Museum Pieces: Knowing our way through history

A preview of M.V. Museum’s summer.


“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” –Henry David Thoreau

I was walking along the beach in Oak Bluffs this week, passing the many benches placed next to the walkway in memory of loved ones. I paused at the one my friend Joanne dedicated to her mother, and chose it as my reflecting spot for a while. There was a beautiful evening sunlight creating golden-hour magic that can make everything feel manageable and calm. Looking out to sea at that moment settled me into receiving the influence of the earth. I felt the possibilities and the magnitude of everything, alongside the reality of being one drop in any given wave rushing to shore. Am I at all significant? Do I matter? Can my life make a difference? Questions we’ve all asked ourselves over the years. I thought about Martha’s Vineyard Museum up on that hill, rooms full of stories that can teach us so much, spark ideas, help us live with more awareness, understanding, and purpose.

Each Monday in June from 5 to 6 pm, Bow Van Riper, MVM’s research librarian, will reintroduce us to the Vineyard’s waterfront history. This coming Monday, June 10, will be all about “Great Harbour,” as the Edgartown waterfront was originally known — named for the sprawling deep-water refuge sandwiched between Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. Edgartown has been a center of both inshore and offshore fishing, a whaling port, and a mecca for recreational sailors in boats large and small for more than four centuries. On Monday, June 17, it will be Oak Bluffs — once known as Cottage City, and conceived as a summer resort town. Its waterfront was designed for recreation, lined with hotels, boardwalks, pavilions, and bathhouses. Vineyard Haven will be on June 24 — a deep-water port located at the narrowest point in one of the busiest waterways on Earth, Vineyard Haven Harbor rose and fell with the fortunes of the coastal shipping trade.

Our exhibition on Clifford the Big Red Dog is in the Hollinshead, Cox, and Fleischner galleries, and has been extended through Sept. 8. Do you think Norman Bridwell ever doubted his significance, or wondered if he mattered, or if his life would make a difference? We may not all be Norman Bridwells, but his story shows us how to hang in there when the going gets tough, and never give up on pursuing your dream, because you just might find it along the way.

In the Adele H. Waggaman Community Gallery, we have photos displayed from our Peter Simon collection. Simon’s images not only showcase Island life, but reveal integral bits of his life and how he saw things. On the heels of Peter’s exhibition will be another legendary photographer — one of the most respected photojournalists of the 20th century.

Alfred Eisenstaedt captured some of the most iconic images ever, from a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square to portraits of kings, dictators, and movie stars. This exhibition opens June 28, and will reveal the story of Eisenstaedt’s Martha’s Vineyard through his own words, his storied photographs, as well as objects displayed from the mMuseum’s collection.

These two photographers’ stories can remind us to see life through our own lens, and that the photos we take are a record of what mattered to us.

The museum cares about this community, and how it presents artifacts, information, and images in our collection. Is there a wrong way to share it? What are all the possible impacts? Who should we consult with before moving forward with an exhibition idea? Museums are ever-changing, always seeking the untold stories. MVM is acutely aware, active, and adjusting to new information. We want to be a place for gathering, discussing, appreciating, expanding, enrichment, laughter, feeling safe, welcome, and represented. If you feel we are missing something, please tell us. We want you to show up at your museum, “live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth,” and our collective past.

Visit for more information about upcoming exhibitions and events. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. Summer-season hours: Tuesday, 10 am – 7 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm. Admission is free to members; admission for nonmembers is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $5 for children 7 to 17, and free for children 6 and under. Islander rates are available.