If you head up North Road toward Menemsha on a Wednesday or Saturday during the summer, you can’t miss the Chilmark Flea Market. Its white canopies crop up on the left in a meadow owned by the Pat Jenkinson family, just past the intersection with Tea Lane. Billing itself as “a flea market like no other,” this laid-back, friendly event celebrates its 45th year this season.
The flea market began its existence in 1967 at the Chilmark Community Church, United Methodist, on Menemsha Cross Road under the guidance of the late Phyllis Conway. The Chilmark church organizes and hosts the event. It soon outgrew its original home, moving twice more before settling at its current venue, 142 North Rd., across from the old schoolhouse.
Plenty of art finds a place at the flea market, but so do a variety of other items such as homemade wares, collectibles, antiques, clothing, food, and vintage goods sold by an average of 60 vendors. That makes it differ from the Vineyard Artisans Festivals, which limits what can be sold to designated categories of art. The flea market has more the ambience of a giant yard sale.
“We used to be the only game in town,” says Ann Deitrich, the Church Flea Market Coordinator who succeeded Ms. Conway. Now flea markets crop up in other places, such as Featherstone Center for the Arts down-Island. In the days before the Friday Antiques Show at West Tisbury’s Grange Hall, the flea market was the place to go for antiques. They’re still around but in smaller numbers.
A visit last week to the flea market found a few bare spots in the field, where vendors like the Scottish Bakehouse and Island Alpaca Company had closed up shop early when a cloudburst blew through with thunder, lightning and buckets of rain. Business was booming for those who toughed it out, and the consensus was they were glad they stayed for the burst of sunshine and crowds that followed the downpour.
“We don’t discriminate on wares,” says Annette Anthony, who took over as vendor manager last year. Everybody is welcome to hang out a shingle and set up shop, including walk-ins. Sellers arrive from New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and even California. Some come to the Vineyard for the summer; others stay just for a day or two.
A professional organizer by trade, Ms. Anthony started as a customer first. She has brought a number of changes with her. A place for customers to sit down came first, with two picnic tables and two tent canopies set up to make the flea market more people friendly. She reconfigured the parking area and has made sure to keep a shady place for people who bring their dogs with them and need to leave pets in their cars.
Designer Tara Kenny has created Chilmark Flea Market tee-shirts, which she sells from her booth, along with collectibles. Nearby is Ken Goldberg with vintage signs and other bric-a-brac. Photographer Ben McCormick, who specializes in underwater photos, advertises his wares with a sign that reads “Under the Surface.” Beldan Radcliffe also exhibits at the Night Heron Gallery in Vineyard Haven, and here she displays a variety of objets d’art. Susan Balaban’s beaded jewelry is all hand-made.
Corinna Kaufman, “The Seaweed Lady,” sat with one ankle propped up on a bag of ice, the result of a fall while collecting specimens for the cards and art she sells at her spot, From the Ocean to You. Based in California, she grew up summers on the Island, living until she was five with her parents and siblings in a Vanderhoop chicken coop, spear fishing, and collecting fossils. She returns every summer.
“I think I came out of the womb with flippers, mask and snorkel in hand,” she says. The family hobby led naturally to collecting seaweed.
“I saw Rose [Treat’s] bookmark in Bunch of Grapes,” she says, in explaining how she came to be a seaweed artist. She started making seaweed cards at age 12, later selling them at Lucille Vanderhoop’s shop at the cliffs in what was then Gay Head (Aquinnah). An elderly gentleman, now deceased, named Alfred Eisenstaedt stopped by and bought all of her cards. Nineteen years later, she contacted the celebrated photographer at Time, Inc. and he sent her a fan letter saying “I found your work outstanding.” Ms. Kaufman proudly displays a copy of it.
Matthew Goethals, whose great-uncle Thomas helped found the Nathan Mayhew Seminars, has been taking photographs since his high school years at Milton Academy. He has been selling his photos for three years at the flea market.
Potter Scott Campbell is back at the flea market after many years. He likes the convenience of a location that’s just a few minutes down the road from his home and studio. He exhibits at the flea market because it’s open to everybody.
“Things sell better when there’s lots of different things, different price points,” he says. “It’s fun. The promoters are friendly, everybody’s friendly.”
Chilmark Flea Market, 142 North Road, Chilmark, 9 am to 2 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays until September 1. For information, go to chilmarkchurch.org.