Small works, small island

Cuttyhunk Artists’ Residency presents a new exhibit.

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It’s probably fair to say that most Vineyarders have never visited the island of Cuttyhunk, or, for that matter, know much about our little sister to the east. Cuttyhunk may not have a very large population (around 20 year-round) or many businesses (about half a dozen seasonal, one full-time). But did you know that our 580-acre Elizabeth Island neighbor is home to a nonprofit organization that hosts both biannual artists’ and writers’ residency, along with multiple workshops, lectures, concerts, and readings?

According to Tamalin Baumgarten, residency founder and the director of the Cuttyhunk Island Artists’ Residency, which is housed at the Avalon Inn, the nonprofit is dedicated to “to enriching the health, well-being, and cultural vitality of Cuttyhunk Island.” Among other initiatives, the foundation hosts individual residencies for writers and artists every spring and fall.

During the month of April, the Cuttyhunk Artists’ Residency is presenting its first ever all-inclusive exhibition dedicated to the alumni of the four-year-old initiative. Although each residency has always concluded with a local exhibition from that year’s participants, the current online show welcomed all past residents. The exhibit titled “The Cuttyhunk Small Works Show” is available to view at cuttyhunksmallworks.com.

“Because of COVID, we couldn’t host the residency last year,” says Baumgarten. “So we decided to give all of the former artists an opportunity to show their work.” Coordinator Meredith Leich, whom Baumgarten credits with all of the technical aspects of the residencies, posted 70-plus works by 33 artists. Sizes run from 2 by 2 inches to a maximum of 16 inches across, and are priced between $150 and $1,200. The selection encompasses many styles and media. As of this writing, about half of the work had already sold.

An in-person, socially distanced exhibit of all of the work was held at Kilburn Mill in New Bedford on April 17 and 18. The former textile mill is now home to event spaces and artists’ studios. Baumgarten rented a space there last year in order to complete a large commissioned painting. The artist splits her time between Cuttyhunk and South Dartmouth, where her husband lives. “I have this space November through April,” she says. “I thought that an in-person, off-island opening would provide a nice opportunity to show the work of the residents.”

Also on display at the studio was Baumgarten’s 10- by 5-foot work currently in progress, along with some small studies for the piece and a few other works by the artist. She has been represented by the Granary Gallery for the past four years. In July, the completed large-scale painting will be exhibited at the West Tisbury–based gallery prior to making its way to the purchaser’s Vineyard home.

Baumgarten refers to her distinctive style as “tonal, melancholic realism.” She paints portraits, and landscapes and seascapes of her adoptive island, in a moody, evocative style that highlights the intimate and forlorn aspect of the island. Her work, done with exacting precision in the realist tradition, has a strong emotional impact, as well as a sense of mystery.

In 2016 Baumgarten launched the residency program to honor the mission of the foundation that was initiated by her grandfather. The writers’ residency, run by Ben Shattuck, started that year, with the artists’ residency launching the following year.

The Avalon is open for guests from mid-May through Columbus Day. The inn has a fascinating history. It was built in 1909 by William Madison Wood, head of the American Woolen Co., as a summer retreat for his family. During WWI the inn served as a convalescent hospital for wounded Allied officers. Baumgarten’s grandfather, David Baumgarten, purchased the inn in 1957, and it has remained with the family since then. The Marilyn Snow House Foundation was established in 1982 upon the death of David’s wife. Along with the cultural initiatives, the foundation also provides a program that brings a rotating roster of guest physicians to the island to provide free healthcare to residents during the summer months.

The artists’ residency will resume this year, with one session in June and another in September. All visual artists working in any medium are welcome to apply. Baumgarten notes that the foundation offers full and partial scholarships, and even for those paying on their own, “we try to keep the cost low for everyone by getting funding from various sources.”

The weeklong residency includes visits from accomplished artists and writers who are available for individual critique. Each residency also features a visit from an expert on professional practices, a concert and artist talks, all of which are open to the public. The institute welcomes artists in all media, at all points in their careers. “Mostly what we look for are people who will really benefit from the experience on Cuttyhunk,” says Baumgarten. “It’s a unique place. You can’t help but be affected by the beauty of the landscape and the sense of community.”

Applications are now open for the fall artists’ residency, which will take place from Sept. 7 to 14. The guest artist will be Hilary Harkness, based in New York City, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum, among other places. For more information or to apply, visit cuttyhunkislandresidency.com/artists-fallresidency.