A photographer’s lens peeks inside the Marine Hospital

"Exterior, Marine Hospital, 2014," by Jean Schnell.

Photographer Jean Schnell pays tribute to Vineyard Haven’s Marine Hospital in an architecturally oriented series at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center’s Artspace. The Ashland resident and former nurse who studied with Alison Shaw has captured with pristine clarity the deteriorating building, which sits on a hill overlooking Lagoon Pond. The building is scheduled to become the new home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

"Boat Marine Hospital" by Jean Schnell.
“Boat Marine Hospital” by Jean Schnell.

Ms. Schnell’s 12 images range from a black-and-white portrait of the hospital exterior below a swirl of clouds to interior shots of an open door reflected in a mirror. There is a sense of peace and permanence to the photos that draws in the viewer. “Sailing Camp” depicts a sailboat painting on a wall, a reminder that after the hospital was decommissioned, it became the St. Pierre School of Sport for children. Open doors provide the motif for several of the photographs, which are colored in muted pastels. “Boat Storage” shows a long corridor with a dinghy leaning against a wall, a splash of sunlight spreading across the floor and up a wall.

Details play an important role in the photographs illustrating this 19th century building. In “Bathroom,” two white porcelain sinks grace an angled image with a green tint. “Porch Door” represents one of the few photos taken outside the building. In it, part of a stepladder enters the frame on one side, suggesting the building’s planned renovation. On the other, an open, dark- blue screen door invites the viewer to look inside. A window looks out at the harbor through a porch railing and balusters in “Window View.”

The Marine Hospital was built in 1895. Seamen visiting the then busy Vineyard Haven Harbor were treated at the hospital, which was part of a series of federal marine hospitals along shipping routes. Once the Cape Cod Canal was completed in 1916, Vineyard Haven shipping traffic declined, but the hospital remained open. A brick surgical wing was added in 1935, and the hospital began to treat enlisted men wounded during WWI and WWII, as well as local patients. In 1952, the Seamen’s Friend Society of Boston bought the building, and it stayed empty until J. Raoul and Dorothy St. Pierre bought it, turning it into a summer camp that operated until 2007. Once it’s renovated, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum plans to use the existing structure for offices, a library, classrooms, and storage. A new addition will provide exhibition space, climate-controlled storage, and a lecture hall.

Ms. Schnell’s photographs can be viewed in the Film Society’s Feldman Family Artspace, which is curated by Leslie Baker, Nancy Shaw Cramer, and Kate Hancock. “The Marine Hospital” will remain up until Sept. 6, 2016. All the art on display is available for purchase.