Elizabeth Eisenhauer first visited the Vineyard with the idea of expanding her stable of artists at her gallery on Block Island.
“I came to the Vineyard originally to look for marine painters,” Ms. Eisenhauer said. “I felt like my collection was strong with still lifes and figurative work and landscapes, but I didn’t have much in the way of marine subjects.”
She returned to Block Island with several new artists to represent, but the Vineyard had already begun to work its magic on her. She had been inspired by the Island and the idea of opening a second location here. Soon, she decided to relocate her family, moving in September of 2000 to a small house on the Vineyard that came with the owner’s cat. The next step was finding a spot for the gallery.
“I opened the newspaper two or three weeks later, and I saw that this place was available,” she said. The gallery has remained in the same location, 38 North Water street in Edgartown, ever since.
But things did not start off strong. In addition to her Block Island Gallery, Ms. Eisenhauer had worked for 30 years at a gallery in New Mexico. But each new business brought new challenges. The timing didn’t help either.
Ms. Eisenhauer cites 9/11, which occurred less than a year after the opening, as part of the reason for a drop-off in customers. She viewed the national and local mood as too grim and “flat” to support buying any of the bright and colorful art that adorns the walls of her gallery.
But Ms. Eisenhauer was determined to make it work and find her niche in this new community. Early on she noticed that many on the Island would continuously turn up at her shows but never buy anything, prompting her to wonder if everyone was skeptical of her gallery. One couple, in particular, she noticed would always browse the art, but never buy.
“Finally one day I said, I so enjoy your company, but I’m curious, you look at everything, but you never buy, do you own a gallery?” Ms. Eisenhauer recalled. “They said, ‘No, but we really enjoy you, and we want so much to acquire something from you, to support you.’ I was so warmed by that,” she said.
The loyalty and dedication that she found in the Edgartown community and across the Island was something new to Ms. Eisenhauer and gave her confidence that she could succeed here.
“I would always say to myself that I could use my own eye to choose the paintings that inspired me and use my own ear to hear things that the customers want, then if I could marry these things, perhaps I could find a viable competitive collection,” said Ms. Eisenhauer.
Soon after, she made the jump to more contemporary art, rather than the still life and landscape works she had previously sold. The couple whom she first talked to quickly bought a painting.
As the years have progressed, Ms. Eisenhauer has continued to move toward a more contemporary trend of art, although many of the paintings that she sells still have a nautical or seaside vibe to them. Her artists are both local and global.
“I kind of stepped back from that local place,” said Ms. Eisenhauer. “I feel like it’s what the other galleries are doing really well. I want to do something that’s kind of unique to Eisenhauer Gallery.”
Currently, what attracts her are bright contrasts along with scenes that are still reflective of the town where the gallery is located. Ms. Eisenhauer also continues to stay involved with the community that supported her, sponsoring music in the square events each week to bring everyone from native Islanders to day-trippers together.
“I hope that I’ve created an artistic playground for people to come explore what it is they like,” she said. “I have a lot of collectors that made their first art purchase here, and that’s been really satisfying, because I think once you put a beautiful oil painting in a room, all the other walls cry out for more.”
Music in the Square at the Eisenhauer Gallery is every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. through Sept. 3. On August 13, Mike Benjamin plays. The current exhibition at the gallery is entitled Water’s Edge and features work from Carol Bennett, Michel Brosseau, Stephanie Danforth, Tjasa Owen, Monica Wyatt and Veronique Clamot.
By Alex Floyd, The Vineyard Gazette