It was an evening of good news and appreciation at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum annual meeting at the Federated Church in Edgartown on Monday.
The Martha’s Vineyard Medal, an annual award, this year went to Marian Halperin, Francine Kelly and S. Bailey Norton Jr.
“I’ve known Marian a long time,” said James B. Richardson 3rd as he introduced Mrs. Halperin, “but when you know somebody for a long time, you don’t really know them.” Mr. Richardson spoke of discovering new things about Mrs. Halperin as he prepared his introductory remarks. Mrs. Halperin first arrived on the Vineyard with her husband Sam in 1964 and moved here full-time in 1971 after working in art galleries, teaching fourth and fifth grade in New York city and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a New York Board of Education liaison. She became the museum’s first director in 1985 and left the museum in 1992. Under her tenure, Mr. Richardson said, Mrs. Halperin professionalized the museum and expanded the staff. He listed her many contributions to the Island through community service, noting that she was a 1983 recipient of the Creative Living Award.
“I started as a volunteer, served on the board, then as director and now I’m volunteering again,” Mrs. Halperin said, noting the full-circle aspect of her relationship to the museum. To illustrate the museum’s importance, she told the story of a letter in the museum’s collection written in 1704 from a young woman to her mother. On the surface the letter seemed like a typical missive from an ill woman seeking her mother’s comfort, but as Mrs. Halperin peeled away the layers it was revealed that the letter was written by Ruth Bacon, the youngest daughter of Thomas Daggett and Hannah Mayhew, two names familiar to the Vineyard. Ruth went on to have two children and live into her 80s. This proximity to the personal history of the Vineyard, in which Mrs. Halperin takes so much delight, was made possible through the museum’s extensive collections, she said.
Ann Smith and Janis Smith-Gomez introduced their mother, Francine Kelly, by noting her work as the director of programs at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum from 1986 to 2000. Ms. Kelly first came to the Vineyard in 1951 and retired here in 2003. A month later, she became the executive director at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. “Mentoring the next generation of artists is one of Francine’s greatest passions,” said Ms. Smith. “I never thought when I came here when I was 11 that I would be receiving this honor,” Ms. Kelly said as she accepted her award. She spoke of her work involving young people in Featherstone’s activities and of her numerous collaborations with various Island organizations, including the museum. “We even had a birthday party for Pete Seeger,” Ms. Kelly laughed as she noted the variety of events that Featherstone had hosted. “The museum has done much to help and support us,” Ms. Kelly said. “We are a true community.”
The final speaker was Chris Scott who spoke for S. Bailey Norton Jr., who was unable to attend. Calling him one of his own personal heroes, Mr. Scott said Mr. Norton represented the best of preservation of Island history, a 10th generation Vineyarder who grew up on the Edgartown waterfront before going on to a successful career in manufacturing. Mr. Norton retired to Edgartown in 1978 and is the author of a memoir, My Long Journey Home: A Life Worth Living. He served on the museum’s board of directors from 1983 to 1996 and was its president from 1985 to 1988. Mr. Norton’s wife, Joan, accepted the award on his behalf.
In reports from the board and senior staff, Elizabeth Beim, chairman of the museum board of directors, spoke of the impending move to the Marine Hospital site in Vineyard Haven, the sale of which is expected to close by the end of the month. She also confirmed the sale of the museum’s West Tisbury land to the Polly Hill Arboretum and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, previously reported in the Gazette. Executive director David Nathans said that annual fund contributions were up and the annual operating deficit had shrunk from $121,000 to of $83,000.
He said the museum raised $300,000 in the final quarter of last year.
The meeting’s business completed, the audience filtered out of the Federated Church into the light drizzle falling on Edgartown and made their way to a reception for the award winners at the museum complex around the corner.