What Is “Good” Art? 

Charles Jefferson Davis Photograph by: Ralph Stewart

Charles Jefferson Davis

Who’s to say what is good art and what is bad art? And who is to say where that art, good or bad, should hang?

Charles Jefferson Davis and Charles Ledoux Kesling say, to each his (or her) own. And they flaunt their criticism of art criticism on the walls of their new home and their new adjoining inn, the Charles & Charles, at 85 Summer Street in Vineyard Haven. The partners bought the former High Haven House Bed & Breakfast last year and opened theirs just in time for the Summer 2014 season.

“I like bad art,” says Davis (as he is called), as he plays docent to a visitor in their private home area. As if to substantiate his assertion, he stops in front of a sitting room wall.

There, some dozen small paintings — of dogs, portraits of unknown people (the same person three times in one case),
and sundry other nondescript land and seascapes — prove that he is right: it is truly bad art, in the humble, uninformed opinion of the visitor.

But, he says, there is more to these pictures than meets the eye. Literally. “Look here,” he says, and takes a portrait down from the wall. “On the back of the portraits are cryptic explanations and notations written in the script of a woman clearly from another era. I love that. It’s a sort of mystery. We can only imagine what they really mean. This may be the Tinkie whose name appears on the front of the portrait. I bought these three bad portraits at an estate auction when the Luce family
sold their historic 19th century house on Pine Street in Vineyard Haven.”

The rest of the house — and all the rooms of the inn — showcase art that is of similarly questionable, though unapologetic, quality. On the living room wall is a seascape with lighting that an Island neophyte might take for anywhere along the Island’s south shore, from Katama to the Gay Head Cliffs. “It’s actually Laguna Beach, California, which I find has the same quality of light as the Vineyard,” explains Davis. A dyed-in-the-wool Islander might disagree.

“It’s not about value in traditional monetary terms,” he says. “It’s about personal aesthetics and some personal connection. Who, really, is to say why this piece of art moves you emotionally and that doesn’t?”

It’s a testament to Davis’s egalitarian approach to art that he finds the most expensive piece of art they own so unappealing that it holds an ignoble place of dishonor in his cluttered office.

Davis and Ledoux come to the roles of innkeepers in a roundabout manner. Though Jefferson has a college degree in hotel and restaurant management, his career took several turns before landing here. While living in L.A., for a decade in the ’90s, he hosted a Japanese television show, traveling the world interviewing celebrities. He’s produced and acted in films himself. He also worked in real estate. Lecoux is a hairdresser for a salon in Beverly Hills. Both sailors, they found a welcome harbor on Martha’s Vineyard some time back. A year ago, Davis took the leap from L.A. to live on the Island, working for a year at the Hob Knob Inn in Edgartown, where his naturally hospitable nature found a perfect vent. For the foreseeable future, Ledoux will commute from an apartment in West Hollywood.

They bought the Summer Street property, which covers about three-quarters of an acre, in November 2013. They’ve completely stripped and refinished all the inn rooms — six units ranging in size from a single room to two-bedroom apartments with kitchens and living rooms (rates range from $195 to $350 a night). All rooms will display art, leaving the guest to decide whether it’s good or bad.

Aside from making a statement about art, they also are set on making an environmental statement.

“We highly encourage our guests to leave their vehicles in Woods Hole and use bicycles on-Island,” explained Davis, himself an avid cyclist who covered the entire Island many times over while working at the Hob Knob. “We’ll give them the use of bikes free of charge. And if they ride 62 miles or more, which we’ll track on MapMyRide, we will give them a $100 gift certificate usable on a return visit to us.”

And that gesture will win rave reviews, as anyone who hopes the Island remains picture perfect would agree.

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