For some Islanders, the pandemic has inspired them to revisit creative endeavors that they may have put on hold when other demands took precedence. Case in point: Alena Grady, who has used some free time from her job as a dental hygienist to revisit her passion for creating art. The Russian native had once had her sights set on attending art school. Although she was accepted by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) a few years back, financial and other considerations made her reconsider, and she put art on the back burner to switch career plans and raise a family.
“In 2019 I finished my second bachelor’s in health sciences,” she says. “My kids had started school, and I found myself with some free time on hand, so I started painting little by little. I took third place at the Ag Fair that year, and thought it was the height of my artistic career, but then when the pandemic hit, and the family and I were in lockup at home, that’s when I was finally able to take on painting more seriously,”
In February, Aubrey Sirois, owner of Juniper in Edgartown, asked Grady if she would be interested in showing some of her work at the flower and gift shop, and just over a month later, five of the artist’s paintings were sold.
The work varies in subject from Island seascapes to marine creatures. Grady favors gessoed wood panels, and works in realism. She uses both acrylics and oils. “I would paint anything structural in acrylics,” says the artist. “And anything organic in oil.” Grady shows a remarkable talent for detail, composition, and color for someone who has no formal training in art. “My grandfather was an artist who did a lot of nautical oil paintings,” she says. “We would draw together. I’ve always wanted to study art, but my life took another direction.”
Grady was born and raised in Petrozavodsk, a city in Northwest Russia known for its Museum of Fine Arts. During her high school years she spent time in Texas as part of a cultural exchange program. Grady was introduced to the Vineyard by a friend from home, and she spent summers during college here. When she realized that attending art school would not be feasible, she moved full-time to the Vineyard to be with her future husband, and the two started raising a family on the Island. Grady then spent six years studying to be a dental hygienist; along with her responsibilities as a mother, she found little time to paint. At one point she did take up portraiture, and even showed her graphic pencil photorealistic drawings at the former Made Here gallery and shop in Oak Bluffs.
Last year, when Grady’s employer, Paradise Dental, was forced to close temporarily due to the pandemic and her family found themselves in voluntary quarantine, she decided to use the time to turn her attention to art. Her early success has come as a surprise to Grady, who had no plans to show her work publicly at this point.
“Painting is just a way for me to unwind and enjoy my own time,” she says. “I was still doing it solely out of joy up until Aubrey reached out this winter about getting some of my work featured at her store.
“It’s challenging now that I’m working again,” adds Grady. “I don’t feel like I’m producing as fast.”
Still, she feels fortunate to have been given a chance to enjoy doing what she loves most. “My grandfather only started painting after he retired,” she says. “I’m lucky to have a head start on this.”
Alena Grady’s work can be found, along with that of a number of other local artists, at Juniper flower and gift shop, 18 North Summer St., Edgartown.