The Floating Gallery presents ‘Out of Paradise’


Marion Wilson used the pandemic in an unusual way. On her daily walk, she became intrigued by a houseboat for sale on Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven, perched down the hill from the M.V. Museum. It was Rick Brown’s boatbuilding workshop, and Wilson decided to acquire it initially, thinking of using it only as a studio space.

Known for upcycling mobile structures, she turned the workshop into the Floating Gallery, the Vineyard’s only art exhibition venue literally on the water. As a cultural space in the Lagoon Pond, the gallery is both a platform and a lens to the environment.

Not originally from the Island, Wilson felt the pull to use the gallery to build community: “I’m next to the marina, down from the museum, and interested in the environment. I thought it would be an interesting platform to connect with people and get to know them.”

On her website, she writes, “As we navigate the complexities of climate change, coastal erosion, and environmental degradation, the Floating Gallery offers a poignant reimagining of our place within the world and our responsibility to not only preserve but work in tandem with it.”

Her first show this summer, “Out of Paradise,” features five artists’ explorations of humans’ relationship to the natural world. Here, Wilson is particularly interested in how fine art painting can meaningfully address the environment. “I was trained as an oil painter, but essentially stopped for 25 years because I didn’t know how to make painting talk about the things I was interested in. This made me think, let me look at painters who really believe painting can be political.”

Sarah McCourbrey’s four gemlike paintings on the panel echo Old Masters and other representational art traditions. These small jewels blend an implied narrative with meticulous observation, encouraging us to consider our impact on and co-existence with the environment. Her tightly painted renderings shimmer with the essence of the atmosphere, which may be surprising, as the tranquil scenes were inspired by those on contested land either stolen from indigenous people or Superfund sites.

Ella Mahoney, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), creates large paintings based on storytelling that reflect her work as a children’s book illustrator. Mahoney draws inspiration from creation stories and her personal experience of indigeneity. Her mother, Juli Vanderhoop, explains that “The Six Swans” derives from old fairy tales. The imaginative scene in a magically lit, verdant forest of a nude young woman surrounded by the endearing creatures encourages us to invent our own narrative.

Peter Edlund examines social and political issues through fine art oil painting. His work addresses the inherent contradiction between the mythic, utopian concept of the American landscape and the actual social and political reality of racism and genocide in the country. Edlund’s large two-color landscape, “Whoever Transplants, Will Sustain,” is based on an 1872 photograph of Bay Ridge Brooklyn’s original shoreline. Various invasive plants and trees in brown tones penetrate the Indigenous flora in blue, transforming it into a poignant political statement.

David Opdyke’s artwork explores globalization, consumerism, and civilization’s abusive relationship with the environment. He acquires antique postcards from the early 1900s, when America believed it would never run out of nature to conquer and use. He alters the small photographs by painting images that can bring us up short. For instance, the tentacles of a gargantuan octopus creep up from below, strangling the highway and winding their way through the mountains. In another, foliage slowly overwhelms an industrial bridge spanning the Tennessee River, and starfish and flora threaten to overtake the helmeted and toga-dressed statue on the Dome of the Capital.

Wilson’s contribution is a suite of six watercolor portraits of birds. She likes testing the medium, “using watercolor in a way that isn’t necessarily sentimental, but a little more provocative.” The works are among the first paintings she created aboard the Floating Gallery. They came out of her contemplation about humans’ relationship to and impact on her new aviary neighbors in the contaminated western arm of Lagoon Pond. She is interested in looking at the landscape and understanding our human relationship to it, which, Wilson says, “in many cases has been a form of intervention, and not been good for the environment.” This same duality is seen in her fluid use of a luscious medium to portray falcons and ducks that are actually in distress. 

“‘Out of Paradise’ presents a powerful reminder of the urgent need to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world,” Wilson says. “Referencing John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ the exhibition encourages a shift to loving care and stewardship, which can inspire a more harmonious and sustainable approach to the environment today.”

The Floating Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12 to 6 pm. For more information, a list of events, and exhibition openings, visit