Museum Pieces: A few favorites

We continue celebrating 100 years of discovering and exploring Island history.


“There is no life that does not contribute to history.” —Dorothy West

Dorothy West was one of the most remarkable writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and a groundbreaker for Black women writers. She lived out her days in Oak Bluffs until 1998, when she passed at the age of 91. West’s belief that each and every one of us is a contributor to history aligns perfectly with that of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The museum celebrated its centennial this year, and there was a lot of reflection and discussion about what the museum has been, and what it needs to be now. It’s become clear that this institution was meant to be a special place for those who love this community. So, the “One Hundred Years, One Hundred Stories” theme rolled out with exhibitions and programming that opened — and continue to encourage — powerful dialogues about this extraordinary place. We create the world we live in, one interaction at a time, and a museum is an important part of expanding our understanding of what was so that we can move through life making a mark that leaves the world better than we found it.

Let’s look back on the year through the eyes of museum staff, those who worked so diligently to create the kind of programming and exhibitions that represent some of the diversity of the Island.

Chief curator Bonnie Stacy was amazed by food historian Jessica Harris as she delivered the keynote address at the “Martha’s Vineyard Flavors” food history symposium. Harris also worked with the museum to organize the event, which pulled together an astonishing variety of food luminaries from the Vineyard and beyond (she says she felt privileged to work with each and every one of them). Bonnie also shared her appreciation for “The Perfect Craft” exhibition, which transformed the Linnemann Pavilion into an expedition into the world of wooden boatbuilding. The Wampanoag Mishoon, which was featured in the exhibit, will be added to the museum’s permanent collection.

Research librarian Bow Van Riper delighted in three exhibitions that told very different stories, one about our legendary Dorothy West. Another called “1923: A Kid’s Life” will be on display through Feb. 4, offering an opportunity for today’s youth to experience how children 100 years ago lived, played, and learned.

“They Were Heard,” a favorite for Bow, as well as for operations specialist Mike Reed, illuminates the development of a communication style by the Chilmark deaf community, known as M.V. Sign Language (MVSL), which was used not only by those who couldn’t hear but also those who could, creating a unique public life. (See it before Feb. 18.) Mike was also present for the installation of the “Home” exhibit, and was captivated by the topic, how it looked, and the interactive pieces of it. There is still time to see this exhibition before it closes on Jan. 7. Another satisfying achievement for MVM is that our education manager, Becky Nutton, and associate Alia Munley succeeded in bringing 1,853 young people between the ages of pre-toddler and 25 through the doors for field trips, research, classes, and more.

We hope you will visit the museum often in 2024, and realize how true Dorothy West’s words are. We all contribute to the state of things, so let’s look into how we and others are doing just that.

Here are some things that might interest you in January: We’ll host a Lunch Lecture at noon on Jan. 5, on “Yoga and Mindfulness,” with Jason Mazar-Kelly, or “Yogi Jay” as he is affectionately known. Later that evening, we encourage you to join us from 5 to 8 pm as we start “The Friday Reset,” where you can relax and reconnect with friends with light bites, board games, puzzles, a crafting table, reading nooks, access to our first-floor exhibitions, and an “Ask Bow” session! And on Jan. 27, MVM will proudly unveil the exhibit “Clifford: Our Big Red Dog.”

Visit for more about membership, programs, and exhibits. The M.V. Museum is celebrating 100 years as an ever-evolving institution committed to serving people who love the Vineyard, inspiring us to discover, explore, and strengthen our connections to this Island and its diverse heritage. Help us make our next 100 years all they can be.

In this column, count on anecdotal Island history, museum news, and happenings that will hopefully make you want to come up the hill for a visit. Questions, feedback, or a story you’d like to share? Please email me at