Healing art

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is home to more than 1,000 works of art.


Anyone who’s visited the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in the last few years knows that the walls are decorated throughout with original art. But did you know that there are over 1,000 individual pieces in all? And the collection is growing. Currently around 70 new works are being hung after a COVID-related hiatus.

The project resulted in the Edward Miller and Monina von Opel Collection (named for the Chilmark-based couple who curate and facilitate it) which was first begun at the time when the new hospital went up in 2010. Miller, who was on the hospital board, decided to eschew the traditional corporate art look in favor of a collection representative of the vast talent to be found on the Island. He recruited his wife, von Opel, to assist in the project. Reaching out to local artists and art collectors, she has managed to amass the largest collection (all donations) of art to be found anywhere on the Island.

According to the hospital website, “Edward Miller and Monina von Opel had the vision to bring artists, including scores of Island artists, and art collectors together to create this exemplary art collection. Their curatorship has brought respite, reflection, and the transformative impact of art to patients at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital as well as the greater Island community. The Art Collection was born from the belief that art, in all its many forms, not only helps create a warm, welcoming, and stimulating environment, but is an important part of the healing process.”

In selecting pieces for the collection, von Opel has made an effort to provide variety, while also focusing on work with a positive, soothing or inspirational quality. From the very beginning, the curator has also emphasized diversity — including works by Black, Latinx, and Asian artists.

The body of work represents many media, including painting, drawing, photography, mixed media, collage, woodwork, murals, and sculpture. Artists range from the nationally recognized to teens and other emerging artists.

The collection includes some historically important work including four paintings by Lois Maillou Jones, a notable African American artist who painted during the 1930 and 40s. Illustrations by children’s book authors/illustrators Norman Bridwell and Marc Brown can be found, appropriately, in the pediatrics and maternity wards. The collection also includes two of Jules Feiffer’s distinctive drawings of dancers.

Photographer Guy Webster, considered one the innovators of rock-and-roll photography, donated an impressive 84 images to the collection before his passing in 2019. Webster’s photos of film and music legends line the radiology corridor, while other photos can be found scattered throughout various locations. These include a wonderful series of images of Menemsha Harbor in the snow and photos of Ronald Reagan and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The work of other renowned photographers are included in the collection. Marianna Cook donated a print of her most well known photo — “A Couple in Chicago,” a black-and-white portrait which captures a young Barack and Michelle Obama in their 1996 Hyde Park apartment. Famed fashion photographer Bruce Weber and his wife Nan Bush donated a wonderful image of their pack of dogs of many breeds relaxing on the porch of a log cabin.

Von Opel notes that from the beginning local artists responded enthusiastically to her request for work. Allen Whiting and Kib Bramhall were among the first two artists whom the curator approached. From there von Opel sought out others, while many stepped forward on their own to offer their work. Miller and von Opel, along with other members of the community, have also donated pieces from their private collections.

Many of the donated pieces needed restoration after being stored for years in basements and elsewhere. Not only has von Opel managed to preserve some wonderful Island art, she is now giving the public a first opportunity to view pieces that had been hidden away for years.

Many of the Island’s most acclaimed artists are represented in the collection. These include Ray Ellis, Kara Taylor, Rose Treat, Rez Willians, Doug Kent, Ruth Kirchmeier, Andrew Moore, Cindy Kane, Peter Simon, Wendy Weldon, Jeanne Staples, Paul Karaskik, Denys Wortman, Washington Ledesma, and Jeanne Staples.

At the very beginning, photographers Alison Shaw and Janet Woodcock each donated enough images to ensure that each patient room is decorated with at least two images.

The work by lesser known artists includes a drawing by Brazilian artist Thiago Cinelli and a charming painting of Oak Bluffs gingerbread cottages by an artist named Athena. Von Opel purchased the latter with little to go on besides the fact that the painting had hung for many years in her popular restaurant, Helios, on Circuit Ave. She hopes to find out more about this mystery artist.

The family of Davin Tackabury donated a trio of photographs by their son, an award winning photographer who sadly passed away at the age of 17 in 2019. The series, located in the internal medicine hallway, serves as a testament to the talent of the young artist.

Currently von Opel is in the process of hanging 70 new works, including a marvelous mixed-media piece by Martha Mae Jones which will hang in the internal medicine corridor. You can find a list of all of the work, along with location, on the hospital website.

Von Opel’s background includes a career working for fashion magazines Vogue French and Glamour, and work with a NYC theater group. On the Island she has lent her talents to various arts organizations and produced a handful of solo theater pieces independently.

“We really didn’t think that typical hotel/hospital artwork was appropriate for Martha’s Vineyard — bobbing ships and throbbing sunsets,” says von Opel. “We have so many talented artists here.”