Museum Pieces: New year, new shows

Norman Bridwell’s “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is captured in an upcoming exhibit.

Norman Bridwell at work on "Clifford." —Courtesy Bridwell family

“If things go wrong, don’t give up. Go back and try again.”

These words by Norman Bridwell, author of the “Clifford” books, are a perfect reminder to begin the year with. There are examples throughout history of people’s persistence leading to discoveries that have changed the world. Living on Martha’s Vineyard is like living in the land of these types of people. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy, but it does mean that if we can think it, need it, or want it, we can pull together the resources (whether physical, emotional, or spiritual) to improve our situation. We have it within us to overcome. Working alongside the team at the M.V. Museum, I witness the core values in perpetual action as they conceptualize, build, and refine exhibitions that make us think. I understand more than ever why museums are so important, and reliant on teaming with the community. We become better together by holding each other accountable. That means we meet, share, and build trust. Though the past may make us wary, we can’t give up, we need to find ways to regroup when we mess up, so that we can tell the stories that need telling. We are not mind readers. We are imperfect. Most of us are not willfully ignorant. Why not keep working to make the M.V. Museum better every day? Why not take inspiration from one another, and those who came before us?

Anna Barber, curator of exhibitions, and Kate Logue, associate curator of exhibitions, are preparing “Clifford: Our Big Red Dog,” which opens on Saturday, Jan. 27. According to my mentors this week, Kate Logue and Bow Van Riper, Norman Bridwell called the Island home for more than 40 years, but in the early 1960s, he was living in New York City trying to make a living as a commercial artist and support his growing family, which included wife Norma, a fellow Indiana-born artist, and recently born daughter Emily Elizabeth. The work wasn’t steady, and he often had to take odd jobs to make ends meet. During an out-of-work stretch of six weeks, and running short of money, Norma suggested that he try doing illustrations for children’s books, something he’d always said he’d wanted to do, saying that it might turn into something.

Norman made several sample drawings, and took them to Harper & Row. Susan Hirschman, the editor he met with, wasn’t impressed, and told him If he wanted to illustrate a children’s book, he’d probably have to write it himself. She pointed at a drawing of a young girl with a giant dog, and said, “This might make an interesting story.” Norman went home and, having no other plans, made his very first attempt at a book, and wrote and illustrated “Clifford the Big Red Dog” in three days, and a legend was born. This exhibit will tell the story of this beloved character in a very kid-friendly, hands-on way and relate how the Bridwell family came to call the Island their home. It will engage and delight all ages!

The museum’s very first Friday Reset happened last Friday, to enthusiastic reviews. We want you to join us each Friday between 5 and 8 pm for light bites, which this week will be flatbreads from Aquila MV, board games, puzzles, the crafting table, chatting, the first-floor exhibitions, and this week’s feature: Trivia with Ray Whitaker (there are always prizes!). We are now accepting registration for Pecha Kucha (a Japanese less talk more show storytelling art form) on Friday, Jan. 26. The theme is pets! Choose 20 slides of your pet(s), and compose 20 seconds of description for each slide, and let’s make this winter month cozy. Email your desire to participate to

Spread the word: This is your museum, and we want you to fill it with your warmth, creativity, and stories. All of this Friday food and fun is a $20 donation for members, $25 for nonmembers. We want you here, so contact me if you have questions.

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 it 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