Growing up in Harthaven, I was surrounded by artists — my father and mother for starters. Among frequent visitors to our home were the amateur painter and professional actor Jim Cagney, who I recall doing a soft-shoe dance on our dining room floor; syndicated cartoonist Denys Wortman stinking up the kitchen with his experimental horseshoe crab bisque; Saturday Evening Post illustrator Steve Dohanos pouring the drinks and Tom Benton telling a story. But I want to focus on my dad and two other artists who will be featured in a Featherstone exhibit (Harthaven Artists — Abbe/Low/Prizer) that opened Sunday.

My father Sandy Low was a gifted watercolorist whose paintings of the Vineyard recall the golden days of the 1940s and 1950s, well before the deluge of tourists, a time when most folks had never heard of Martha’s Vineyard. I remember going with him to his favorite painting haunt in Menemsha when I was about 12 years old and meeting Ernest (Horsepower) Mayhew. I was fascinated by Mr. Mayhew and the collection of gear in his shack but what I recall most is him slapping my dad on the back and greeting him with a curious question. “Hello, Sandy,” he said, “Is the sap still running?” Later, when I asked my dad what he meant, I received an evasive answer.

Bill Abbe's work is featured along with many other artists in Featherstone's Harthaven artists exhibit.

I loved to watch my father take a blank sheet of watercolor paper, set it on his easel and do a rapid pencil sketch to outline the composition. Then out came the brushes and the palette. I remember the tinkling sound that his brush made when he dipped it in a bottle of water to wash the colors off. He worked quickly and decisively — washing the paper to blend clouds and sky or applying the paint more thickly with deft strokes to fill in the shape of a boat. Within a few hours the painting seemed finished, but he usually completed it later at home.

My father’s paintings were mostly representational, but he loved to experiment. Perhaps following Picasso’s dictum, “good artists copy, great artists steal,” he deployed Pollock’s drip style to create abstracted yet still realistic paintings or he used a pallet knife to convey both motion and emotion as in a painting of seagulls thrashing the ocean in a feeding frenzy.

He loved to capture well-used things — a seasoned fishing boat, leaning telephone poles, sorry-looking dilapidated buildings. “Why don’t you paint new ones?” I once asked him.

“Because old places are more beautiful,” he told me. “They contain the memories of all the people who lived in them.”

Bill Abbe lived just down the road from us in Harthaven. As a kid, I was fascinated by his collection of toys and other wonderfully strange objects. He had a player piano, pinball machines, dozens of Santa Claus figures, a large collection of Tootsie Toys and some pedal cars shaped like boats and airplanes that you could pedal about the house. He was a joyful fellow who liked young people and he would occasionally take me into his studio to show a work in progress.

Bill loved bright in-your-face color and his paintings seemed to leap off the canvas. What fascinated me then, and still does, was his skillful abstraction. My father would paint a Camp Ground house as it appeared but Bill would choose to select the architectural details and compose them to convey the impression you got from all those eye-browed windows and doorways and those frenzied gothic curlicues dripping from eaves and porches. Or he painted boats in a kind of time-lapse — showing them sailing at you, broadside, tacking and turning away to suggest motion — and emotion.

His studio was littered with linoleum blocks which he carved away to create prints that seemed to jump off the wall. Thousands of them in his lifetime. The Abbe family has kindly given many of them to Featherstone and they will be sold to support the mission of teaching and celebrating art.

Flying Horses by Doug Prizer. Exhibit opening reception is Sunday, August 22 at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

I remember Doug Prizer most as a fisherman who owned an Erford Burt boat and sallied forth from Harthaven Harbor along with many of my family in search of bass and blues. He lived up on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. “He set up his studio in the screened-in porch with a sweeping view of the beach curving to Chappaquiddick where he painted almost every day,” his grandson, Paul Prizer, recalled.

He began to paint late at age 32 and his talent matured quickly on artistic rambles all over the Island. More than the other two featured Harthaven artists, Doug loved to include people in his work, delighting in their social interaction. In a painting of the West Tisbury Store, a grandfather and child amble across the road, a woman appears to call out to him from a doorway and a man slouches in a chair on the porch. His paintings capture a menu of everyday Island life — a Boston Whaler speeds out of the Oak Bluffs harbor, bathers and sailboats congregate at Harthaven’s beach, Oak Bluffs carousel riders fly by, waving and chatting with each other. A painting of Manuel Swartz, one of Doug’s oldest friends and maker of fine boats in Edgartown, conveys an impression of serenity that may reasonably have come from a sureness in his own art of shaping wood.

Additional artwork featured In the Featherstone exhibit includes Harthaven artists Mary Stevens, Mila Cenkl, Louis Fusari, Grace Vibberts, Virginia Low, Martha (Patty) Pease, Martha Moore and Grace Vibberts. Their art is on loan from private collections as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Old Sculpin Gallery and the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn.

Taken together, the work of these 11 artists is more than a collection of magnificent paintings. It is a veritable time capsule from our Island’s past — showing the Vineyard as it once was many decades ago.

I should mention that the exhibit comprises only those artists who have died — otherwise it would surely include my cousin Andrew Moore who carries on our community’s artistic tradition in a style that all the artists in this exhibit would have admired.

Harthaven Artists — Abbe/Low/Prizer will remain open at Featherstone until Wednesday, August 8.