Elizabeth Whelan and Adriana Eftimie have given us a wonderful gift in their new show, “Found Again,” at the Vineyard Haven library. The show’s title and artwork reflect their desire for us to reconnect to people and the Island as we come out of the acute phase of the pandemic. “We’re seeing so much change — people moving in; people having to leave. As folks who are living on the Island, it’s important for us to remember what it was that brought us here in the first place: the wonderful, quirky community that we enjoy being a part of,” Whelan says.
Eftimie’s sensuous oil paintings use color and that special Vineyard light to capture serene moments, whether they be a spectacular sunset in “A Moment on the Bridge,” showing the view of Vineyard Haven Harbor as you are coming from Oak Bluffs, or the special stillness of the same harbor when no wind ripples sails or the water’s surface in “September Moon.” The large, appealing painting, “Hole in One,” portrays a lone golfer walking in the distance on the green amid the luscious environment of the Farm Neck course.
Eftimie writes of her delightful lighthouse “portraits” in the catalog: “I painted the ‘Beacon of Light’ series with the idea of capturing the five lighthouses as a family, but as I was painting, I realized how unique each of them was. Even though all of them share the same function of being a beacon of light to sailors at sea, and some of them have very similar looks, their surroundings and position give them a different context. The light embraces them from different angles, and, in this way, they show their own personalities.”
Eftimie came to oil painting fairly recently, starting in 2016 having not touched a brush since childhood. But as soon as she picked it up again, Eftimie says, “I was already picturing myself doing this a few years in the future … but I didn’t say it out loud until two or three years ago.” Since then, she hasn’t stopped painting.
Eftimie, who often works on pet commissions, says, “My landscapes are very personal to me. I hope that other Islanders will connect with them as well. I wanted to paint something that inspired me. They stop me for a few seconds to admire them, and to enjoy them for just a few moments of peace.”
Whelan takes a whole other approach to reconnecting — one of humor in her tight compositions of Ag Fair flower and vegetable submissions, each sporting a tag with a handwritten note from a judge. The Ag Fair is her favorite Island event of the year, with amazing entries from the community — everything from art to jam, to knitting, to woodwork, and more.
Over the years, Whelan has taken photos of the notes from the judges that have caught her fancy. But inspiration hit when she saw the note that read: “Remove chewed leaves.” Whelan recalls, “For some reason, that just tickled my funny bone. I thought that is the greatest thing, right there in that one tag is everything I love so much about Martha’s Vineyard. The way the community helps each other. The person won a prize for their flowers, but here was this helpful hint from the judge.”
Now a judge of the drawings at the Ag Fair, Whelan started to understand how difficult the job is when there are slews of entries that are all wonderful. “It’s hard to choose between them. I wanted to honor those judges and say, ‘Somebody takes great delight in what you do — the extra time it takes to communicate, community member to community member, whether it’s helpful, cajoling, or congratulatory,” Whelan says. “I think it’s even more important these days. More and more people are moving to the Island, and perhaps are not so interested in integrating themselves into the community in these smaller details that the year-round residents bring to one another. Those entries really embody what this Island is all about.”
Whelan mixed and matched the entries and tags. Further wanting to protect the real entrants’ identities, she pondered what to do for names. “All of a sudden, I started to think about ancient Romans. I don’t know why but I had this picture of Nero taking his pickles to the Ag Fair,” Whelan says. Each tag has the name of an ancient Roman personage, whom Whelan tells us about on the wall label.
It is not just the incongruity of the collision of Ag Fair entries and the ancient world that brings us enjoyment. Whelan’s masterful brushwork and use of color render flowers and food items into stunning studies that make us notice the beauty in the familiar.
While the images were inspired by Whelan’s photographs, she uses them as a jumping-off point. For her, “Drawing has become really important. I took the photograph as a reference and then made up a composition in a little black-and-white drawing that I used as the basis of the painting, making sure I was stepping away from the photo.”
Whelan revels in the lighthearted nature of her series: “Art can be fun or entertaining to the artist. We don’t always have to be serious and in angst, and starving in a garret. I thought I would be amused by having ancient Romans entering the Ag Fair, and if I was, surely somebody else would be too.”