A different look at Mytoi


An old friend, Elise LeBovit, stopped by The Times the other day. It was one of those hellacious hot days we’d been having, and Elise was wearing a big straw hat to protect her from the sun and a big smile because that’s just who Elise is.

Elise owns the Duck Inn in Aquinnah, and shared a story with me about how she came to buy the inn, which had nothing to do with the reason for her visit with me, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway because it’s such a good story.

Elise moved to the Island in 1974, and for the longest time she had her eye on a farm in Aquinnah, the Blaine homestead, that eventually Elise would turn into the Duck Inn. She didn’t have enough money to buy the place in those days, but then her grandfather left her a small annuity, not more than a few hundred dollars. And then she decided to do something with the money that turned out to be quite out of character for Elise. 

At the time, she was working at the Seaview Bar in Oak Bluffs along with owner Lorraine Balla and the legendary bon vivant and barfly Oliver Hazard Perry, a.k.a. Johnny Seaview. Encouraged by Johnny, a former jockey, the Seaview was holding a betting pool on the Kentucky Derby.

Elise, who is not a gambler, looked at the list of horses racing in the Derby and one jumped out at her. A horse named Genuine Risk. She liked the name, because for Elise to bet was indeed “a genuine risk.” And Genuine Risk was a filly, and Elise liked the idea of “betting on a girl.” 

Not only did Genuine Risk win, she came in at around 45-1 odds. And so with her winnings, and what else she had managed to scrape together, she had enough money for the down payment on the house of her dreams.

But Elise didn’t come in to talk about the Duck Inn, she came to talk to me about her photography show, “Seasons at Mytoi,” to be held at Mytoi gardens on Chappaquiddick. In the ’60s, Elise attended the San Francisco Art Institute to study filmmaking and photography, and over the years she’s had numerous photography shows on the Island. And one of her favorite places to shoot is at the beautiful Mytoi Japanese gardens on Chappaquiddick.

In a note Elise prepared for the Trustees of Reservations, who own and manage Mytoi, she wrote about visiting the gardens after a big snowstorm last winter, and seeing the beauty that most people who visited the gardens in the spring, summer, and fall never get to see. 

“I visited Mytoi the day after the biggest snowstorm this year and wandered the paths where there were only racoon prints to mark the way,” LeBovit wrote. “I marveled at the untouched wonderland, and snapped photos of the sparkling icicles, the snow-covered bridges, and the iced-over ponds covering the fallen pine needles. The red coral bark vines added color to the stillness of the day. And whiteness filled the negative spaces. 

“I felt like I had escaped to a secret place where life continued in this frozen moment. I have made the pilgrimage in many seasons, from the softness of spring to the audacity of the maples in the fall, but this was totally new. I wanted to share this vision with those who don’t get to see the gardens in the winter.”

The photographs in “Seasons at Mytoi” capture the gardens throughout the year. Some photographs are relatively realistic, while others are more abstract, sort of in a Mark Rothko kind of way. “I’m actually quite dyslexic,” Elise told me. “I’m right-eye dominant, and it sometimes affects the way I see things, which can lead to some interesting photographs.”

Elise plans to have shows at Mytoi in July and August. She plans to display about 40 photographs both in the Ranger Station, and around the grounds on small wooden easels. 

The dates for the “Seasons at Mytoi” shows are July 17 and 18, and August 13 and 14, and LeBovit will also have an additional show on Sept. 24 and 25 at the Duck Inn in Aquinnah. All proceeds will be shared with the Trustees of Reservations, who manage Mytoi. Rain dates for the Mytoi shows will be the following weekend. For questions, call Elise LeBovit at 508-560-2782 or 508-645-9018.