Upon walking into the Gay Head Gallery, guests are immediately cast into stormy seas.
Greenland 45, a large charcoal painting by Zaria Forman portraying an ominous sky on the verge of exploding with rain, hangs at eye level directly across from the front door. Surrounding it are paintings and photographs with names like Storm Cloud by Peggy Roth Major and Storm Warning on George’s Bank by Mark Lovewell.
These works, and many more, make up the gallery’s latest exhibit, Keep the Lighthouse in Sight, benefiting the Gay Head Lighthouse relocation. When visitors walk into the gallery, they are immediately reminded of the vital purpose the lighthouse has performed, ushering ships safely through hazardous days and nights at sea.
Since the Gay Head Gallery re-opened in 2011, it has continually partnered with local nonprofits to help raise money to preserve the Island and promote environmental stewardship. While most of the organizations that the gallery has supported in the past have focused on environmental issues, the gallery’s owner, Megan Ottens-Sargent, was eager to help the Gay Head Lighthouse.
“My moniker is protecting the rare and the endangered,” she said. “My priority is wildlife and the natural environment, but I think cultural resources are rare and endangered, too. I think that artists are rare and endangered. That’s really what is motivating me, connecting people to valuing what is at risk.”
The exhibit features work by new and veteran artists alike, including pieces from Enos Ray, Christian Heckscher and John Nickerson Athearn. All of the artists have agreed to donate at least 10 per cent of the proceeds from their work to the Save the Gay Head Light Committee, which is raising money to move the lighthouse away from eroding cliffs that threaten its foundation. Some of the artists, including Allen Whiting and Jeanne Staples, have generously chosen to give 100 per cent of their proceeds to the cause.
“It says so much that so many serious artists on this Island volunteered to give full donations the minute they heard there was a benefit for the Gay Head Lighthouse,” said Ms. Ottens-Sargent. “The Gay Head Lighthouse is truly an icon.”
All of the work in the show is inspired by the lighthouse in some way, but only a handful of the pieces actually show the structure. There are pieces showing the changing landscape of Aquinnah, and there are pieces that simply show the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard.
“Not everyone wants to paint lighthouses and not everybody has time to make a painting for a particular show,” Ms. Ottens-Sargent said. “I said in my description that the work could be about the lighthouse, the cliffs, the ocean, storms, light, whatever the lighthouse inspired for the artist.
“The thought of being in a gallery full of lighthouses was a little daunting to me,” she added.
In a side room of the gallery, photographs and paintings of the Islander ferry fill the walls as a reminder of what is at stake for the lighthouse. The Islander, which was built in 1950, was a symbol of the historical roots of this Island until it stopped running in 2007. Ms. Ottens-Sargent hopes that this segment of the exhibit will show visitors the importance of protecting cultural icons and will help inspire people to donate and purchase work from the gallery.
While these works and others depict the historic beauty of the Island, many of the pieces look to the insecure future. A digital collage by Kathy Newman reveals different eras of Aquinnah’s past and future. It shows oxen carrying passengers from Pilot’s Landing, and highlights the monument to soldiers who fought in World War II located in front of the town hall. At the top of the piece wind turbines rise out of the ocean, a glimpse, perhaps, of changes yet to come.
The Keep the Lighthouse in Sight exhibit will continue through July 27. The Gay Head Gallery is located at 32 State Road in Aquinnah, 4/10 mile beyond the sign to Lobsterville. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and always by appointment. Call 508-645-2776.