The Agricultural Fair Chooses its Poster Girl

The high point of the Vineyard year is summer, and the high point of every summer is the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair – which is annually epitomized, advertised, and celebrated anew in a poster. Each year’s image seems to appear organically, but of course, there’s more to the story – and this year, that story has special resonance in West Tisbury, which has hosted the fair almost annually since 1858.

Once upon a time, the poster was a generic advertisement that Cushing Amusements, the carnival crew, brought with them from off-Island. In 1976, Abbe Burt, the fair manager back then, asked West Tisbury painter Allen Whiting to create an image to publicize the fair-as-hometown event; the image he created was so popular, Abbe put it on T-shirts and sold those with the posters. “Allen was a perfect choice because of his family’s long association with the fair, but after three years [of using his artwork], we decided to try opening it up, to give other young artists a chance,” Abbe says. Thus began the competition to design the fair poster. The winning entry becomes indelibly associated with the event; besides the poster and T-shirts, the image appears on tote bags and aprons.

When she was a kid, Island native Janice Haynes hardly paid attention to the posters. “It was just the T-shirt image for the kids who worked the fair,” she remembers. As an adult, she’s developed a new appreciation for the poster – in fact, this year she’s the artist.

Janice has lived on the Island her whole life, except for four years at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, and a few years in Georgia for a brief first marriage. When she came home to regroup from her divorce at the age of twenty-six, she cheerfully told everyone she knew, “Hey, I’m just here until I figure out what I’m doing next; I’m certainly not staying on this rock!”

She never left. Now forty, she thrives here, and it’s hard to imagine her anywhere else. Just as the poster epitomizes the fair experience, Janice’s life in many ways epitomizes the modern Islander experience. Daughter of Betty and Billy Haynes (he’s a retired West Tisbury fire chief and also a native), Janice grew up on State Road in West Tisbury. From early childhood, her summer schedule revolved around the fair. Back when the firemen’s booth was a dunking booth, Janice put in her time there, even at the tender age of about twelve. She’s only missed four or five fairs.

Hers was one of the last classes to have attended the old West Tisbury School, in what is now the town hall; her eighth-grade graduating class numbered eighteen. After her return in August 1991 (the day before Hurricane Bob hit) she made ends meet by working retail and coffee shops – Brunelle Leathers, CB Stark, Biga, Back Alley’s. But that’s not all she did. “When I realized I was going to stay here, I decided it was time to give something back to the community. I became an EMT, like my mom had been. We’re sort of a community-oriented family.” She tried to find time for her art; in the mid-1990s she even submitted an entry for the fair poster, “but I didn’t take it very seriously, and I don’t think I did a good job.”

In 1998 she met Jeremiah Brown, the lead foreman at Vineyard Gardens. They moved in together a few months later. But their rental house was damaged in a fire in early 1999, and Janice lost not only all her art supplies, but all of her actual art – nearly everything she had created up to that point in her life, except for one small portfolio.

But Janice says of the experience, “It was amazing. It’s times like that when you know and appreciate that you’re part of a community. It was very heart-warming; we got clothing donations from people we didn’t even know, and the fire department gave us a few hundred dollars out of an emergency fund it has for members’ families.” A few years later (having married in late 1999, and bouncing around as rental possibilities arose), Janice and Jeremiah were the grateful beneficiaries of the newest development in Island life: affordable housing. “We were the guinea pigs,” she recalls. “We were the very first people to build a house under the new affordable-housing guidelines in West Tisbury.” With family on both sides putting sweat-equity into the project, they finished and moved into their own home four and a half years ago. And that was the turning point in Janice’s ability to reclaim her identity as a painter.
“To be able to do my art, it was about space and time. When we finished the house, I finally had the space – I didn’t have to clean my paints off the dining room table every mealtime. Then we realized that we could afford for me to work part-time – so then I had the time as well.”

Her work is detail-oriented and whimsically realistic. “The first time I laid my eyes on her entry,” says Eleanor Neubert, the current fair manager, “I thought, Oh, boy, this is a good one, it’s nice and bright and colorful.”

“I am not capable of impressionistic art. I just can’t do it,” Janice says. “I like reality, and I like my inspiration to be natural things – plants, trees, people, animals. And color, I like color, lots of color. I never learned a style, I just poke away at it until it looks right.”

At first she simply created “little presents and whatnot,” or applied her love of painted detail to the house itself – the banister boasts several yards of twining morning glories; a kitchen cabinet displays a bucolic scene. As of 2004, she’s also been selling her work at the juried Artisan’s Festival, as well as the Friends of Family Planning art shows and her website ( And this year, of course, her work will be plastered, worn, and toted all over Martha’s Vineyard, where the hometown girl has found a new way to give back to her community.