Preservation Trust to Buy Old Sculpin Gallery

By JAMES KINSELLA
Gazette Senior Writer

The Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust confirmed yesterday that it will buy the Old Sculpin Gallery - the landmark building that fronts Dock street in Edgartown and was a grain mill turned boat building shop turned art gallery and education space.

The trust will pay the Martha's Vineyard Art Association $1 for the property, and in exchange the art association will receive permanent occupancy.

Christopher Scott, executive director of the preservation trust, said yesterday that he expects the deal will close sometime this fall.

Both Mr. Scott and art association president Rosalie Ripaldi Shane said they believe Old Sculpin, named after a fish, is the oldest art gallery on the Island.

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The building, believed by Mrs. Shane to be 250 years old, also boasts past lives as the space where Manuel Swartz Roberts built catboats, and where grain was milled two centuries ago.

"Our mission is to pursue the unique landmarks of the Vineyard and preserve their character," Mr. Scott said yesterday. "This is the twelfth such property we've acquired. These are important elements of our community."

Mrs. Shane said the art association board voted unanimously to approve the deal on Tuesday. "Everybody's very excited about it," she said.

Mr. Scott said the partnership arrangement that the trust has worked out with the art association is similar to the arrangements with the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs and the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

In both cases, the groups involved - the Oak Bluffs Christian Union at the chapel and the United Methodist congregation at the whaling church - had been stewards of historic Vineyard buildings, but were unable to preserve the buildings as their primary function.

The trust, which also owns the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs and Alley's General Store in West Tisbury, concentrates on brick-and-mortar issues, freeing the groups to better concentrate on their core missions.

"We don't put our properties in a time capsule," Mr. Scott said.

While the Union Chapel and the Old Whaling Church are available for use by outside groups, Mr. Scott said yesterday that he does not anticipate broader community use at the Old Sculpin. Instead, he said, the art association will continue to use the building for art education and exhibits. Mr. Scott said the trust might use the building for low-key fund raising now and then.

Under the partnership arrangement, the association will pay its utility costs at the building.

Mr. Scott said the Old Sculpin building, which mostly stands two and a half stories tall, with a third-story tower, needs some work, especially on its roof and skylight. He and Ms. Shane said improvements also could be made in the display space for artists' work.

The trust and association intend to draw up a five-year plan for the preservation and renovation of the building. Mr. Scott said the trust will fund the work through specific appeals for the building, as well as through general fundraising.

The art association operates on a financial shoestring compared with some other galleries on the Vineyard. In addition to functioning as a gallery, the association has a strong mission in education, handing out generous scholarships to art students at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School each year. The association has also long hosted art classes for children and adults at the gallery.

Ms. Shane said the late Joe Hazen, a member of both the association and trust boards, had been pushing for the trust to acquire the property since 1994. While the trust had made a number of overtures over the years, Ms. Shane said, the association considered the building to be in good shape and decided to retain ownership.

But the association more recently saw the value in turning over the building to the trust, with its rights at the property to be preserved in the deed.

"It kind of came up in the last six months," Ms. Shane said. "They really came to us. We were going back and forth with them.

"They made us an offer we couldn't refuse," she said. "Somehow, the time seemed right."