Time to celebrate the Old Sculpin

"Clam Digger"

By Josephine Brennan


If you’ve spent time walking around the bustling harbor in Edgartown, you’ve likely passed the distinct and historic Old Sculpin Gallery. Located next to the Chappy ferry, the Old Sculpin will celebrate its 65th year this summer. The gallery has been around for a lot of Edgartown history — you can even spot the it as a backdrop in “Jaws.”

This summer of celebration, explained Melinda Fager, co-president of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association (MVAA), honors the dynamic artists, innovators, students, and countless supporters who have contributed to the gallery’s success.  

“Everybody has a lot of pride,” Fager said of those who are involved with the Island’s oldest gallery.

The gallery has changed throughout the years, but as they have evolved, they have maintained the character that was fundamental to the gallery’s success from the beginning.

For this year’s anniversary, Fager and co-president Meg Mercier are going all out, celebrating the legacy of the gallery, its rich history and character, and going full steam toward what’s next.

The story of the Old Sculpin is unique as art galleries go. The building, historically a boatshed, whale oil factory, and grain store, got its name from the man — Manuel Swartz Roberts — who sold it to the MVAA, Fager said. Roberts was a boat builder and craftsman who so appreciated art that he cultivated close friendships with local artists. Roberts was affectionately called an “old sculpin” by friends, likely a comical reference to the bottom-feeding sculpin fish. The MVAA wanted to preserve his legacy of supporting artists by giving them a place of their own, and by naming the gallery for him.

The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust acquired the Old Sculpin in 2005, which helps sustain the ongoing preservation of the gallery. Looking to keep the character of the gallery alive, Fager said that Roberts’ workbench is used to display art during shows.

Fager remarked that the Old Sculpin is seeing the third generation of families come through the gallery to take classes, a testament to the mission of the MVAA, which focuses on “quality art education, annual scholarship awards, exhibition opportunities for artists in the historic Old Sculpin Gallery, and curating our permanent collection of Island art,” according to the Old Sculpin website. Notable alumna and current Vineyard artisan Alison Shaw, of Alison Shaw Gallery in Oak Bluffs, even took watercolor classes at the Old Sculpin when she was 14.

During a recent rebranding, Fager said, the gallery used the talents of Ben Scott of Blue Rock design. Scott, an alumnus of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, received a scholarship from Old Sculpin when he graduated from MVRHS as a budding artist.

“It’s the exact kind of coming full circle that you love to see,” said Fager.

While Old Sculpin has by all accounts been a success over the decades, Fager said that the gallery has had a “reawakening” in the last few years.

Looking ahead, the gallery has a summer schedule filled to the brim with celebration, in addition to the weekly shows of established and emerging artists’ work. Kicking off the summer season in early June, there will be a celebration and show of new artists and scholarship recipients as well as a show featuring works from the permanent collection, and an open house for artists of all levels to enjoy the Old Sculpin by browsing, or visiting the classrooms open for the event. Festivities continue in early July, featuring the work of Rosalie Shane and her famous cupcake art, and a sweet treat to take home. In August, the Canvas & Chords fundraiser, in collaboration with MVY Radio at the new MV Museum will cap off the season’s high-profile events, and feature donated works of art, musical items and experiences for auction.

Fager said the gallery looks forward to expanding their reach, continuing to cultivate new audiences, and exploring more class offerings, starting with catering to adults and middle-schoolers.

A lot of the Old Sculpin’s charm comes from the appeal it has to visitors from near and far as an accessible and affordable way to take home a piece of the Island, Fager said. While the interests of customers may have changed over the years, the Old Sculpin always has something to offer.

“We’re still here,” said Fager, “and we’re trying to have a lot of fun with it.”

Old Sculpin Gallery is located at 58 Dock St. in Edgartown. The gallery will be open Monday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, and Sundays 12 pm to 5 pm.  For more information, call 508-627-4881 or visit oldsculpingallery.org.