When artist Nancy Blank was 16 years old, she gave watercolor lessons to Vineyard Haven resident Millie Briggs, who had asked to learn the technique behind the misty, ethereal nature of the medium.
“The rest,” said Mrs. Blank, standing not 10 yards from where Millie Briggs’s four watercolor paintings hung, “is history.”
Mrs. Briggs, who will celebrate her 96th birthday at the end of the month, is now a sought-after establishment at the annual All-Island Art Show, held yesterday at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. This is the 52nd year of the show, and she hasn’t missed one yet.
“People look for her,” said show codirector Jeanne Wells, noting that several visitors had already been thrown for a loop by Millie’s move from her regular booth location near the front of the Tabernacle to a less prominent location. Despite the change, Mrs. Briggs’s fans nonetheless managed to find her, stopping by to chat, purchase packages of watercolor notecards, or simply to look at her paintings.
The watercolors were four of over 500 pieces of work entered in the show by 84 individual artists. While the number of artists dropped by three from last year, according to show committee member Peter Yoors, the actual number of entries was the largest since 2004.
“That’s a real positive sign in this recession,” Mr. Yoors said. “I thought we were going to be down, I really did.”
Each piece of work costs $5 to enter the show, and artists can show up to five pieces, in addition to — for the more ambitious — a portfolio. Besides the entry fee, all that is required of artists is an Island address and a birthday falling before 1994 (artists 15 and under have a chance to present their own work during the All-Island Junior Art Show, which begins today at the Tabernacle at 10 a.m.).
For some artists, such as photographer Harvey John Beth, the process of narrowing down a body of 2,000 images to the five that will be shown can be somewhat daunting.
“I do what every smart man does,” said Mr. Beth with a laugh. “I ask my wife.”
For others, such as first-time exhibitor Stephanie Flor, the selection process was simpler — she had six oil paintings to choose from, so only one ended up getting cut. Ms. Flor, who lives in the Camp Ground, was showing brightly colored folk art paintings of the neighborhood children. Across the way, husband Brian Kirkpatrick, last year’s winner of the coveted Most Popular award, presented his own paintings.
While nearly all the awards are presented by a team of judges — this year, Sam Low, Lanny McDowell, Melissa Breese, Michael Hunter, Sheila Fane and Donna Straw lent their critical eyes to the cause — the Most Popular designation is determined by the number of star stickers placed on a piece of work’s entry tag. Stars cost just 10 cents each (“They’re the one thing is this world that hasn’t changed with inflation,” said Ms. Wells). Not included in the price of a star, however, is the cost of immense restraint — patrons can only choose one painting to grace with a sticker.
“You can’t vote twice for the President,” said Ms. Wells. (Fittingly, it was Mr. Kirkpatrick’s painting of Vineyard Obamamania that won him last year’s prize.)
New to the prize cache this year are $50 awards for painting and photography from the Dragonfly Gallery. Prizes are awarded in 10 categories, the largest of which is digital photography. Mr. Yoors said standbys such as acrylics, oil and watercolors have seen their numbers remain much the same over the years, while digital photography’s numbers are boosted by artists making the switch from film imaging. Color photography, for example, had 85 entries last year, but just 19 this year.
Attending the art show is an annual ritual for some. Painter Michelle RenÃ© Cobb of Washington, D.C., kicks off a two-week vacation during which she paints exclusively Vineyardscapes with her exhibit of oil and acrylic creations at the All-Island Show. Ms. Cobb works in the plein air Impressionist style, lending her paintings a distinct color palette and quality of light .
For every Michelle RenÃ© Cobb, there are two who simply stumbled upon the show, such as Yvette Killian and friend Barb Markoff-Eggender of Chicago. Once there, the two found it difficult to leave — the caliber of work at the art show is “really quite lovely,” said Mrs. Killian. “I’m sure we won’t go home empty-handed.”
The case of Mrs. Killian and Ms. Markoff-Eggender, however, is typical of both Islanders and visitors alike. In the words of Millie Briggs, “Who wants to be anywhere else?”