A tale of two galleries

Bringing new exhibits to light during a pandemic.

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2020 may not have been the ideal year to launch a business. Yet two local couples have found that on an Island as supportive of the arts as Martha’s Vineyard, even a pandemic couldn’t waylay their gallery aspirations.

When Colin Ruel took over the space previously occupied by the Harbor Crafts Shop in Menemsha, he had no idea that his planned opening would coincide with a worldwide shutdown of businesses. He and his wife Nettie Kent had for some time been hoping to strike out on their own by establishing a gallery featuring both his paintings and her jewelry. Their plan came together when Ruel’s grandmother, Roberta Morgan, decided to retire after running the small craft store in Menemsha for more than a decade. She asked if they wanted to use the shop, and they said yes.

The opening was scheduled for May. Then, well, we all know what happened last spring. Still, Ruel and Kent forged ahead. In mid-July the gallery was open by appointment only. Pretty soon after that, the couple was able to open officially, by abiding strictly to safe practices. “The community has really supported us,” says Ruel. “People started coming as soon as they felt more comfortable about going out. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”

Ruel is a self-taught artist who has shown his work on-Island at the Granary and Field Galleries. His highly evocative Vineyard landscapes often feature large areas of colorful, texturally complex sky, incorporating the wood grain from the panels that the artist favors. Ruel sometimes includes animals, birds, fish, or people in his paintings, but the essence is always a love of nature, and the longstanding agrarian and seafaring tradition of the Vineyard. His choice of subject is not surprising, considering that Ruel can trace his family roots back to the European settlers of the Island.

Kent was also born and raised on the Vineyard. Her father, well-known Island artist Doug Kent, inspired her love for creating from an early age. After earning a degree in fine arts from Hampshire College, Kent continued her arts education with travels around the world. She settled in New York City for a while, where she apprenticed with leading jewelers before launching her own line of silver and gold handcrafted jewelry. Her designs tend to combine simple, clean lines and geometric shapes with a slightly rough-hewn look, making them unique. She also makes custom wedding and engagement rings.

Ruel and Kent will spend the winter creating new work while raising their two children. They hope to host a few pop-up events at the gallery before opening full-time again in the spring.

Unlike Ruel, the owners of the new Winter Street Gallery in Edgartown knew what they were facing when they planned to open a new business last July. George Newall and Ingrid Lundgren relocated to the Island from New York City last March. Both have worked in the international art world for many years. With the closing of galleries in New York, the pandemic forced them to look at their respective careers in a new light.

Lundgren has a long history with the Island, having spent summers here since childhood. Her mother is a full-time, year-round resident, her father is a seasonal resident. She and Newall recognized that the Vineyard could be an ideal location for a contemporary art gallery.

The couple opened the gallery with two distinct shows that gave a good indication of their mission as gallerists, and the direction that the couple intend to pursue. One exhibit, “Secret Storm,” featured work by artists of national and international renown, including Philip Guston and Kiki Kogelnik. That show, and subsequent exhibits of work by historically important artists, were made possible by Lundgren and Newall’s vast network of connections in the art world. The second show, “Vol I,” spotlighted work by young artists, many of whom are local or have Vineyard connections. Proceeds from the “Vol I” show, which continued on a rotating basis throughout the gallery’s season, were donated to three local organizations — Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Camp Jabberwocky, and Sassafras Earth Education.

The gallery was greeted with an enthusiastic reception by the community. Lundgren is pleased to have had the chance to bring important art to the Island, while also giving visibility to young, emerging artists. “This has provided a wonderful opportunity to share some of my interests and explore curatorial ideas that I’d been thinking about with some of the artists that I have supported,” says Lundgren. “It’s also been an amazing opportunity to be in touch with the local scenes, and have more of a dialogue with the artists and businesses on the Island.”

Going forward, Newall and Lundgren hope to open again in May (conditions permitting), and plan to expand on their vision, launching a publishing branch of the business, working on collaborations with local organizations, and possibly hosting talks and other immersive events. “Connecting with the community has been a very exciting part of the process for me,” says Lundgren. “I hope to dive more into that aspect — meeting and getting to know more of the local artists. We want to continue that initiative next year with programming. It’s been such a challenging time for everyone, with so much loss and change. Being on the Island and being able to share with the community has definitely been a silver lining for us.”

The Ruel Gallery in Menemsha is open by appointment. You can also view Colin Ruel’s work online at ruelgallery.com, and Nettie Kent’s jewelry at nettiekentjewelry.com. The Winter Street Gallery is available for virtual viewing at winterstreetgallery.com/past. Arrangements can be made for in-person viewing by calling 401-602-1702.