Martha's Vineyard: An Affectionate Memoir

Martha's Vineyard: An Affectionate Memoir

by Ralph Graves, Ray Ellis

Martha's Vineyard is a celebrated vacation haven captivating visitors from long-term summer residents to recent daytrippers. Among the Island's ardent admirers are Ray Ellis, whose memorable paintings created over a 25-year period depict his love of the Vineyard, and Ralph Graves, whose lively, affectionate history spans 400 years. Featuring 100 of Ray Ellis's… See more details below


Martha's Vineyard is a celebrated vacation haven captivating visitors from long-term summer residents to recent daytrippers. Among the Island's ardent admirers are Ray Ellis, whose memorable paintings created over a 25-year period depict his love of the Vineyard, and Ralph Graves, whose lively, affectionate history spans 400 years. Featuring 100 of Ray Ellis's luminescent oils and watercolors, this book provides a unique appreciation of the Island's delights. Rounding out this marvelous pictorial album is a fascinating text by Ralph Graves. He has written a concise history from its discovery in 1602 by an English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, whose reason for naming the Island Martha has yet to be discovered, to its present-day active conservation efforts. The memoir also includes interviews with five long-time residents who provide insightful, firsthand accounts of their special connection to the Island.

Editorial Reviews

The subtitle continues: 25 Years of Paintings by Ray Ellis; 400 years of history by Ralph Graves. Ellis, a Vineyard resident, is a watercolor artist whose paintings are widely exhibited and are here reproduced in color, with captions. Graves, who has contributed the extended historical essay, is a novelist, was the last editor of Life as a weekly magazine, and has been an inhabitant of Martha's Vineyard for 58 summers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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For the past 25 years I lived either on or near an island. And I probably have visited more than a hundred others all over the world, many during my time in the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1940s. After seeing and painting so many islands, I chose Martha's Vineyard as my final home and destination.

When Teddie and I married in 1985, we began spending seven months at our home in Savannah, Georgia, and five months at our home on the Vineyard. It became harder and harder for us to leave the Island when time was up. Having both grown up in the North, we missed the change of seasons in Savannah. We missed the sight of a stand of yellow maples. We missed snow—or at least cold weather—for Christmas. We missed seeing purple crocuses at a sunny turn of the barn. We had both grown up in small towns and missed the close-knit, caring spirit that comes from truly knowing one's neighbors. We also feel a certain independence—whether real or imagined—when living on the Island. It's a little harder for us to get somewhere else, and it's a little harder for others to get to us!

In June of 1991, we made our last trip from Savannah to the Vineyard in our station wagon loaded with studio supplies, two cats, a dog and a parrot. The moving van followed shortly thereafter, and we became full-time residents of the Vineyard, a decision we have never regretted.

Many of the subjects I have painted on the Island are pastoral and tranquil landscapes. I also enjoy painting the sea in all its various moods. Harbors, too, fascinate me with the comings and goings of all types of craft in all kinds of weather. But this Island is made up of much more than beautiful gardens, meadows,harbors, yachts and houses with roses on white picket fences. It is made up of diverse people from all walks of life—tradesmen, fishermen, retirees, young families, farmers, shopkeepers, innkeepers, professionals, writers, artists and, in July and August, a large number of tourists and summer residents. I try to depict all of this Island life by painting what I see in every season of the year.

But I also must try to see what makes a good composition. I have no problem removing a telephone pole or adding a pot of red geraniums in a window if I feel doing so will make a better painting. I also avoid painting painful or ugly subjects, such as a Canada goose hovering over her dead mate or a doe killed on the highway. I may be accused of viewing life through rose-colored glasses, but I honestly believe that newspapers and television provide us with enough sordid realism to last a lifetime. I want to paint a kinder, gentler way of life, and the Vineyard gives me ample material.

Although I have painted all over the Island, Edgartown is where my home and studio have always been. I walk in Edgartown, bike around there and shop there. Consequently, a majority of my paintings are of Edgartown and its vicinity. But one of the joys of doing this book was looking for material in places I had never been before. I am determined to do more exploring.

Allow me to dispel a myth that there are only a few places on this earth where an artist can find a distinctive and exclusive light. We have all heard about the "light" in such places as the Greek Islands, Venice, Portugal and Taos. I have painted in all these locations, and I would rate the "light" on the Vineyard with the best of them. But artists need much more than light. They need a variety of subject matter, a distinctive character or flavor and human interest, which means different kinds of people doing different things. In other words, artists need a sense of place that bears recording.

My work habits have changed by necessity over the years. From 1932, when I did my first watercolors, until 1969, when I made painting a full-time career, I did 90 percent of my paintings outdoors on location. But as my paintings became more in demand and my productivity increased, the studio became more and more my working place. I no longer could afford to wait three days for the weather to clear before I could do a plein-air painting. I now sketch and take photographs on the spot and return to my studio armed with those sketches and pictures, particularly for architectural detail and reference. I might add that most landscape and seascape painters have used photography as a tool for well over 100 years.

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is: "What artists have influenced you the most in your painting career?" I always answer by talking about my funnel theory. In my studios I have always kept a vast art library, which I add to whenever I see an interesting new book. I spent many hours studying the work of artists I admire, such as Monet, Homer, Sargent, Chase, Sisley, Sorolla, Wyeth and my old mentor and friend Ogden Pleissner. I then put what I like into my brain, which serves as a funnel. What comes out from my hand on paper or canvas is my own personal style, tempered in varying degrees by what I have seen and studied from painters I like.

I always stress in my lectures and workshops that no one should allow himself to be overly influenced by just one artist. I think that, as an artist, the greatest compliment I can be paid is to have a person walk into a room, look at a painting and immediately say, "That's an Ellis." Years ago I was painting outdoors on School Street in Edgartown when a lady came up to me and said, "You paint just like an artist who used to live in New Jersey named Ray Ellis." Needless to say, she made my day, and we have become good friends since.

Many artists have painted on the Vineyard, some as residents, others as visitors. The most notable was Thomas Hart Benton, whose depictions of Island life became legendary, and many of his works are in the collections of the country's most prestigious museums. I had the pleasure of meeting Benton back in the 1970s when he spoke at the Old Whaling Church. He was more opposed to the "modern" movement than any other artist I had ever met, and for a man of small stature he could express himself like a feisty bantam rooster. Jackson Pollock studied for a time with Benton at his Chilmark studio, though Pollock obviously did not derive his technique from those lessons! Others who painted here include Edward Hopper, Vaclav Vytlacil and Frank Vining Smith. Strangely enough, the Vineyard—in spite of all its artists past and present—has never really been known as an "artists' colony" in the vein of Provincetown, Taos or Greenwich Village. I honestly don't know why a colony never developed here, because for me it has all the necessary ingredients to make it a wonderful place to paint.

This book has been a labor of love. I love what I do, and I love where I do it. As I approach my 73rd year, I honestly feel as though I have come "home." The Vineyard is the only place I have ever been where, when I am there, I never want to be anywhere else.

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