Moving Back to the Vineyard: Elizabeth Whelan Makes Art of Artists


In 2010, when portrait artist Elizabeth Whelan gave up her Island graphic design business and made the switch to oil painting, she left behind more than a career. She and her longtime partner, boat builder and restorer Bill Benns, left their West Tisbury home and moved to Nashawena Island, near Cuttyhunk, and lived as caretakers for more than six years.

“It was a real adventure,” Ms. Whelan said. “We looked after a cattle farm, and it was an amazing experience.”

After moving away from design, Whelan began to focus on painting. “In 2014 I started to come out in public with my painting, and the art community on the Island was so great and so helpful,” Ms. Whelan said. “Other artists came to my openings and told me how to present my work, and gave me good advice.”

As her career grew, it got to the point, she said, “where I needed to be on the Vineyard more and more to network and meet with clients.”

These days Ms. Whelan works on portraits full-time at her new studio on Chappaquiddick, at the house she shares with Benns. She’s been on Chappy since early spring, and said the move feels like a good fit.

“It’s quiet, so a lot of really good artwork will be done here,” she said. “It’s nice to concentrate on art completely. It’s not easy to work and be creative at the same time.”

With ArtistsinArt, she’ll give back to the artist community that was so supportive when she was starting out. Whelan photographed and interviewed 24 local artists, then spent a year and a half painting their portraits.

On Saturday, July 22, from 1 to 8 pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, she’ll unveil their portraits one at a time and talk about what inspires each of the 24 artists. More than 100 pieces of their work will be for sale, and there will be a promotional drawing to win a portrait commission with Ms. Whelan, with no purchase necessary to enter or win. There will be an information table for two Island nonprofits: Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts, which provides grant funding to Island artists, and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School radio station 105.5-FM, WYOB, which broadcasts 24/7 in a mostly reggae format.

By creating ArtistsinArt, Ms. Whelan said she can promote Island artists and the galleries that represent them.

She said she’s happy to be among an artists’ community that rivals any in the country.

“The power of the art scene here is amazing. A local artist could be someone in a cardigan dabbling on the beach or a world-acclaimed artist,” she said. “They are professional and they are fabulous. There are acclaimed artists, and yet this is a great ground for the hobbyist; there’s a wealth of talent here.”

Artists involved include Deborah Colter, Jeanne Staples, Ken Vincent, Traeger diPietro, Omar Rayyan, Jack Yuen, Dan VanLandingham, Margot Datz, Marie-Louise Rouff, Marjorie Mason, Colin Ruel, and others Ms. Whelan will unveil. Visit for more information.

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