Archive for the ‘Alison Shaw Gallery’ Category

SHORELINE: Around the Island of Martha’s Vineyard



by Alison Shaw (and if you must know, Sue Dawson)

HAVING MARTHA’S VINEYARD as my primary subject matter for more than 40 years certainly comes with many rewards, but also with its share of challenges. In the years that I’ve spent photographing these 100 square miles, I’ve constantly had to push myself to see the island anew. And sometimes I struggle to maintain my inspiration, creativity, momentum, and stamina, to keep shooting the same place for so long. If I lived in “America” I could simply go to the next town in search of new subject matter. Actually, I do go off-island to re-energize and shoot in other locations, and it does help. But I still have my one heart- and soul-touching muse – my island home.

So when I need to re-group, I remember one of my favorite quotes, from Marcel Proust: “The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” It’s not about finding a new environment, as fun and adventurous as that can be. It’s about finding something within myself.  


Sometimes this means exploring a particular facet of the island more deeply. The search keeps me engaged and motivated. I love pursuing a project, which forces parameters, gives me structure, and organizes my thoughts. Recent projects have included photographing inside the wooden boat building shop at Gannon and Benjamin, in the studios of island artists, or documenting the island’s lighthouses.

In retrospect, seeing the island in new ways is not limited to the subjects I choose to shoot, but how I choose to shoot it. Over the years, my style has evolved dramatically. Going from black & white to color around 1990 was like trading in a box of charcoals for a set of oil paints – it felt like having an entirely new island to photograph. Fifteen years ago, I developed a new technique, where I move my camera as I shoot, creating more painterly images. In my most recent stylistic evolution, I moved from a super-saturated color palette to soft pastels and neutrals. 

My most recent project has been photographing the shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard. This may seem like an obvious subject to choose, since I’m naturally drawn to the shore, and rarely photograph the inland vistas of the Island. But as much as I’m drawn to the Vineyard’s coastline, I get into the rut of returning to the same spots, looking for variations in weather rather than location. In 2014, I was obsessed with the new Fishing Pier in Oak Bluffs, and every time there was thick fog, stormy seas, or blizzard conditions, that’s where I’d go. In 2015, I was obsessed with the stone jetty between Inkwell and Pay Beach. I’d look out my window, see the condition was flat calm, and head for that one spot.


Returning to these same locations over and over, as much as I enjoyed it both personally and artistically, clearly had its limitations. And then it occurred to me: The last time I’d photographed at Makonikey, on the North Shore of the island, was in my “high-impact-color-sunrise-sunset” phase in the early 90’s, using my clunky Pentax medium-format film camera. The same was true of Big Pier on West Chop, which I’d last shot for the Vineyard Gazette in the late 80’s, with my 35mm Nikon and black & white Tri-X film. Ditto Lambert’s Cove, Stonewall Beach, Katama Bay, Tashmoo Beach, and so on. Not to mention the many locations on the Vineyard shoreline that I’d never even laid eyes on before.

At first this idea just sat and percolated – I hate to admit it, but I let it stew for at least a year. There was definitely a good amount of inertia at work here… the urge to turn my alarm clock off, to spend far too much time planted in front of my computer, and to sit at home with a cat on my lap. The “just do it” mantra I had always tried to instill in my kids simply wasn’t working for me. Ok, we did move – that was a big deal, after being in the same house for 29 years. I spent lots of time picking paint colors with Sue (she calls us “color nerds”), going to the thrift shop every day looking for just the right end tables, and coming up with a garden plan.


Eventually, once we got settled in the new place, my inspiration kicked in – and when it did, I became a woman on a mission. The fire was lit. I decided to photograph the entire shoreline of the Vineyard – one rocky shore, one beach, one sunrise, and one sunset at a time. 

My first steps were all about planning. I picked up a couple of excellent Island maps at the Land Bank office in Edgartown, and began figuring out access via conservation areas. Then I went on google maps in satellite view, and began examining the perimeter of the island, step-by-step, picking out large rocks and lone docks. I studied the tide charts – some scenes would be better shot at high tide, while others would be better at low (not to mention the fact that high tide could often present a challenge for navigating my way around rocky points on the North Shore). Sunrise and sunset times, in addition to the phases of the moon, all figured into the equation. 


As to weather conditions, once upon a time I might have been looking for what I considered to be “perfect” conditions for photography. But these days, I’m much more willing to go with the flow, a philosophy I developed during the course of teaching countless week-long workshops on the island. I used to agonize over picking the most promising mornings to meet up early. But these days I schedule a sunrise shoot for every morning of a workshop, and let my students know that unless it’s pouring rain, I will be there at the assigned location, in the pitch dark, waiting for them. The weather is fickle in New England, and that’s a good thing. I’ve grown to love never quite knowing when it’s going to be a good morning for photography. Another of my favorite quotes is from Woody Allen and is tacked to the wall over my desk: “90 percent of success is showing up.” 


Over the past six months of shooting for this project, I’ve often arrived home long after dark, with my sneakers full of sand and my tripod in need of a hose-down. When I set my alarm early, I actually go out and shoot – or even better, I rely on my internal alarm clock, which has served me well when I’m truly engaged in the prospect of my early morning photo expeditions. I’ve discovered both rocks and docks that I never knew existed. And I’ve been out there for magical moments of light and weather I would have otherwise missed. 

We are introducing over 30 new images from Shoreline: Around the Island of Martha’s Vineyard (©2017 Alison Shaw) at Alison Shaw Gallery this summer, with a whole new group I just hung on the walls for our Arts District Stroll tomorrow, 4-7pm. Inspired by my working map, Sue created a snazzy one in Photoshop, so you can see where each photo was taken (there’s a big version at the gallery).


It’s become increasingly clear to me that there is so much more to this subject than I originally anticipated. There’s plenty of walking, kayaking and shooting still to come, so be sure to look for more images in the years ahead. 

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years

by Sue Dawson

ALISON SHAW GALLERY began on July 20, 2006. Our first sale was a notecard, to Alison’s cousin’s wife, Jana. I tried to just give her the card, but she insisted on paying, so I asked for a dollar bill. It’s still in my desk drawer in the gallery, so I see that dollar every day. It’s really hard to believe it’s been there for 10 years already!

Ever since we moved into our little building in the Arts District of Oak Bluffs, we’ve been fascinated by the history of this place. In honor of our 10th anniversary, here’s some of the history we’re proud to be part of:

1914sm88 Dukes County Avenue used to be a one-engine firehouse – one of several in town, including the t-shirt shop across from Nancy’s Snack Bar (Engines 1 and 2), “Highland Hose” near the Ocean View Restaurant (on Church Avenue, Engine 3, now the home of one of our customers), and the building in town that’s now “Cottagers Corner,” which was originally Town Hall from 1882 to 1966, and over time also a police and fire station, before the Cottagers acquired it.

So let’s go all the way back to the beginning – in 1880, “Cottage City” seceded from the town of Edgartown, and established their own fire department. In 1907, the town name was officially changed to “Oak Bluffs.” Our building was built in 1914 – we found the date, along with three initials, on the shiplap upstairs that was uncovered during our renovation over 90 years later. 1914 was also, of course, the year World War I began.

Our building was “balloon-framed,” which means the studs went from ground sill to top plate (roof), and the second-floor joists were nailed to the studs. So the second floor was basically held up by a bunch of nails. This would turn out to be a problem for us, but I’ll get to that later. The piece of land we’re on is part of the MVCMA, or Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association – the “Camp Ground,” as locals call it. Turns out most of the cottages in the Camp Ground were built using balloon framing, which was the standard at the time. We believe the Town of Oak Bluffs built our building to house Fire Engine #4, in what was called the “West End” of town.

Nelson Amaral was one of the captains of Engine 4. From his January 2012 obituary in the Vineyard Gazette, “(Nelson) began as a junior firefighter at the age of 14, and spent 56 years in the department, 35 of them as chief. The Wing Road fire station in Oak Bluffs is named for him.” Nelson Amaral’s first cousin, Steve Amaral, worked with Engine 4 for 38 years, beginning in 1956. He succeeded Nelson as captain of Engine 4 in 1975, and stayed captain for 23 years, until 1994. Steve’s pictured below in 1961, in front of the station, next to Engine #4. By the way, Steve will be fishing in his 70th derby this fall (MV Bass and Bluefish Derby) – he’s only missed one, when he was in Korea. If you see him, say hi for us, and a big thank you for his many years of service to town and country.

Engine 1

In 1996, the building had been vacated for a few years, after the centralized fire headquarters was built at County and Wing Roads, to house all of the engines in one place. The MVCVA (Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts), which was “formed in 1991 as a non-profit, non-competitive, unifying organization for visual artists,” bought the building from the town. The group of energetic and creative women who ran the MVCVA painted the interior, put in the glass doors we have today, and opened the Firehouse Gallery. They sponsored workshops, classes, and talks with local artists, and had a weekly drawing group (with model) that met upstairs. As you can see from the photo below, the group celebrated the building’s legacy with more than the gallery name!

mvcva dog

In 2006, we got a call from a member of the MVCVA and local painter, Renee Balter. She said that the group wanted to sell the building to a local artist, and encouraged us to submit a proposal. It wasn’t an ideal time for us, so we thanked her and said no. A number of weeks later, Renee called again. “I’m sorry, but I just see you in there!” She asked us to reconsider, thinking we’d be a good fit. Alison and I stayed up all night to do a proposal, buoyed by Renee’s faith in us, and submitted it literally in the last hour before the deadline. As you can surmise, the group chose us, and allowed us to rent the building for a few years first. We moved in at the beginning of July.


We had a LOT to do in order to open our gallery. We painted the walls white, and the floor teal. We used a deck paint for the floor that was pretty toxic, and I remember our neighbor Annie came by late one night and thought we were a little loopy from the fumes. I designed a sign using one of Alison’s seascapes – we had the sign printed as a huge sticker, so it’d be the actual photo rather than a painting of her photo. I knew it would fade over time, not being an archival print. So, I thought, photos fade to blue, so why not just start there? It worked. Melissa, of About Signs, made the sign, and her husband hung it, just before opening day.


But there were a few setbacks…. Mold in the basement (bleached). Termites in the baseboards (exterminated and wood replaced). Rusty oil tank outside (removed). Lots of stuff upstairs, including a working sink (we’d deal with that later).

studio before 2

After builder Todd Leuenberger sheetrocked the center shelf unit to make a display wall, and built doors for the back so we could hang more photos, we managed to open our gallery!


Our two kids were as excited as we were. Sarah (left, below) and her best friend Hallie (right, below), and Jesse (that’s his back, in the second photo) with Iris and Miles Albert, were here for the opening.



We were thrilled. And then…

This is the part where the balloon framing comes in. When gallery season was over, I asked our architect, Chuck Sullivan, to survey the setup, and see if he had some ideas about the upstairs. He came over to take some measurements, and I said “… and we’re ok with the weight of all our file cabinets, flat files, and shelves, right?” Um, that would be no. He went upstairs and jumped up and down a few times, and said “Not only should you not move any stuff up there, I don’t want YOU to go up there.”

So we moved it all out. The whole gallery we’d worked so hard to create. And we asked Harold Chapdelaine of Stonebridge Building and Design to fix things. He and his crew gutted the entire place. It’s an historic building, and needed to be preserved, so basically our building is one huge cabinet. It was a little wonky. Crooked. Settled. So they firmed it up by sistering things, bolting things, installing huge steel beams held up by wide supports in the walls and 6-foot concrete footings, and hurricane ties to keep storms at bay. We had a metal roof put on, and two square windows out front where there had been one. The radiators were removed, and a propane heat and a/c system installed. And I did my thing on the computer to design the upstairs space (see below), just as I had for our last studio on Circuit Ave.

studio layout


The upstairs studio turned out beautifully:


fire lightHarold found clapboard under the shingles out front, so we asked him to put new clapboard on. We picked a paint color we still love (and give out at least once a year to people who want to use it). And we did one more important thing. We asked them to preserve the red fire station light. They kept it in place, and fixed it so we could turn it on if we wanted to. Jokes about our “red light district” ensued.

After around five years, we officially bought the building from the MVCVA group. Because it had been a fire station, we got an environmental study done, to make sure there were no issues with oil or gas on the property. Then we found out there was a cesspool – no septic. Bummer. So we tied into the new town septic system for a cool $20,000 fee. That’s the commercial fee, including everything a restaurant might need – even though we just had one toilet and one tiny sink.

We also asked the MVCMA (if you’re getting bleary-eyed from acronyms, that’s the Camp Ground, which owns the land) to please move their access road over and remove the asphalt from out front. It was a safety issue for our customers, as cars used to cut across right in front of the building. At first we just dumped some shells out there, for timing reasons, as this GoogleEarth photo shows:

gallery with shells

Then we hired Crosslands Landscaping to install our gorgeous bluestone walkway, lawn, and garden, which Working Earth has been maintaining and improving ever since. Ta dah!

this gallery

If you’ve read this far, thank you! And please join us tomorrow evening (Saturday, August 6th) from 5 to 7 pm, for our 10th Anniversary Party. Alison and Lew French will be signing their new book. Herring Run Kitchens will provide fantastic food. Joanne Lambert will pour you a drink. And Sue will be behind the front desk and her wall of computers (don’t ask). Hope you can come!

Join us this Monday, July 4th, from 10 to 2

by Sue Dawson

4th morning crop

PLEASE JOIN Alison Shaw Gallery and gallery josephine for 4th morning, our impromptu way of celebrating the revitalization of the Arts District in Oak Bluffs, and our newly-installed sidewalk! The highway trucks finished up today, just in time to toast the completion of our safe walkway between the Arts District and the Oak Bluffs harbor.

We’ll be open from 10am to 2pm on Monday, July 4th, serving delicious breakfast beverages, and tasty snacks. It’s a perfect way to start your morning – drinking a latte, sitting in our beautiful garden, and looking at stunning art.

We also just hung Alison’s new photo of her favorite Oak Bluffs jetty (the one on Inkwell Beach) on the main wall. We used our premium framing, with museum glass – I really love this one.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday!

Alison Shaw Gallery’s 10th anniversary season


by Sue Dawson

WE’RE OPENING for the 2016 season tomorrow: Saturday, May 28th, between 10am and 5pm. This year promises to be different. We like to shake things up occasionally (keeps it fun for us). To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we’re hosting two parties – one on July 9th, and one on August 6th. Instead of hanging a full “show” each month, we’re going to just hang new (and retrospective) pieces when we feel like it. So the walls will be changing often. If you want to buy something right off the wall, you can take it with you. We’ll just hang a new piece in its place. We love the fluidity of being able to move things around, and hope you will too!

This summer, I’m planning to write a series of blogs about our building, which began as a one-engine firehouse. And by my count, Alison’s been a professional photographer on Martha’s Vineyard for 40 years (another milestone!), so I’ll do some posts about her too. We’re really looking forward to sharing this season with you.

What a ride…

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson


I THINK I’VE READ ten articles – online, and in local papers – mentioning how fast it’s felt, with Memorial Day weekend already here. New England had a rough winter, so perhaps we’re still reeling from that. I’m still drinking in the sounds and smells of the spring birds and flowers, marveling at the transformation. Or maybe it’s that the island is staying busier in the off-season, so we’re wondering if we’ll be able to fit all the summer visitors onto this rock. All I know is that the college kids are back, heavier traffic is making my errands take longer, and I gave out three of my homemade maps yesterday, showing tourists the way back to the center of town. The 2015 season has officially begun.

Our garden (at the gallery) already looks fantastic, thanks to the team at Working Earth. They’ve been here a few times this week, getting us ready for the big weekend. Our Advanced Mentorship show is up for one last day, and we’re psyched to see our group when they pick up their photos. Tonight we’ll hang Alison’s first show of new photographs, and get ready for our opening reception tomorrow (from 4 to 7pm).

We have a few changes this year, including a new premium option for framing. I found a gorgeous frame that we’re offering in eight finishes, with museum glass. Our largest prints (the 4’s, for our savvy customers) will all be framed in the premium style from now on. 2015 is also the year that our prices are going up. Our costs of doing business go up every year, but I only raise our prices every three years. Claire and I spent months looking at our costs, getting quotes from our vendors, and analyzing how we need to price for the next three years. It’s a painstaking process, but I need to know that we’ve been thoughtful about it. I’ve also changed the structure of our limited editions of 50, so that the price goes up at even increments, matching the structure of our editions of 20. The good news is that the prints people already own have just gone up in value (yay).

So we shift. There’s the weather shift, going from freezing cold and gray days to flowers and blue skies. There’s the seasonal shift on the island, going from 15,000 people to 115,000 at the peak (and all the cars those people bring). And there’s the shift we do in our business, where we constantly evaluate what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it. It’s a roller coaster that never stops (which is a good thing). And this is the day we buckle in, so we can enjoy the ride.

Our first Advanced Mentorship show opens May 3rd

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

THERE’S ONLY ONE reason we’d open our gallery three weeks early. I complain brag about never getting even one day off during our busy season, which starts every year on Memorial Day weekend. So there’s gotta be a really good reason for me to work nonstop open our doors three weeks ahead of schedule. Lots of island businesses are pulling up the window shades, dusting off their shelves, and putting out their “OPEN” signs now, but we always wait until the big holiday weekend. Until this year.

Our first Advanced Mentorship group is affectionately known as our “guinea pigs,” since they’ve been with us since the very beginning of our Mentorship program in 2013. The culmination of their Advanced year is a group show in our gallery, for three weeks in May. From choosing what to hang, to writing an artist statement, deciding how to present their work, and creating a catalog of their photographs, they’ve worked hard and learned a lot.

The opening reception is May 3rd, from 4 to 6pm, at our gallery. The nine Advanced Mentorship members are: Gwen Norton, Doug Burke, Diane Collins, Jean Schnell, Estelle Disch, Kate Griswold, Karla Bernstein, David Matthews, and Steven Koppel. They’ll be hanging the show on the 2nd, and will all attend the reception, so you can meet them. We’re honored to be hosting such a stunning, diverse selection of work, and to be working with such a lovely group. In case you’re wondering, it’s worth my May…

Wonder what this photo means?

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson


AT THIS VERY MOMENT, our lives are changing. It’s a pivotal time, as you can see from this photo…. Well … I can see it.

Give up?

Leaning next to the card tower are our “OPEN” flags for the gallery, and I just brought them in for the last time this season. You won’t see them flying outside here until next May. Until then, this space will be a teaching space (for our mentorship retreats and VIP days), a storage space (it can get a little Sanford & Son in here sometimes), a disorganized space (see me at tax time, with my teetering Jenga-esque piles of receipts and papers all over), and an inspiration space for our business. Of course, I’m happy to open the gallery for you, if you’d like to stop by. But the next time you’ll see the flags will be our Advanced Mentorship student show next May.

All around the Island, businesses are packing it in for the season. Of course there are lots of year-round businesses, or those that go through December. But many see Columbus Day as the end of the season. You can get half-priced doughnuts in town today, discounts on clothes and other goods, and the most important commodity – a parking space. The air is cooler, leaves are falling from the trees – just like everywhere else in New England. But here on Martha’s Vineyard, things will slow down a lot. Renters who do the “seasonal swap” have moved to their winter rentals, traffic is manageable, we have stand-by lines for every ferry, and some stores put paper up in their windows, “thank you for a great season!” signs, and lock their doors until next spring.

I always have mixed feelings at this time of year. I’m pretty psyched about having a day off every once in awhile, which I don’t get from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Alison and Jesse watched some of the Patriots game this afternoon, and from now on, I can watch too. And I can visit our daughter Sarah at college (haven’t seen her since August), go to New York for Photo Expo in a couple of weeks, and even start back at the gym.

Alison’s been working even more than me, lately. In the last three+ weeks, she taught three workshops, flew to the Adirondacks for a shoot, bought a new camera, and began planning some VIP days. Last night, after the third workshop ended and the gallery closed, we went home and ate dinner in front of two awesome movies, and then slept for a decadent ten-hour stretch. Eli, our workshop assistant teacher, apparently slept a record FIFTEEN hours last night. We’re all exhausted. But it’s good tired. It’s been a fantastic season.

So. What are we going to do with all this flexibility?

Tomorrow we start the first of three VIP days this week. We’re continuing our work with Advanced Mentorship students. We’ll go to Photo Expo and our daughter’s college, as I mentioned above. We’ll start organizing our basement (I’ve actually been looking forward to this) and getting rid of stuff. And on November 3rd, our 6-month Mentorship begins. There are only 5 spaces left, and I’m starting calls and emails to my list tomorrow – over 50 people have expressed interest in those 5 spaces. Call me soon (this week) if you’re interested in joining us!

So thank you. Thanks for a great season. It’s a little bittersweet to bring those flags in.

Our last opening reception and booksigning of the season…

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

IT’S SO HARD TO BELIEVE that we’re already past Labor Day, the school year has started, and the Vineyard summer season is officially over. The good news is that September is so amazing here. The weather’s usually mild, the water’s warm, and it’s WAY less crowded. For us, the fall season also means workshops, and our last show of the season – our “Best of” show.

This year we’re so excited that Cathy Walthers will be here for our opening reception on Sunday (yes, Sunday), from 4 to 6pm. Her new book, “Kale, Glorious Kale,” just arrived, and it’s full of fantastic recipes. We’re huge kale fans – Alison makes roasted kale at least three times a week these days, and our whole family loves it. Cathy and Alison will sign books, and Cathy’s bringing lots of great kale treats for you to try. I’ve said this before, but when Cathy invites you over to a meal, it’s your lucky day. She’s a private chef, teaches cooking classes (I highly recommend taking one, by the way), and has published a number of cookbooks. She’s known for her healthy, fresh take on slow food (as opposed to fast food). One of her books, “Raising the Salad Bar,” has sold over 50,000 copies so far. She’s that good.

Hope you can make it on Sunday!

september sign flat blog

Come see us tomorrow at the gallery

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson


WE’RE HANGING new photographs today, in preparation for tomorrow’s opening reception and Arts District Stroll, which will be from 4 to 7pm. If you’re going to the Moth performance at the Tabernacle, why not get to Oak Bluffs early, get your parking spot, and come to our opening beforehand? We’ll offer you a nice glass of wine or San Pelligrino, and you can sample delicious food from the new Morning Glory Farm cookbook Farm Food. You can even buy the new book, and get it signed by Alison, chef Robert Lionette, and Jim & Debbie Athearn (Jim says he’s got to load a bunch of pigs into a truck first, but he’ll be here as soon as he can). Happily fed, you can take a short walk over to the Tabernacle, and get great seats for the Moth.

We’re looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!

This might be my favorite shot of 2014

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

lifeboat blog

WE JUST HUNG a canvas of this image on the main wall of the gallery, for tomorrow’s Arts District Stroll. I’m in love. This is a detail of one of the lifeboats that used to be on-board the Ferry Islander. I’ve heard customers say to their partner (on several occasions) “Honey, we need to buy another house so we can buy this canvas to hang on the wall.” Today, that’s exactly how I feel.

I asked Alison about this shot, and here’s what she said: “The Martha’s Vineyard Museum owns this lifeboat now. She was originally on-board when the Islander was launched, in 1950. The Islander went out of service (for the Woods Hole – Martha’s Vineyard run) in 2007, and was scrapped in 2012. The lifeboat has wonderful layers of texture and color. I love the understated, stenciled look of the word “ISLANDER” on the bow.”

In honor of this photo, and the 12 additional new shots (including three of the Charles W. Morgan, which visited the Island in June), we’re having an opening reception tomorrow, from 4 to 7pm. It feels appropriate to serve hot dogs again, since we’ve had lots of requests since we last served them a few years ago, and Offshore Ale for you seaworthy types. See you tomorrow!