Old Sculpin Gallery celebrates its 60th anniversary


The Old Sculpin Gallery, across from the Chappaquiddick Ferry ticket office and Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, is the showcase outlet for The Martha’s Vineyard Art Association (MVAA), a group of about 60 member artists that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Jane Messersmith, a watercolorist and a retired art and science teacher from the public school system in Florida, became a member when the organization was only 10 years old. She and her late husband, Fred, first came to the Vineyard on the invitation of Ruth Mead, an artist and a charter member of the MVAA who knew Fred from Florida. Fred taught painting at Stetson University in Florida and Ms. Mead wanted him to teach a summer course in watercolor painting at the Old Sculpin Gallery.

“It’s been a wonderful part of our family,” Ms. Messersmith said. “We came here with six children in 1964. This is my 50th year. We fell in love with the Vineyard and the gallery. We even bought land here our first year. We bought our acre and a tenth that summer in the woods in Edgartown and have pretty much been here every summer since.”

In addition to teaching, Fred eventually became director of the gallery and was honored for his 30-plus years of service this summer when the Fred Messersmith Gallery was dedicated at the museum.

Ms. Messersmith also taught at the gallery for five years. Her son, Harry, a sculptor, and daughter, Patricia Turken, a former art teacher at the Lincoln Center in New York, are both MVAA members and have shown their work at the gallery.

“The MVAA has always had children’s art classes, adult painting classes and also life drawing classes. We also give scholarships, three this year to art students at the high school for the college of their choice.”

The gallery is an unusual building for today’s Edgartown. It is over 240 years old — few buildings of its vintage still exist. It is not painted white and would never be mistaken for a whaling captain’s house, and it seems top heavy with its distinctive shingled tower. The building has at various times housed a sail loft, a whale oil processing factory, a grain store, and a boatbuilder’s shop. It has wide, well-worn floorboards and hand-hewn beams. The building itself is worth the visit.

Incorporated in 1954, the MVAA opened for the benefit of the Island community to “increase facilities of art education, create interest in the arts, make an art center for the whole island, establish a permanent collection, and preserve an old landmark.”

About 30 of the member artists will be showing their work at the gallery this summer, along with pieces from the group’s permanent collection and, for the first time, work from non-member artists will also be included.

Six special events are planned to celebrate their 60th anniversary. A 60th anniversary traveling exhibit, featuring selections from the MVAA’s Permanent Collection of over 100 works of art, is touring Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Vineyard Haven, and West Tisbury this summer. The exhibit will be at the Vineyard Haven Library for the month of August and includes work from the following Vineyard artists: William Abbe, Francis Chapin, Mary Drake Coles, Julius Delbos, Gilberta Goodwin, Joseph Hazen, Patricia Reeve Mead, Ruth Appledoorn Mead, and Vaclav Vytlacil.

There will be three MVAA member themed shows this summer: “Reflections: Celebrating our MVAA Heritage,” “Island Bounty: From Food to Art,” and “Our Golden Age.” A list of artists on display is available on their website, marthasvineyardartassociation.org.

“Painting the Vineyard,” MVAA’s 2nd annual plein air fundraising event will be from July 15 through the 20th, in partnership with the Preservation Trust. Artists will be painting outdoors at some of the Vineyard’s most iconic and favorite places. This event marks a turning point in the organization’s history. It is the first time non-members will be invited to paint alongside members and to exhibit their work in the gallery to sell. The gallery will show the paintings from this event from July 19 to 25.

The first Old Sculpin community show with works by non-member artists as well as member artists will be curated by Edgartown artist Margot Datz beginning at the end of August.

In June, the MVAA dedicated the Fred Messersmith Gallery honoring the former director’s 30-plus years of service to the organization. Also in June, Flatbread held a benefit night with proceeds going toward academic art scholarships, awarded annually to local students.

The Old Sculpin Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am–6 pm, and on Sundays, 12 noon–5 pm, in season. There is no charge for admission. Dock Street, Edgartown. Call 508-627-4881 or email oldsculpin@gmail.com for more information.