Functionality and art combine in the work of a dozen Artisans Festival participants working in glass, wood, and ceramics. If you’re looking for a gift from the Vineyard, there’s something special about a handcrafted item and, if it’s practical – and tactile – all the better. These artists display their work in the Vineyard Artisans Festival at the West Tisbury Grange Hall on Thursdays and Sundays during the summer.
Jeri Dantzig uses glass-fusing techniques to create bright, playful items ranging from tableware and coasters, barrettes and belt buckles, to glass tabletops. Her signature is vibrant color and fun patterns as witnessed in her polka-dotted cheeseboard with multicolored spotted knives and her small dishes made up of multi-hued tiles.
Nan Bacon also specializes in punchy colors, but unlike Ms. Dantzig’s work, her hand-blown pieces rely on texture rather than patterns for their individuality. Ms. Bacon’s vases, glasses, and honey pots feature a unique ridged design inspired by the large metal cans that flower vendors use at the Farmers’ Market. She makes her pieces in 15 different cheerful colors.
Edward H. Russell of Seahorse Sculptures started working with wood as a therapeutic outlet when he returned from the Vietnam War. To this day, he continues to carve large, fluid wood sculptures that oftentimes take years to complete. About 15 years ago Mr. Russell started crafting all kinds of practical items using wood-turning techniques. He finds attractive, interesting woods, often combining two or more, and creates a range of household items from salt and pepper shakers to pens or baby rattles – all of which make use of the natural beauty of various wood grains. Mr. Russell has a woodworking shop on the Island, where he turns out these items in the summer, and he works on his sculpture while at his winter home in Florida.
John Duryea of Krug & Ryan Company makes beautiful decorative table-top butcher blocks. The chunky boards are constructed using the end grain of the wood, which makes them, according to Mr. Duryea, more durable and easier on knife blades than a traditional cutting board.
“On edge-grain boards, the knife is sawing across the grain, dulling it,” Mr. Duryea said. “On an end-grain surface, the blade passes between the wood’s grain, significantly extending the life of the blade.” He notes that butchers use end-grain blocks, which is why he distinguishes between the term butcher’s block and cutting board.
The blocks are made of black walnut, cherry, white maple, and rock maple, which Mr. Duryea says are the four best woods for his purpose. “They are food-safe and strong.” Each block is made up of multiple cubes of wood, which makes for interesting patterns, and Mr. Duryea has an eye for using the natural patterns in the grain and combining different types and colors of wood in attractive ways.
Frank Creney of W.T. Clay Co. has recently started experimenting with a new process for transferring color from organic salts and oxides to unglazed pottery.
Last winter he built a kiln out of a 55-gallon drum. He places his natural-colored pieces into the handmade kiln, along with organic materials like moss and seaweed. During the firing process, the pottery surface grabs the carbons and transfers the colors in a variety of unpredictable patterns onto the vessels. “It’s an old process being done in a new way,” Mr. Creney said. The result is striking and unique.
For another series, Mr. Creney creates wonderful designs featuring fish and other marine life, using hand-carved stamps on glazed pieces in blues and greens.
Leslie Freeman gets wonderfully delicate effects by embossing plates and platters with lace or using a subtle cracking technique on white or pastel pieces. She also combines colors in interesting ways, using a colorful shade on the rim of a muted-color plate or bowl. On pastel plates and ceramic tiles, she creates lovely hand-carved and hand-painted designs – many with birds.
Perhaps the most variety can be found in the pieces by Candy Shweder of Up-Island Pottery. For one line she uses vibrant, unusual colors like a cinnamon red and a rich avocado green. Other pieces are either black or split between a black and a white field. Others feature soft, impressionistic flower patterns.
While Ms. Shweder’s work features bright colors, Lisa Strachan favors pure white. She hand-builds all of her unique pieces, using porcelain to give her work a luminescent quality. Her vases, bowls, and trays are artistically shaped as well as painstakingly carved and embellished. Although her designs are delicate, the pieces are not as fragile as they look. According to Ms. Strachan, porcelain is stronger than other clays.
Amy Nevin also uses porcelain for her work, which she creates both by hand-building and throwing. Many of her pieces combine a variety of styles. Swirls and drips blend harmoniously on one piece; carving and slip trails (raised designs) coexist happily on another. She makes all of her own glazes in interesting colors. For other pieces, she works with the pure white of the porcelain and adds pretty, impressionistic floral designs. Ms. Nevin also creates large, intricate sculptural pieces.
Washington Ledesma’s hand-painted terra cotta pieces are truly works of art. The Uruguayan-born ceramist has a distinctive style that features fantastical animals and mythological women created by hand etching and underpainting each piece before it’s fired.
Vineyard Artisans Festivals, 10 am–2 pm, Thursdays (through August 31), and Sundays (through September 30) at the Grange Hall, West Tisbury. See vineyardartisans.com.