Museum Pieces: Link to the past and the future


“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” —Sue Monk Kidd

Our curatorial team worked with Dr. Timothy Walker on the exhibition that opened this past Sunday, June 9, called “Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad,” which will be up through Sept. 22 in the Grain Family Gallery. The Underground Railroad was not limited to land, but included a network of maritime routes along the Atlantic Seaboard. This groundbreaking exhibit uncovers the incredible stories of those who sought freedom by sea, shedding light on the maritime routes that played a crucial role in the Underground Railroad, including the waters around Martha’s Vineyard. Based on research by Walker and a previous exhibit at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, “Sailing to Freedom” aims to broaden our understanding of the daring escapes by sea that were instrumental in the quest for liberation.

On Friday, June 21, at 2 pm, you can meet Dr. Walker at the museum, and hear him speak about this exhibition, adding even more details than can fit into this already mind-blowing presentation. A professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Walker is a scholar of maritime history, colonial overseas expansion, and transoceanic slave trading. He is a guest investigator of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a contributing faculty member of the Munson Institute of Maritime Studies, and director of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Landmarks in American History” workshops series for middle and high school teachers, titled “Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad” (2011–22).

This is but one story the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is telling right now. Also this summer is “Eisenstaedt’s Martha’s Vineyard,” opening June 28 and up through August 25. Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of the most iconic photojournalists in history. On August 31, “Generations: Art and Identity with the Widdiss Family” opens and will stay on display through Dec. 8. This exhibition centers around a wampum belt made by Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal elder Donald Widdiss, and explores three generations of Widdiss family artists, featuring wampum art, pottery, and personal stories. This offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the broader themes of tradition, artistry, and cultural identity. The Island’s indigenous people will also be sharing their culture three times this summer during our Global Rhythms Summer Concert Series, on Tuesdays June 18, July 16, and August 27 at 5:30 pm. Each concert will feature a unique aspect of their tribal music and dances. We hope you will attend all of our Tuesday concerts to celebrate many of the cultural traditions from people who live here. Our Island truly is a rarified place created by the many people who’ve lived here and still do.

It has never been more exciting to visit a museum than nowadays. A surge of new stories are being discovered and shared that fill in pieces of a puzzle many of us never even knew were missing. History is not stagnant; it’s whirling, dynamic, and developing all the time. Martha’s Vineyard Museum wants us all to find ourselves in the words, pictures, and objects on display, contemplate and question what we are taking in, and add to the collective Island narrative. History isn’t always going to bring comfort, necessarily; it will probably challenge us to evolve and build on what has been done, but also discern what things don’t need changing. The indigenous Wampanoag People have always lived in rhythm with the natural beauty and bounty of the Vineyard, or as they know it, Noepe. The mission of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is to make sure our Island history is preserved with as many perspectives as we can root out.

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.