Explore the Oak Bluffs Arts District

The Galaxy Gallery in Oak Bluffs, a seasonal gallery with the M.V. Center for the Visual Arts. — Galaxy Gallery

By Gwyn McAllister

The Oak Bluffs Arts District may not be hosting its annual strolls this summer, but the Dukes County Ave. neighborhood is still a great place to take a stroll anytime, away from the Circuit Ave. crowds, with plenty of opportunities for shopping and browsing.

“We’re a great strolling neighborhood,” says Holly Alaimo, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts (MVCVA). “We have parking, you can grab something to eat at Tony’s, and there are four galleries and a working studio to visit.”

Alaimo, former owner of the Dragonfly Gallery, was instrumental in getting the Arts District designation in place and in promoting the initiative. “It’s become an exciting vibrant area,” she says. “It’s just a short scenic walk from downtown through the Campground, or you can park along Vineyard Ave. or in one of the gallery’s parking lots to avoid downtown traffic.”

The line up of the Arts District’s businesses includes the renamed Galaxy Gallery (formerly the Art Gallery), the Alison Shaw Gallery, and the two newest additions — the Knowhere Gallery and the Michael Blanchard Gallery. On August 8, all the galleries will stay open extra evening hours for visitors.

The Galaxy Gallery is a cooperative sponsored by the MVCVA. Along with eight of the original members, the gallery this year welcomes taxidermy artist Janet Messineo. The well-known fisherman and author recently began creating artwork from mounted fish and also from horseshoe crab shells. She will be manning the gallery frequently for those interested in learning more about her work. The other participating artists are painters Renee Balter, Marston Clough, Lowely Finnerty, and Liz Taft, woodcut artist Ruth Kirchmeier, mixed media artist Genevieve Jacobs, jeweler Joan LeLacheur, and botanical collage artist Peggy Turner Zablotny.

Michael Blanchard and the husband-and-wife owners of the Knowhere Gallery moved into their respective side-by-side spaces last summer. Blanchard sells prints of his stunning Vineyard photographs, along with calendars and cards with his images, and his inspirational book “Through a Sober Lens.”

Valerie Francis, who along with her husband Ralph H Groce III, owns and operates the Knowhere Gallery, is excited to head into her second season. She opened on July Fourth weekend with a show spotlighting the work of acclaimed Vineyard artist Wendy Weldon. “I’m calling her show ‘A Look Inside,’” says Francis. “It’s really a restrospective of her work — some of the new pieces in pastels that she’s working on right now and some of the more vibrantly colored pieces that she’s known for.”

The Knowhere Gallery will exhibit work by Chicago-based artist Rhonda K. Brown, whose family opened the first African American gallery in the U.S. in 1980, and Chilmark resident Stephanie Danforth, who donates profits from her art towards providing education to children in Kenya. Francis and Groce will add new artists to the mix throughout the summer.

Alison Shaw and partner Sue Dawson made the decision early on to operate by appointment or by chance this year. Although the doors will be locked, anyone walking by can call and, if a staff member is onsite, they will open up for a private showing, just as they would for anyone calling ahead. To further safeguard visitors, the gallery owners have switched out their flip-through portfolios with a large screen on which guests can view all available work in a hands-free manner. New work by Shaw will also be available at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.

Judith Drew Schubert, who has operated the Periwinkle studio on Dukes County Ave. for many years, will also be onsite often for visitors interested in stopping by to browse her paintings and unique block print textile work.

“This year people in the Arts District are really pulling together,” says Alaimo. “Everybody is really supportive of each other. We all know that working together is the way we’re going to survive.”

Most Arts District galleries will be open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm, with extended hours planned for some Saturday evenings.