Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Playhouse set designer exhibits work of a different kind

by Gwyn McAllister, The MV Times

Artist Lisa Pegnato’s work has been on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse for many years now. Pegnato is the set designer for the playhouse, and this year alone she has brought to life the vision of worlds as disparate as an English country estate, 1970s Berkeley, Calif., and 19th century rural Chilmark.

Now Pegnato is getting a chance to show another side of her work with an exhibit featuring her paintings in the Art Space in the Playhouse’s lobby.

The show is titled “Visions and Visitations” and it features over 20 of the artist’s oil paintings. Pegnato explains the theme of the show, saying, “I think one of the things that most artists would agree with is that when you’re in the studio, you get into a space where there’s nobody there with you anymore. You get messages. Ideas or visions. It’s a beautiful place to be. You can’t force it.”

Pegnato’s visions as represented in the exhibit include dreamlike images of birds and horses, landscapes and flowers, all rendered in a semiabstract way. She tends to go back and forth between painting in wholly abstract and a somewhat more representational style.

“I remember looking at a body of work by Monet when he was older and losing his eyesight,” recalls Pegnato. “The images are less defined, but it’s almost as if you can see the molecular structure, the vibration.”

Capturing the idea or the illusion of an image is what has always attracted Pegnato. She earned a bachelor’s in painting from UMass Amherst, and then focused on theater at Emerson College, earning her master’s in theater technology. “When I first graduated I was torn between painting and design for the theater,” she says. “I’m a dramaturg at heart.”

As well at the M.V. Playhouse, Pegnato did design work for the Foothills Theater in Worcester for many years until it closed in 2009. She has also done design work for the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, and the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

When asked to describe the similarities and differences between painting and design work, she says, “One’s internal and the other’s external. With painting you’re all alone in the room with this spirit. With theater work you’re looking at history and you’re emailing and texting and talking to people and looking at physical objects.”

Pegnato, who lives and works in Providence and commutes to the Vineyard in the summer, enjoys working in both worlds for now. “Theater has taught me how to be in a group and more about living in the real world,” she says. “Theater people are wonderful. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my time working in the theater.”

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