Catboats and creativity abound at Old Sculpin

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Two aspects of the Island’s history will converge this coming week with a special weeklong celebration, to take place throughout Edgartown. The Catboat Parade and Art Exhibit will honor a storied character from the Vineyard’s past — Manuel Swartz Roberts, whose former boatbuilding shed is now the site of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association’s (MVAA) gallery.

The celebration will incorporate a variety of events and exhibits, including the parade on Saturday — an ongoing exhibit of catboat- and harbor-themed art by MVAA members, along with artifacts from Swartz’s workshop and oral histories pertaining to the boatbuilder at the Old Sculpin Gallery, and storytelling and sea shanties at the Norton Boat House, where another Swartz boat will be on display.

“We wanted to have a special event,” says June Schoppe, MVAA member, board member, and event chair. “We thought about what we could do to celebrate who we are. We have the history and the legacy to preserve. We decided to put the two pieces of our story together. Manuel was such a special guy, and we’re so grateful to him.”

The event is a collaboration between the MVAA and the Catboat Association, which periodically hosts rendezvous and races throughout the East Coast.

According to the MVAA’s press release, “Old Sculpin Gallery will bring to life to all things Manuel S. Roberts … catboats … and artistic expression. The MVAA is quite proud to have kept the integrity of the building (with the help of the Vineyard Trust) and to create art that continues to keep the maritime beauty alive.”

Swartz was a renowned boatbuilder and carpenter who operated his Edgartown waterfront shop from the turn of the 20th century right up until the 1950s, when he sold the iconic building to the MVAA. By that time, he had formed close friendships with many of the association’s members, whose early roster of artists included the likes of Francis Chapin, Vaclav Vytlacil, Loïs Mailou Jones, Mary Coles, Ruth Appeldorn Mead, and others whose work now hangs in some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

Swartz was known for his catboats. He completed 200 during his lifetime. A catboat is a small sailboat with a single sail on a single mast, set well forward in the bow of the boat.. At least three of the vintage vessels from Swartz’ shop will be featured during the event. The parade, organized by the Catboat Association, will be led by Capt. Kurt Peterson aboard his boat Tigress, and will feature catboats from the Island and points near and far. The public is invited to view the parade at various vantage points: on Memorial Wharf, at Chappy Beach, Lighthouse Beach, and Fuller Street Beach.

The art exhibit will include more than 50 paintings, prints, and photographs by 35 of the MVAA’s current members. Also on view at the gallery will be items from Swartz’ shop, many of which were loaned by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The history exhibit will feature tools, half hulls, furniture, and vintage photographs, as well as oral histories recorded by the museum’s Linsey Lee. (One of the recordings provides insight into how the Chappy Ferry On Time got its name, and it’s not what you might think.)

If you’re into boats or into art — or both — the catboat-themed week will provide a great opportunity to learn more about some fascinating Island history and enjoy a fun new addition to the Vineyard summer event schedule. 

Friday, July 16, Catboat Association members sail into Edgartown for their annual Martha’s Vineyard Rendezvous. July 17 to 23, “Catboats!” exhibit at the Old Sculpin Gallery, containing catboat- and harbor-themed art by members of the MVAA and artifacts relating to Manuel Swartz Roberts. Catboat Parade of Sail, Saturday, July 17, approximately 1 to 4 pm. Saturday, July 17, 5 to 7 pm, Mark Lovewell and Capt. Kurt Peterson perform sea shanties and tell stories regarding catboat history at the Norton Boathouse dockside.