The Hidden Treasures of Old South Wharf

From August 2011 article in the ‘Inquirer & Mirror’ –  by Hana Schuster, I & M Contributing Writer

One of Old South Wharf’s longest running galleries, Eric Holch’s Holch Gallery, offers customers a unique twist on Nantucket-themed art, thanks to the artist’s unique limited-edition silk-screen prints, posters and his signature line of nautically-inspired silk neckties.

Since 1976, when Holch began exhibiting his work at the Main Street Gallery, his prints and oil paintings have been exhibited in over 250 galleries and museums throughout the United States, Bermuda, England, Australia and Japan. His distinctive images have also appeared on everything from magazine covers and cards to ceramics, jigsaw puzzles and boxer shorts.

Holch is one of the few contemporary printmakers whose work was selected for international distribution by the Original Print Collectors Group, Ltd., a leading authority on investing in art.

Growing up in Andover, Mass. and Greenwich, Conn., Holch spent every summer on Nantucket where he developed a passion for sailing and being on the water, both of which play a role in his serigraph prints.

“I’ve always tried to capture the essence of Nantucket,” said Holch, who missed the island while at college and began painting Nantucket’s quaint side streets, warm sandy beaches, summer sailing races and unique New England architecture, hoping that the images would transport him back to the island he loved so much. “Painting is a way to feel connected to a place,” Holch said. “Painting Nantucket always took me right back there.”

Holch began his career as an artist doing oil paintings, but felt that the medium made it difficult to develop a unique style. “With all the talented artists on Nantucket, I wanted people to look at something I’ve done and immediately know that it’s my work,” Holch said. “I found that serigraphs (silk-screen prints) afforded me the ability to do that.”

“I think now people really recognize these prints as mine. It’s a very distinctive look that no one else on Nantucket is doing.”

Limited to flat planes of color, Holch must find ways to keep his images simple, while making sure to provide customers with enough color, detail and varied compositions to maintain their interest.

“It’s a tricky balance,” Holch said of printmaking. “It can get technically very challenging,” as a finished print must go through many stages of production, often taking the artist up to four months to complete a single piece.

Holch hand-cuts stencils for each color plane, a tedious process that requires skill and, according to the artist, “lots and lots of patience.” Special effects can be achieved by painting, sponging and scraping the stencils, or by mixing colors and creating “blends,” which the artist said can be one of the most complicated facets of printmaking.

Holch uses oil-based paints, archival inks and 100 percent cotton rag paper to create original prints that are durable and resistant to fading.

Holch’s formal art training began at the Trinity-Pawling School where he won its first annual art award. He continued his studies in art, architecture and art history at Hobart College and, after graduating, won numerous awards in juried art exhibitions throughout New England.

New to the gallery this year are Holch’s torn-paper deconstructions, prints that he creates by tearing apart sections of reject prints and reassembling them into a new, entirely unique piece.

According to Holch, his deconstructed prints have been very popular and are almost entirely sold out, though one of them, “Beach Party,” still hangs in the gallery.

“The images in my prints are very crisp and I do lots of blue skies and sunny beach scenes, so that creates a really interesting contrast with the torn edges of the deconstructions. I think it’s visually very dynamic,” he said.

Also new this year, and marking a significant departure from Holch’s usual imagery, is a series of folk-art-style whaling themed prints that are reminiscent of some ivory scrimshaw works, seen in “Siren Song,” an image of a mermaid perched on a rock in the ocean as a whaling ship passes by, and “Salty Dog,” depicting a man and his dog rowing a wooden boat past an enchanting lighthouse.

Holch’s posters of various Nantucket scenes have been very popular over the years among Nantucket visitors looking for ways to keep their island memories alive. The posters are available with or without “Nantucket” featured at the top in white block letters.

Also popular are his many stylized beach scenes featuring umbrellas and matching beach chairs. “When you go to the beach, you see coolers and towels and people everywhere,” said Holch, who wanted to simplify the beach experience by depicting a day at the shore through only umbrellas and chairs in what he calls his “sorbet colors,” light pastel shades that indeed seem more appropriate on an ice cream cone than a canvas

Near and dear to Holch’s heart are his sailing prints. An avid sailor himself, Holch completed a series of smaller prints featuring various Beetle Cat sailboats in a rainbow of colors that belong to him and his friends.

Holch said Nantucket is a “never-ending source of inspiration” for him. “It’s amazing when ‘’ve been doing this for over 30 years that I can still be inspired by the same place, that I can always find something new in Nantucket,” he said.