In April, Menemsha painter Colin Ruel arrived at the Chilmark Preschool with an armload of paints, brushes and wooden canvases. When the preschoolers were scheduled for art, Mr. Ruel pulled each student aside, one at a time, and set a wooden block in front of them.

He then asked them to paint.

Esme Zoref-Wilcox with her artwork. — Jeanna Shepard

“I love the way kids paint,” Mr. Ruel said. “So free.”

As the kids got to work, Mr. Ruel watched them attack the canvas with color and energy. At just the right moment, he asked them to pause. Then he picked up the brushes and paints and stepped in, collaborating on the finished piece.

On Thursday evening, the fruits of this partnership — over a dozen wood paneled paintings — were on display and up for sale at the Ruel Gallery in Menemsha. The opening receptions was part of an effort to raise funds for a new and permanent home for the Chilmark Preschool.

Art is all about having fun. — Jeanna Shepard

Preschool is the “base that everything is built upon,” Mr. Ruel told the Gazette on opening night. His youngest child graduates from the Chilmark Preschool this spring.

Learning to be creative and social at a young age is “just as important as kindergarten, just as important as reading and writing,” Mr. Ruel said.

For two decades, the Chilmark Preschool has occupied a single room within the larger Chilmark School, which runs from kindergarten to fifth grade. In recent years the Chilmark School has experienced rising enrollment and needs the preschool room back by the end of the 2024–25 school year.

Alicia Knight Chilmark, Sebastian Hiatt and Indaia Whitcombe. — Jeanna Shepard

The town of Chilmark has deeded the preschool land to build a new building. The plan is for two rooms, each with space for 18 children, said Rebekah Thomson, fundraising organizer and a parent whose three children attended the preschool.

A building design is scheduled to be completer by later this summer, Ms. Thomson said.

Preschool director and teacher Anja May said the fundraising need was “urgent.” Estimated costs for the new building are around $3.5 million.

“The fundraising, we need it now,” Ms. May said.

The art exhibit was a success in both creative energy and funds raised. Every painting sold Thursday evening amid the flow of wine, oysters, cheese and juice boxes.

Many of the pint-sized painters were in attendance at their first ever opening, a milestone for any artist.

Ms. May said that Mr. Ruel brought a tremendous respect for the children to the painting process.

Colin Ruel and friend. — Jeanna Shepard

“He views children through the same lens that we do, which is that they are integral, valuable contributors to the community, and not just important people at some point in the future,” Ms. May said.

“It wasn’t a lesson. It wasn’t like, do it this way. It was like a jam session where different artists come together and bring their true selves,” Ms. May added. “You’re enough and I’m enough, and let’s do something together.... It was just so beautiful as a creative process.”

Parent Indaia Whitcombe said that without the preschool, Chilmark could not support the year-round community it enjoys,

“The preschool allows us, my family, to work and also so many other families,” Ms. Whitcombe said. “These people are artists like Colin, but also doctors, builders, farmers, social workers, fishermen, teachers.”

“Those are the families that make up this preschool, and those are the families that make our Island’s community the strong and vibrant place that it is today,” she added.