The Fair (formally the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair, the 151st of that name — well, not exactly that name, but close enough) opened Thursday and I still haven’t blogged about Bountiful, Susan Klein and Alan Brigish’s magnificent history of the MVAS and its marvelous offspring. The short version is this: If you’ve any interest in Martha’s Vineyard past, present, and future, you owe yourself a copy of this book. It can be bought at the Fair for $29.95 plus tax.
I’m told that after the Fair, it will be available elsewhere, including by mail order. Info should be posted shortly on the Ag Society website, but it’s not there yet so be patient.
As noted in “Editrix,” I helped edit Bountiful, but having read most of the text in (electronic) manuscript form didn’t prepare me for the wonder of the printed book. Yes, the photographs are glorious, both the color images captured by Alan Brigish and others at the 150th Fair last year and the historic black-and-whites gleaned from the collections of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and many, many families and individuals. Likewise the letters, reports, and other documents from the Ag Society’s early decades, starting in 1858. The historical record owes a huge debt to archives of the Vineyard Gazette, which was founded in 1846.
But the real wonder is the synergy achieved by these diverse elements, thanks to the vision of Susan and Alan and the design genius of Jen Daddio, who also designed Susan and Alan’s previous collaboration, Martha’s Vineyard: Now and Zen. Here the present and the past talk to each other, sometimes in the sedate tones of scholars and elder statesmen, sometimes in a passionate cacophony. The changes are obvious, but so is the continuity: it’s not hard to imagine the Ag Society’s founders and the entrants of the earliest Fairs strolling through the 151st Fair, recognizing and admiring the produce, the needlework, the power of the draft horses. The farmers, gardeners, weavers, and bakers of 2012 and their counterparts of 1890 would have plenty to talk about.
When I moved to the Vineyard year-round in 1985, I’d already been to many Fairs, ridden the carnival rides, dropped a ridiculous amount of money at the games of skill and chance (managing to win a few stuffed animals in the process), watched the horse show and the woodsmen’s contest, admired the exhibits in the hall . . . When the 1986 Fair rolled around, I felt powerfully moved to enter something. Useful skills I had (and still have) virtually none, but I had been baking all my own bread for 10 years. So I entered two yeast breads in the baking category — and was absurdly pleased when they both won blue ribbons.
I had declared my desire to be included, and an acceptance had been issued in return.
Over the years I’ve had enough conversations with newcomers and former newcomers to believe that this impulse is widespread, and that the Fair is the portal through which many of us have entered and become part of the Vineyard.
Bountiful expands this understanding in so many ways. For generations now, island kids have started out as helpers and as they grew in experience become responsible for one of the myriad tasks that makes the Fair happen. The surnames of many of today’s entrants and prize winners echo those of the 1860s, 1880s, 1920s, 1940s. And the newer names testify to the desire of many others, incomers and summer residents alike, to excel at the arts and skills that the Ag Society’s founders valued.
Those founders planted the seed of an institution that, probably more than any other, holds us together as an island, across the generations and across town lines. To browse through Bountiful is to be continually reminded of what a wondrous thing we’ve become part of, whether we were born into it or came from somewhere else.