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From Benton to Vytlacil to Whiting to Jones, find at it the Granary Gallery

“State Beach 2,” oil on canvas, 48 x 61 in. —Terry Crimmen

By Gwyn McAllister

If you’re only staying on the Island long enough to take in a visit to one gallery, the Granary would be a good bet. Not only will you have the chance to experience the timeline of the Vineyard’s illustrious history of art and artists, it’s a given that everyone in your party will find something of interest. The collection is housed in a barn on Old County Road in West Tisbury. The Granary Gallery, also colloquially referred to as the Red Barn, is a fairly unassuming venue (despite its striking color) to be home to such a treasure trove of art and antiques.

There’s a surprisingly casual ambience to the place. Work by heavyweights in the art world like Thomas Hart Benton and Alfred Eisenstaedt (both of whom lived and worked on the Vineyard) hang side by side with paintings by both established and emerging artists from the Island and beyond.

The gallery is the largest on the Island. The interior is divided into seven different spaces featuring a wide range of paintings, photography, prints, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, antiques, and antiquities. Outside there’s a lovely courtyard displaying more artwork, and a garden setting that houses a sculpture gallery. The Granary currently represents more than 100 artists and artisans — those working today, and many of historical significance.

Despite the impressive nature of the collection, one of the nicest things about the gallery is its complete lack of a rarified air. Owner Chris Morse and his knowledgeable staff are welcoming to all, and more than happy to talk art — or just about anything else — with all visitors, from the serious collector to the merely curious.

“We have fun with what we do,” says Morse, who, along with his wife Sheila, also owns the Field Gallery in West Tisbury and the North Water Gallery in Edgartown. “Bring your stroller, bring your dog on a leash. We never want people to feel that they’re not welcome. We try to treat everyone with a spirit of inclusion.”

That spirit applies equally to the artists represented in the gallery’s always evolving collection. “I really like promoting talent from the Vineyard,” says Morse. “There are so many wonderful artists here.”

Among those emerging artists are 11th generation Islander Ken Vincent, who brings a unique perspective to his Vineyard landscapes, and Dan VanLandingham, whose brilliant skies and expert use of light, shadow, and reflection belie his youth. Both have proven popular additions to the gallery’s family of artists.

Some of the old guard who have been represented by the Granary for years include Mary Sipp Green, whose atmospheric landscapes feature beautiful multihued skies setting off soft-focus scenes, Jeanne Staples, who uses contrasting deep shadow and light to create an emotional impact, and realist painter Heather Neill, who paints moody, very evocative images that hint at unspoken narratives.

The genres of work represented encompass photorealism, traditional and nontraditional landscapes, still life, rustic and nature scenes, maritime art, primitive and folk art, textile art, cartoons and humorous art, allegory, and more. Sculpture in materials ranging from stone to metal and wood can be found both inside and out. There are also many examples of boat models, decoys, artistic home furnishings, jewelry, and ceramics.

You’ll find a little bit of everything — including the unexpected, like a collection of fossils, and a vintage full-size working phone booth that often mystifies the youngest visitors unfamiliar with the concept of a rotary phone.

The Granary Gallery, established in 1954, has historical significance in the worldwide art scene. The venue hosted the very first public showing and sale of the photography of Alfred Eisenstaedt, who had a close relationship with the former and current owners of the gallery. Last year, the Granary unveiled a painting by Thomas Hart Benton that had not been publicly shown since 1927. The gallery owns and offers dozens of paintings and lithographs by Benton, and over 100 limited-edition prints of Eisenstaedt photos.

Photography holds an important place in the Granary’s collection. On display one will find limited-edition prints of two of the world’s most famous photographs — Eisenstaedt’s iconic photo “VJ Day in Times Square,” and the 1945 Pulitzer prizewinning image by Joe Rosenthal of soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.

The gallery’s extensive photography collection also includes New York City scenes by famed photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White and images by LIFE photographer Arthur Rickerby, including images of baseball greats, J.F.K., Marilyn Monroe, and other celebrities of the 1950s and ’60s.

Contemporary photographers are also well represented, including Islanders Alison Shaw and Bob Avakian, who favors moody night, dusk, and dawn scenes with the narrative impact of paintings.

The gallery also holds a sizable collection of work by African American artists of historic significance, including Loĩs Maillou Jones, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Elizabeth Catlett. In August the Granary will spotlight these and others in a show dedicated to African American artists.

Other important artists whose work can be found at the Granary include Vaclav Vytlacil and Wolf Kahn, both of whom have work included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian, the Whitney, and other major American institutions.

The visitor who is drawn in to the gallery by the illustrious will likely be captivated by work by one or more of the lesser-known established or emerging artists, like Heidi Lang Parrinello, who favors detailed images of the microview; Cindy Kane, who is constantly experimenting with form, texture, and repetitive images in her depictions of the natural world; photorealist Eva Cincotta, who specializes in charming images of barnyard animals, and Barry Rockwell, who creates witty images in a folk art style.

“It’s a destination,” says Morse. “A lot of people make the gallery a part of their Island tour.” And for locals or long-term visitors, Morse notes that the collection is always rotating, and new artists are introduced frequently:. “It’s always a new visit every day.”

 

Granary Gallery, 636 Old County Rd., West Tisbury, 508-693-0455; granarygallery.com.