Something Old, Something New

After converting the old family barn into her workshop and gallery, Ashley Medowski found a new passion in mixed media.

Ashley Medowski doesn’t simply paint or draw. She isn’t limited to sculpture or collage. As a mixed-media artist, her work ranges from a painting framed with salvaged wood to an assemblage that resembles a childhood diorama.

For the most part, Ashley’s pieces are compact and can easily hang on a wall. But she can work on a larger scale too; her gallery is the best example of that. It has involved sorting through generations of junk, learning about masonry, and shoveling a lot of dirt.

“It’ll be my biggest piece of art when I’m done,” says Ashley.

She’s standing in the West Tisbury barn built in 1869 on her family’s land. Today, it is the home of her Saltwater Gallery, where she builds her mixed-media pieces, hosts one show each summer, and continues to tinker with the design of the space.

Ashley’s artistic side is closely linked to the history of this family homestead. As a child, she summered here (from Vermont), visiting her grandmother Mabelle Medowski, with whom she collected sea glass on nearby beaches. She remembers when the barn was home to her great-grandfather Captain Norman Benson’s fishing gear. Ashley recalls sitting in the cab of an old truck deep in the grass of the back yard. She saw her family’s focus on reusing old things, instead of buying new.

“Through my Vineyard family,” she says, “recycling really took hold.”

Ashley moved to the Island fourteen years ago, after graduating with an advertising degree from the University of Vermont, and started out making
sea-glass jewelry, windows, and wall hangings. She continues to do some now, but mostly for established clients. The mixed-media work is more appealing – in part because of all the potential objects she can combine.

“I usually fall in love with them because of some kind of authenticity in the object,” Ashley says.

After successfully lobbying her family to turn the barn into her workshop and gallery, in 2001 Ashley started sorting through a lot of broken, old stuff – much has been used in the renovation of the space and in her smaller pieces.

But Ashley’s affinity for what’s old extends to all kinds of found objects, and her preferred supplier is the beach (after a storm is best). Inside and outside the gallery, items are sorted by design: scraps of wood fill an old mailbox; glass bottles sit in a wooden crate. The yard is littered with this and that, much given by friends and clients who understand her sensibilities.

The space has a creative, country feel – a sweet synergy of historic family barn and contemporary art gallery. Of course, it’s also a working space, so it’s continually in transition. Ashley warns, “Don’t be surprised if you see a mess.”

Saltwater Gallery is at 367 Lambert’s Cove Road in West Tisbury. A sign at the end of the driveway indicates whether it’s open, or call ahead: 508-696-8822.