Museum Pieces: Oral histories, Eisenstadt, small business, and more

See, hear, take part in and create new Island history at M.V. Museum.

Cottage City waterfront, c. 1890. —Courtesy MV Museum

“I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this.” –Susan Branch

It’s here. The summer of 2024! What memories will we make and keep forevermore? All of us at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum hope you will make time for a visit — or 10 — to your community museum. There are endless reasons.

For instance, there’s entertaining our “Energizer Bunny” kids inside the Clifford exhibit with its indoor slide, or “Hands on History,” which has loads of interactive ways of learning through fun, and then there are the outdoor scavenger hunts. Of course, you can always come for the spectacular view, or the exploring, or discovering, and the absolute blast that is in store! Summer on the Vineyard, of course, includes trips to the beaches, ice cream shops, restaurants, retail therapy, mini-golf, walks, bike riding, kayaking, camps, clamming, etc. Visiting Martha’s Vineyard Museum measures up to all of those things. Think outside of previous experiences or notions of what a museum offers. MVM is a vibrant, active, beautiful place to play, relax, eat, and stoke your imagination and sense of place.

I was speaking with MVM research librarian Bow Van Riper and chief curator Bonnie Stacy this week about how we are feeling the energy of summer ramping up. Bow gave me some historical perspective on how the “season” has evolved. From the end of the Civil War to the end of World War II, tourist season on the Vineyard lasted only 10 weeks (the other 42 weeks it was a quiet, rural, fishing and farming community). The birth of the Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby in 1946 helped to create a fall “shoulder season” that lasted into mid-October. In the 1970s, the last week in June began the annual opening salvo to the beginning of summer — when pleasure boats were launched, sheets were pulled off furniture in summer houses, and wrinkles were shaken out of bathing suits. The museum has an example of a very early bathing dress on view in our “One Island, Many Stories” room.

We have an exhibition opening tonight at 5:30 pm titled “Eisenstaedt’s Martha’s Vineyard,” which will be up through August 25. Eisenstaedt is one of the most respected photojournalists of the 20th century. He captured countless iconic images, from a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square to portraits of kings, dictators, and movie stars. His long career with Life magazine took him all over the world, but he’d always return to the Island he cherished each summer for more than 50 years to bask in its beauty and capture all of it on film. This exhibition shares the story of Eisenstaedt’s Martha’s Vineyard through his own words, along (of course) with photographs and objects in the museum’s collection.

Another stunning and important story being told inside the Grain Family Gallery is “Sailing to Freedom: The Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad,” which you can experience through Sept. 22. Dr. Tim Walker gave a very engaging, sold-out talk about the exhibition, expanding on what is included, and will be back in September to repeat the talk for anyone who could not attend.

We also hope you will come for the programming we have lined up. We have a six-week speaker series at our Cooke House property in Edgartown on Mondays at 4 pm, from July 8 through August 12, called “Tales of Edgartown.” Oral history curator Linsey Lee will bring us “Vineyard Voices Tell Their Stories” on Monday, July 1, at 5:30 pm. Highlights include Olive Tomlinson’s harrowing account during the “Green Book” era, Henry Smith’s stories of active eel fisheries on the Island, and Loïs Mailou Jones discussing her journey as an African American artist. From tales of early radio’s impact to the inception of Camp Jabberwocky, these stories offer a window into the heart and soul of our Island community. On Wednesday, July 3, at 5:30 pm, is “Small Businesses in a Seasonal Economy, with India Rose.” You will hear about the intricacies of operating small businesses in a seasonal economy. She will tell us about creating the Martha’s Vineyard Black-Owned Business Directory and the significant role it plays in supporting local businesses. Rose will dive into the challenges specific to seasonal operations and the critical pivots necessary for sustainability. This talk is a must-attend for anyone interested in the dynamics of small business and economic diversity on the Island, or in any small seasonal community.

Make this summer on the Vineyard another unforgettable one!

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.