So Block Island

The Art of Small Things

Photographer Lisa Sprague captures the beauty of Block Island's details, when she's not strumming her ukulele

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“All of them so far” is how many years Lisa Sprague says she has lived on Block Island. Lisa is a reflection of many islanders: independent, talented, generous. The island was her summer home until 1976, when, just two days after graduating with a degree in health and physical education, she found a job posting on the island for just such a teacher.

Lisa moved off the mainland full time, got married, raised three children and built a long career of service as a police dispatcher, EMT and now administrative assistant to the police chief. All the while, she baked. Her rhubarb pies, brownies and other baked goods have always been in great demand.

Lisa’s four decades with the island rescue squad have left an imprint. Emergency calls are no less severe in a small town where faces are familiar and lives often intertwine. Now images of injury have been replaced in Lisa’s life by photographs of landscapes, harbors and clouds. “I’ve always taken pictures, but only for myself,” she says. Encouraged by a gathering of artists – enjoying her rhubarb pie and tea, of course – to exhibit her pictures, she began sharing her views of island life with others.

Rather than taking multiple shots and then culling them for the most perfect image, Lisa shoots only one or two frames at a time: “I either get it or I don’t,” she says. Block Island is alive through all seasons, constantly presenting opportunities light and dark, magical and common, but its beauty has been captured countless times from endless angles and perspectives. To ensure that her images are truly special, Lisa examines the smallest sprigs of grass, deep and sinuate hollows overstuffed with shad, boulders bronzed by sunset. Sometimes she presents the obvious, the roadside attractions we might overlook as shifting light and skies illuminate them.

“Each year my eye gets more mature,” she says. “I feel that those things are out there and I’ve been chosen to be the conduit to show them.” Since passing the Spring Street Gallery’s jury process, the fruits of her passion now hang on their walls alongside those of other artists. Lisa’s fall ritual of creating calendars with her pictures has “escalated in exponential proportions” as more people recognize her talent. “Half the fun is finding the words to accompany the pictures,” she says. Work, however, does not complete an artist’s day.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if we all learned to play ukuleles?” Lisa asked her friends, a proposition so rarely raised. Everything is relative and on this island, there’s something just so normal about four ladies belting out Beatles standards or Hawaii Five-O–themed birthday salutations in a concert of tiny strings. Occasionally known as the Ukeladies or The Mother Pluckers, the quartet regularly gathers to share dinner and some practice before gigs at a small circuit of coffee houses, plus an annual charity event. “Sometimes we’re quite good, sometimes we just laugh hysterically,” Lisa says, which itself is perfectly reflective of life on a small island.