While some Vineyarders may flee the Northern climes during the long months of snow and cold, others revel in the winter months, finding in the solitude and free time a much-deserved break from the hectic summer season. Artists, in particular, are often drawn to the pristine stillness of the off-season Island months for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it’s the white canvas that nature provides in the winter on which to display the Island’s scenery, but whatever the case, some local painters have discovered that there’s unique beauty to be found in frost-covered Vineyard scenes. The holiday season is the perfect time to pick up unique artwork from Island artists.
“The thing about winter paintings is that they’re not just all green,” says pastel artist Ana Lowell Finnerty, whose work can be found on-Island at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown and the Galaxy Gallery in Oak Bluffs. “Summer green is the artist’s biggest challenge. Snow reflects the colors all around it. The kinds of colors you see in the winter you don’t get in the summer — pinks and oranges. The snow reflects the sky and whatever is around it, and you get these really great opportunities to use all kinds of interesting colors that you don’t see in the summer.”
And it’s not just the colors to be discovered in a snowy landscape that Finnerty admires. There’s also the way some objects reveal themselves, while others are concealed. “I really like the structure of trees without their leaves,” she says. “When bare, they each have their own personality.”
In her pastel work “Winter Creek,” the trees surrounding a golden-lit stream display the intricate patterns formed by their leafless branches, backlit against a softly colored sunset sky.
While trees display their complex structure in the winter, Finnerty also finds beauty and mystery in that which is hidden beneath the snow. The artist explains that for her painting “Winter Morning Sengekontacket,” she chose the view from the lifeguard stand, looking back toward the field. “You see the structure of the land when it’s covered in snow,” she says. “The folds of the dunes. When you’re looking out across the landscape, you see shapes and structure.”
Painter Scott Terry, who shows his work at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury, really enjoys painting winter scenes. “I love the bleakness and the colors from the reflection of sun and shadows on the snow,” he says. “Shadows are deeper on the snow, and everything is more distinct with snow on the ground. There’s something about seeing the Island under virgin, clean white.”
Terry’s painting “About Time,” which shows an unoccupied bench facing the nighttime scene of the Edgartown Lighthouse, has a lovely melancholy feel to it. “I was thinking of somebody in my life who had recently died,” he says, “hence the empty bench.”
But it’s not only solitude and reflection that Terry portrays in his winter paintings, he also finds that there’s a form of magic to be discovered in scenes of artificial light glowing out on a wintry night. “Swag” shows a classic Edgartown colonial home, soft light emanating from the windows and Christmas lights sparkling in the fir trees out front, creating a wonderfully inviting scene. “It’s the interplay between the warm light and cold light that makes it feel really warm,” says the artist.
Jeanne Staples (also represented by the Granary) tends toward images with a narrative, albeit often a hidden one. Her painting “Deep Winter” depicts a line of houses sealed up for the winter on a lonely road. The painting is part of an interconnected series called “Present Pending,” in which each work relates to the other in often mysterious ways. “Deep Winter” is replicated in small scale in a larger painting that is on display in the emergency room of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. That work shows a boy playing solitaire in his living room, with a miniature version of the winter scene hanging on the wall behind him.
“Some of the things that I respond to so much on the Vineyard are those places and times that are not your typical views of the Island,” says Staples. “The ones that reveal themselves in the more quiet moments of the Island. ‘Deep Winter’ is one of those.”
The street in the scene is located directly across from the hospital. It’s a stretch of road that might normally be overlooked, since it’s rather unremarkable in nature, but Staples mines a story of sorts from the commonplace scene. “I’m always looking for certain emotional content in the work,” she says. “There’s something about houses that are empty at this time of year. There’s a slightly melancholy feel to that. It has its own beauty, and evokes a certain response.”
In a similar way, Staples conjures up emotion in a simple, natural scene in “Snow at Stan Murphy’s.” “It’s a lot about the light,” she says of the image of a barren snowy field with a few sparse trees. “It’s a lot about the starkness of the light against the shape of the landscape. There’s the dark of the trees, the soft colors on the snow, the long blue shadows, the high contrast of sky against form. All of those elements are really appealing to me.”
“When you’re here in the winter, this is the landscape that you connect to and relate to,” says Staples, who lives on the Vineyard year-round. “At other times it’s beautiful, but you really connect to it in the winter — more so than in the summer. The winter has its own rewards. There’s a calm, different feel to the place.”
Granary Gallery, 636 Old County Road, West Tisbury’ granarygallery.com. Galaxy Gallery, 99 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs; artmvgallery.org. Old Sculpin Gallery, 58 Dock St., Edgartown; oldsculpingallery.org.