“Many artists think they are better cooks than anyone else,” says Nancy Shaw Cramer, owner of the eponymous gallery in Vineyard Haven. They bring a dash of creativity and a dollop of fearlessness to the kitchen. At least, that’s what Nancy has seen in the mixed-media artists group she founded in 1996. She says the potters think they are best, since their art is based on recipes. But Nancy is quick to defend all artists as chefs, arguing, for instance, that painters tend to make their work personal – both on the canvas and in the kitchen.

Artistic meals have been a happy byproduct for the group of seven or eight Vineyard artists who have gathered monthly for twelve years. And now Nancy has worked with photographer Kathy Newman, of Aquinnah, to publish Vineyard Artists in the Kitchen. The thirty-page book (on sale exclusively at Nancy’s Main Street gallery) celebrates this intersection of art and food.

Take Jennifer McCurdy’s sand-dollar shortbread cookies. The Vineyard Haven ceramicist came up with the recipe and has made it a tradition to serve her cookies when the art group meets on the beach in August. Blueberry-filled, with star-pattern slits on top, these sand dollars look like little pieces of art – and tasty ones too.

“There is a strong relationship between the making of food and the making of art,” writes Adele Schonbrun in the book. The West Tisbury artist, who works on paper and in clay, likens a food recipe to a formula she would follow for glazing and for other aspects in her art: “Mixing a sauce is like mixing a paint color. After that I decide what I like best and how I would change it. More chocolate? More nuts? More pigment? Less sand? There are infinite variations.” Her recipe in the book is a chicken dish, baked in the kind of stoneware pot that she makes.

Each artist is presented with a two-page spread that includes an artist’s statement, a recipe, photos of their art and, in some cases, of the cuisine – when the presentation is as pleasing to the eye as the palate. Paper artist Sandy Bernat of Seastone Papers in West Tisbury contributed a recipe for beet soup. In her artist’s statement, she articulates a connection between art and food.

“Making paper art is a conversation between the human hand and the botanicals of land and water,” she writes. “Preparing food is a parallel experience. The plant that nourishes the body is also the plant form that can excite the spirit and the soul. Whether making paper for art or making food for nourishment, there is a tactile immersion with the materials. Both mean holding the earth closer, touching gardens, fields, oceans, and beaches. The petals, leaves, and seeds, too, have their say. They contribute their texture, their seasonal palette, even their scent.”

Many of the artists in the book see a correlation between preparing food and creating art. Not painter Rez Williams, of West Tisbury: “In so far as the act of cooking is based on a recipe, I find there is no relationship whatsoever to art. Comfort in food is, well, comforting; in art it is just plain embarrassing because when you simply reproduce what you know, you have at the same time failed to produce something that has never been seen before.” His point of view might not be surprising considering he contributed a recipe for finnan haddie, “a favorite dish from childhood.” The traditional Scottish fare of creamed haddock is more classic comfort food than contemporary creative endeavor.

Over the years, the art group gathering has become an integral part of its members’ support systems, both personally and professionally. The book broadens that circle, as Nancy invited additional artists to participate. She hopes this thirteen-artist edition, which she calls a prototype, will lead to a larger volume with twenty-five to forty artists, as was her original vision.

Vineyard Artists in the Kitchen is in itself an artistic mélange of photographs of art by Vineyard artists, their studios, and the prettier foods. The artists’ statements range from simply candid to somewhat esoteric to insightful. It’s a slim hardcover that seems more art book than cookbook, especially at about fifty dollars each. But, Nancy says, self-publishing a book like this is expensive and more for the celebration of art and
food than making any money.