Island-Grown Art

The Vineyard Artisans Festivals provide both a lively marketplace for some of the best Island creations and a supportive network for artists and craftsmen.

There’s a certain rhythm to browsing the stalls at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals in West Tisbury. The light echo of footsteps on the wide floorboards at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall, the shuffle of pebbles outside the Grange Hall. Some people like to do a large lap and see what’s available, returning for their favorites. Others prefer to examine each artist’s work, item by item. But no matter how you choose to peruse some of the best art on the Vineyard, you can leave the festival with a piece of the Island.

“Customers go home when they buy something and they tell a story – that’s the idea behind it all,” explains festival founder Andrea Rogers one summer morning at her stall, where she sells her lavender sachets and homemade brooms. “It’s wonderful because it gives the Islander a way to make a living, and we can stay here and do what we love. Artists really think with one side of the brain and we’re happiest when we’re doing what we love.”

The juried show is in its fourteenth year at the Grange Hall on Thursdays and Sundays during the summer, and in its sixteenth year of Labor Day weekend shows at the Agricultural Hall. There are also shows tied to Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and Memorial Day weekends.

What began as six artists displaying their wares against a fence and barely making lunch money has turned into sixty of the best artisans on the Island, sharing the stories behind their works with passion and care. Each year a group of veteran festival artisans chooses a few new artists for highly coveted open spots. Applicants have to meet a series of criteria: Everything has to be handmade, the artists must live here, and the art being presented must meet a high standard of aesthetic criteria.

“We want people to come here and say, ‘Wow, look at that,’” Andrea says. “We see the same customers year after year. They’re so happy to be here. I think we’ve carved a nice niche in the Vineyard and we’re really a big part of it.”

The festival embraces artists young and old with a wide variety of media, ranging from acrylics, wampum, and fabric to ceramics, leather, and photography. It’s eclectic but always tasteful. If ever there were to be a crafts museum on the Island, a curator would do well to start with these exhibits in the historic halls of West Tisbury.

Andrea says, “I would love to see it continue in the same fashion it always has, and hope it always can.”

Jeri Dantzig’s vibrant glass

For Jeri Dantzig, there are two things she loves in life that make other people happy – food and color – so when she decided to sell her Vineyard Haven restaurant, Stripers, she simply moved from one medium to another.

Jeri began working with glass in 2000, taking classes at the world-renowned Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York. The first year she played and practiced, and after enough mistakes, as she puts it, she was able to get into the festival.

Chartreuse green, tomato red, cobalt blue, golden yellow, bright fuchsia. Her glassware makes you want to celebrate just about anything. As a vendor at the festival, she considers herself one of the event’s many musketeers.

“There’s such a wonderful camaraderie; we have a tremendous amount of respect because we know the amount of work that goes into this,” she says. “Everyone looks out for each other and there’s a real admiration among all of us.”

Her craft reflects her personality – it takes passion, patience, and spunk to create something so distinctive and timeless. A serving dish takes anywhere from twenty-four to thirty-six hours to be fired in a kiln. She starts with a bar of glass (the thicker it is, the more conservative you have to be in cooling it down, she says) and uses a tile saw to create the shapes she wants. The fusion technique melts the fragmented pieces into a glass base, creating the design from within.

“I like doing tableware because I like function,” she says of her glass serving dishes and cutlery, as well as her larger furniture pieces. “And color makes you smile; it just makes you happy. It really brightens everyone’s lives.

“I have art I bought when I was eighteen years old and I still have it and it still gives me pleasure,” the glassmaker says. “That’s what I want for my continually give someone pleasure.”

Dan VanLandingham’s landscape paintings

Sometimes you wish you could hold on forever to those perfect Vineyard days, but there’s only so much that can be retained in memory. However, painter Dan VanLandingham works his way into the crevices of those spaces forgotten in time, reaching past the trees and rolling hills into the emotion of the landscape.

“I always love going to the Allen Farm,” Dan says. “I grew up as a little kid watching the sheep go up and down the fields, and I grew to appreciate them aesthetically.”

At the festival, his paintings – oil on canvas and wooden board – are primarily landscapes and seascapes, what he calls an interpretation of spaces around the Vineyard. They bear some resemblance to that of fellow Island painter Allen Whiting, with whom Dan has been working and studying for the past few years. It’s been a dream for the twenty-six-year-old painter to work with his mentor, as he also pursues a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

But there’s more to the Island-born artist than landscapes and seascapes. Dan also has a large collection of contemporary work he shows at PikNik in Oak Bluffs and at galleries across Massachusetts. The more “experimental and personal” paintings go beyond the lovely south-shore views, exhibiting a little more edginess and intrigue as he incorporates found objects and collage into his work.

“I try and push my own personal boundaries and goals. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”

Showing at the festival gives him a chance to explain his work directly to his clientele. “The artisans fair provides a more hands-on and communal feel. I think it’s the face-to-face interaction with the people who are supporting me that makes it much more of a rich experience than showing in a gallery,” he says.

Janette Vanderhoop’s jewelry creations

There are many layers to each piece of jewelry Janette Vanderhoop makes. Some layers have been washed over by the ocean, some have traveled the world, and others are inspired by tradition.

One of her favorite pieces, the bear claw necklace, is based on Native American tradition – only the warrior who killed the bear could wear the claw around his neck. She’s taken the theme and adapted it to her own bold interpretation.

“I personally like big, colorful things, and I do find it challenging sometimes to try and appeal to all different audiences,” she says, pointing to the coral claw necklace. “I tend to go for big, chunky, and colorful, but sometimes I need to do something more modern and delicate.”

Janette, known as Netty to her friends, makes jewelry from recycled and natural found materials – wampum, feathers, vines, junk jewelry from friends – and turns them into necklaces, earrings, and keepsakes. Her spurts of energy and stimulation come and go, but whenever she receives donated retired jewelry from her friends, she’s always surprised that sometimes taking apart another’s creation makes for the best inspiration. She has used driftwood from Costa Rica, a pendant from a market in Barcelona, and grapevines from the Vineyard to make her popular dreamcatchers.

Her favorite color combinations are anything that may, or may not, match the purple wampum she uses as a base material for many of her pieces. In corals, greens, reds, and browns, Janette’s jewelry is eclectic and whimsical, piecing together the lost and found treasures of the Vineyard and beyond.

This has been her sixth summer at the festival but sometimes even seasoned artists have difficulty letting go of their work. “We have a tendency to hoard our stuff; it’s like a piece of you and sometimes you have to part with it,” she says. “Money can never compensate for the creative processes.”

Laura Silber’s recycled furniture

Leftovers take on new meaning in the hands of carpenter Laura Silber. Sometimes it means taking a 150-year-old horse bridle and turning it into a door pull; another time an antique bathtub stopper becomes a quirky drawer pull. Recently she used timber from a logging crib that was submerged for a hundred years in Lake Superior to create a hutch to display herbs at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown; the large timbers appeared extremely pickled from their time underwater, but when Laura stripped them down, gorgeous grooved wood was revealed.

What started out as a personal recycling project has turned into a business, Demolition Revival Furniture, as Laura takes what other people dismiss as junk or excess and turns it into coveted furniture pieces, bright with character, color, and a naturally aged patina.

“It’s furniture first. I don’t call it art furniture. It always starts out as function and then the aesthetics grow out of it,” she says.

Laura has two decades of carpentry experience, and twelve years ago she built her own house in West Tisbury from recycled wood and found objects. Over the years she’s not only collected odds and ends to add to her furniture, but built relationships with the Island contractors.

“The lumber comes from contractors who call me when they’re doing a tear-down,” she explains. “I use the pallets from Cottle’s lumber yard....When someone lays in a beautiful heart-pine floor, when they’re finished there’s an enormous pile of two- to three-foot end cuts, which normally get thrown out.”

Laura only sells her furniture at the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend shows, and her work is so popular that the festival is the only advertising she needs. “The shows have generated my entire business; the exposure is incredible,” she says. “A lot of people come back, and I have a bunch of customers who have upwards of five pieces. It’s addictive.

She says, “It’s a style that fits really well with the Island.”

Jamie Rogers’s blacksmithing and more

There will come a day when Jamie Rogers’s hands will give out, when she can no longer wield the forging tools to heat metal up to two thousand degrees, but until that day Jamie is happy twisting iron into drawer pulls, hammering silver into rings and bracelets, and melting glass into stained-glass objects. She enjoys connecting her work to customers and imagining what lives the pieces will take on next.

“It’s really nice to be able to talk with your customers and see who’s getting this piece that’s from you. It’s from your blood, sweat, and tears; it’s from your heart,” the blacksmith says, looking down at a hand chain she made the previous week. “To see this piece you love and see who’s excited about it and going to wear it.”

Jamie’s journey to becoming a blacksmith and silversmith started on the porch of the Grange Hall in West Tisbury; she’s the daughter of festival organizer Andrea Rogers, and Jamie grew up having the artists as her extended family. After graduating from high school, Jamie moved west and mined crystals in Colorado, then studied at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.

Jamie instantly fell in love with metal crafts, and returned to the Vineyard with new skills in silversmithing and forging. After learning how to make stained glass at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, she started creating colorful earrings that reflect prisms on a wearer’s neck, and sailboat ornaments that dangle in windows, reminding customers of the festival they’ve left behind.

“I love having the balance of different things going on,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to talk about your process and be the face representing your work. I’m always trying to come up with new ideas, things that aren’t too expensive because of the economy. I’m trying to get a bigger variety of customers to my booth, as opposed to just one specific type of person.”

Kenneth Pillsworth’s geometric jewelry

Circles layered on rectangles on top of triangles framed by squares. There’s something about Kenneth Pillsworth’s jewelry that if you put your ear to it, you could swear it ticks like a clock.

The geometric work has a sense of motion to it, as if his hinged-frame mixed-metal bracelet could rotate around your wrist on its own. It’s Kenneth’s favorite bracelet and one of his more popular pieces.

“It has all of the materials I use,” he says, referring to brass, copper, titanium, yellow gold, and sterling silver. “Each link has its own personality and a lot of my other pieces come from it – my earrings, my pendants. It’s a good signature piece.”

Kenneth tends to sit down at his workbench and piece shapes together. “People ask me where the inspiration comes from, but it just happens,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and get right to work. Sometimes I have a list of things I have to make; other times, it’s just make whatever I feel like. That’s really fun.”

He has always let creativity guide him, so when he was fresh out of art school, he followed it to the jewelry studio of a friend of his father, who ended up teaching Kenneth everything he knew.

Now Kenneth has his own style. The stones and minerals he uses are unusual, such as speckled dalmatian stone, prehnite, and orange chalcedony. Different metals create a contrast of hues and textures for his earrings, cuffs, bracelets, necklaces, rings. The cleanly cut metal shapes, coupled with a hint of color in a gemstone, appeal to both men and women.

Celebrating his fourteenth season at the festival, he says much of his success is due to his weekly booth. “This show has gotten me to where I am today,” he says. “It’s enabled me to get the clientele I have now, and it’s been a great stepping stone. It’s just opened so many doors.”