If you’ve spent enough on the Martha’s Vineyard you’ve probably seen Linda Carnegie’s artwork.
She does large murals, intricate designs on furniture, portraits of houses, animal alphabet nameplates, and just about anything else — if it’s got a surface, she can paint on it.
Her artistic touch can be seen on the stairs at Edgartown Books, on the walls at the West Tisbury library, as the featured Agricultural Fair posters in 1987, 1988, 1989, and in numerous homes across the Island.
“I’ve just drawn my whole life,” Carnegie said. “I needed to make a living, and wanted to do something I liked.”
Carnegie washed ashore in 1974 from Colorado, the same summer Stephen Spielberg began filming “Jaws.” Her son was born later that year.
Carnegie has painted her whole life, but it wasn’t until she came to the Vineyard that she began painting full-time. In 1976 she opened Jonah and the Whale, a kid’s clothing store, at the Yellow House in Edgartown. After two years running that store, Carnegie turned to her true passion.
“Mostly I work for individual people; I’ve done some professional things, but I kind of started in Edgartown doing staircases,” she said.
Carnegie’s talents have taken her off-Island too. Some of her larger works decorate the halls across the country at NewYork-Presbytarian/Columbia in New York City, the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and MassGeneral Hospital for Children. She got the gig at MassGeneral while doing tai chi with master carpenter Ted Box, who gave her the connection.
Two of Carnegie’s favorite things about her work is that she isn’t doing work for herself, and her projects are commissioned ahead of time, instead of waiting to be sold. “I’m not doing what I want to do. So I have to listen to people, I may have to use a palette that I don’t really like that well. It’s a constant learning process,” she said. “Some artists can get stuck just painting what they want to paint. And I don’t do that — I’m constantly painting something different every single time.”
Figuring out what clients want — and what they don’t want — is all part of the process Carnegie loves to do.
Most of her work, though, is smaller jobs for individual people. One of Carnegie’s favorite pieces she’s done is a strikingly realistic bookcase mural at the home of Polly and Bob Sheehan in Edgartown. The mural requires a double-take to realize the book case is only two-dimensional.
She came up with the idea with her friend and decorator Nancy Kelly to include items and memorabilia that were important to the Sheehans. The end result featured books, plates, jars, candles, photographs, plants, binoculars, chests, and a clock. In addition to some delicate shading techniques, pieces of wood were added to frame the mural and make it pop.
“They are really nice people, so I enjoyed working for them,” she said.
Another project she loved was working with a bride and groom on their Island wedding. “I did their save the date, their wedding invitations. I did tiles on all the tables, and they collected them all to make tables for the bride and groom,” Carnegie said.
In addition to her small jobs, Carnegie started Carnegie Blair Designs with her friend Nancy Blair, which makes decorative placemats, floor mats, coasters, trays, and cutting boards. Their designs can be found at Past & Presents in Edgartown and the Beach House in Vineyard Haven.
As for the painting process itself, Carnegie prefers to listen to keep things simple. “I listen to NPR the whole time I paint,” she said. “I will sketch it out if people want me to, but basically I do better by sketching out a horizon line and just starting.”
“I’ve never been a sketcher, I really get it in my mind what I want to do,” she said. “Generally now I’ve got enough stuff to show people that they trust me.”
One of her more well-known past clients is Edgartown seasonal resident Ernie Boch Jr. “I worked there for probably two and half years, just working stuff in, painting brackets to match the wood, and any mistakes that were ever made,” she said.
Carnegie also painted inside an elevator at Boch’s house. “So I painted a great white shark with Ernie Boch in his mouth, with a little sign that said, ‘Come on down!’ I did it as a joke for the construction crew, and I figured once he sees it, he’ll tell me to paint it out, but he loved it,” Carnegie said. “There’s a treasure chest with doubloons that have Subaru symbols on them, and you ride up and there’s bluefish and the great white shark.”
Carnegie is also skilled in faux painting, like making a metal lamp look like it’s made of aged wood. Her faux painting skills are also pretty helpful in a pinch. “My son was going to get his car inspected, and right before he was going to get it inspected, he got a ding in his windshield and it wasn’t going to be able to pass inspection, so I went and painted a blob of seagull poop right over where the ding is,” Carnegie said while laughing. “He passed inspection and was like, ‘Yay Mom!’”
When Carnegie’s not painting, she’s tending to her Edenesque garden in front of her home, or traveling to California to visit her son and her “granddogs,” Indiana Bones and Boba Fetch.
“I can paint anything, if you just tell me what you want,” Carnegie said. “I would work no matter what, because it’s what I love to do.”
To view more of Carnegie’s designs or to contact her directly, visit lindacarnegiedesigns.com.