvaro from Betsy and Andy.”

Last month Morse added another Wyeth to the Granary collection with the purchase of a painting titled “Apple Shed,” done in 1986. The image comes from a farm in Chadds Ford, Pa., Wyeth’s hometown.

Wyeth worked in the regionalist style, depicting people and places in a way that heightened the haunting nature of rural New England. His figurative subjects tend to tell a narrative shrouded in mystery. He almost exclusively depicted scenes from his hometown of Chadds Ford and his summer home in Maine. The Granary’s two works by Wyeth represent both locales. The Wylie Farm, the setting for “Apple Shed,” is also the subject of a well-known work of Wyeth’s “Cooling Shed,” which is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Also new to the Granary collection this year is a large painting by American Impressionist Wolf Kahn titled “Two Farm Buildings and a Pond.” Done in the artist’s distinctive abstracted realist style, the painting, like much of Kahn’s work, focuses on a stand of trees, and features vivid colors — in this case intense blues. Morse has been adding to his collection of paintings by Kahn for more than 20 years. Currently the gallery has dozens, though not all are on display at all times. Many more have been sold to collectors from all over.

According to Morse, Kahn spent quite a lot of time on the Vineyard. The renowned artist was good friends with local painter Allen Whiting, and he wrote the intro to Whiting’s book, “A Painter at Sixty.”

“It’s nice to have a real American master who has a Vineyard connection,” says Morse.

Famed artist Benton and photographer Eisenstadt also spent a good deal of time on the Island, where they worked extensively. Other artists of note include photographer Margaret Bourke-White and Vaclav Vytlacil. The gallery also features the work of a number of renowned African American artists such as Loïs Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Gwathmey, and Gordon Parks.
The Granary Gallery is the largest and oldest gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. Its vast collection of currently working local and national artists is reason enough to encourage a trip to West Tisbury, while the selection of works by American masters makes the year-round gallery a must-visit.

Granary Gallery, 636 Old County Road, West Tisbury. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm; Sundays 11 am to 4 pm. (Winter hours 10 am to 4 pm.) 508-693-0455; granarygallery.com.