Island treasures at Galaxy Gallery


The half-dozen women represented in the current exhibit at the Galaxy Gallery have called the Vineyard home for most of their lives. And since all six are in their 80s and 90s, those lifetimes represent a wealth of knowledge, experimentation, and exploration of the world through the 20th and 21st centuries.

Holly Alaimo, director of Galaxy Gallery, gathered the group together with the idea of showing local artists, all of whom work in different media. As chance would have it, the group she assembled proved to be longtime Vineyarders with decades of work to show. Therefore, Alaimo refers to the exhibit, titled “Island Treasures,” as a retrospective — a collection that will demonstrate the evolution of some very special Vineyard artists. “They are still all working and trying out new avenues, which is astounding to me,” she says.

Through her studio, Seastone Papers, Sandy Bernat has established herself as a teacher of the art of papermaking and its applications. She loves to share her knowledge and experience with others, but she also continues to explore new uses and areas of her particular medium, which go far beyond the expected. For the Galaxy Gallery exhibit, Bernat will be showing work that represents many of the various art forms she has pursued over the years.

From sculptural books and examples from her series of “shipwreck books” to more avant-garde offerings like Zen-inspired freestanding and wall hanging sculptural pieces. One of the most interesting pieces on display is a book inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing,” which the artist says comments on the idea of how Americans express their individuality but are still able to come together as a nation. “It’s what we’re lacking right now,” she says.

“I am interested in how paper communicates, especially as I work the fibers in the wet pulp stage,” says Bernat. “Over the years, I have explored the versatility of pulp medium as it is pigmented, molded, shaped, poured, sprayed, and stretched. I have also considered the nature of “bookness” — what makes a book? I create artist books through sculptural forms, where paper itself becomes a visual element conveying meaning, plus mixed media, where image and text merge with the page.”

Painter Renee Balter has spent decades capturing the unique houses and iconic buildings of her hometown of Oak Bluffs in her own distinctive, simplified style. This year, in honor of her upcoming 90th birthday, Balter has created a calendar that includes many of her colorful images along with the story of her 70 (yes, 70) years’ relationship with Martha’s Vineyard. Of her time in Oak Bluffs as owner and manager of the quaint inn Titticut Follies, Balter says, “The architecture, the culture, the customs, the history, and the people were more than enough to fill us with hope and wonder and dreams. I started painting everything that appealed to me, and it was so gratifying and full of what I loved that I just kept going.” The calendar, as well as prints and originals, will be on sale at the gallery.

Alida O’Loughlin spent years pursuing a professional career while serving as an admirer and champion of her husband, painter and ceramicist Washington Ledesma. Eventually she decided to embark on her own artistic journey, and has been a fine art photographer since the early 2000s.

Initially O’Loughlin focused on landscapes, seascapes, skies, and animals, but her interests expanded, and she has now experimented with a variety of subjects, examples of which will all be on display.

“When digital took over, suddenly everyone was a photographer,” says O’Loughlin. “I had real problems, because my eyes don’t see things totally clear and precise, so I started shooting things that people don’t necessarily notice — raindrops on my deck, geographical formations. I took one of the glass staircase in the Apple store in Boylston, and nobody knows what it is.”

More recently, O’Loughlin has been focusing her lens on trees — capturing the intricacies of bark, woodgrain, and unusual growth patterns. These images she has printed on glass. “I love the different manifestations of wood and trees. I discovered really powerful streams of color. There’s a force in trees that’s amazing. That’s the spirit of wood, the spirit of trees.”

Painter Ellen McCluskey helped establish a prominent gallery in Edgartown, and then worked as the artist coordinator at the Granary Gallery before she began focusing on her own artistic output. A self-taught late bloomer who comes from a family of Dutch artists, McCluskey was always drawing and painting from the time she was a young girl, using charcoal, oils, and pastels, primarily for still, interiors, and portraiture. It wasn’t until she had lived on the Vineyard for a few years that she began to use pastels for painting the landscape. She also teaches pastel painting at the Featherstone Center for the Arts.

“The Vineyard has character,” says McCluskey. “Character that stems from endless diversity. The colors I find in the fields, the trees, and the marshes are beautiful, and the quality of the light affected by the surrounding water is the most important factor in my work.”

Ruth Kirchmeier works in woodblock prints, carving intricate and distinctive images from which she can then create prints, using multiple colors layered on laboriously. Her work is both charming and sophisticated, complex and descriptive. The artist’s process involves carving four surfaces, one for the image and the others to apply as many as 100 colors.

“When I started making woodcuts more than 60 years ago, I didn’t realize that I was embarking on a journey that would sustain me emotionally, physically, and aesthetically for the rest of my life,” says Kirchmeier. “I enjoy all the complex steps required to produce a print and, when I finish a particular one, I revel in that successfulness and think, ‘I can’t believe I made that!’ At the end of one’s sojourn, it is pleasing to feel that I am really good at making woodcuts.”

“Island Treasures Retrospective Show” runs from August 31 to Sept. 15 at Galaxy Gallery, 99 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs. Opening reception Saturday, Sept. 2, 4 to 6 pm.