Arts, crafts, and antiques: A Chilmark tradition

Anita Knight sells her daughter April's homemade apple cake, made from a family recipe. — Photo by Susan Safford

This summer is the Chilmark Flea Market’s 46th year in operation.

“It’s a Vineyard legend that has grown and changed,” said Lesley Freeman, a jeweler and potter who has been selling her work at the flea market for 15 years.

This season, the Chilmark Flea, located on North Road, hosts upwards of 60 vendors who offer everything from fresh lemonade to photographs, antiques to chair massages ($1 per minute).

Annette Anthony is the Chilmark Flea Market’s only employee. She was hired last season to work with the dedicated Chilmark Community Church volunteers who put in long hours to continue the flea market tradition. “I couldn’t do any of this without them,” she said.

The flea market is the Island’s oldest outdoor market, and it continues to grow and prosper: this year Ms. Anthony had a waiting list for vendors. The youngest vendors are a 15- and 16-year-old duo who sell tee-shirts while the oldest vendor is an antique-seller in her 80s and, pointing to a tent where a mother pushed her baby back and forth in a carriage, Ms. Anthony said, “There are two babies on the field.” More than half of the vendors make their own products, and there are goods from India, Ecuador, and France.

Ms. Freeman shares a booth with her two daughters. She is a metalsmith who creates jewelry designs using metals, stones, and glass. Her patina jewelry, a forcing of the natural film that forms on copper and bronze, offers a green to blue palate that is a reminder of days on the ocean.

Emily Aza Freeman-Miller is also a jeweler. Ms. Freeman says that her daughter grew up in Beadniks and is very knowledgeable about stones. Her precise lines of beads and metal and stone pendants all sparkle on the display. Ms. Freeman-Miller’s sister, Althea Freeman-Miller, is a printmaker whose work illuminates the beauty in simple objects and scenes: a carrot, a hammer, a woman hanging clothing on the line. She prints using a linoleum block and oil-based ink.

Ms. Freeman-Miller mounts the final pieces to wooden blocks where they are reminiscent of the original carving. Together, these three women have turned their entire home into a studio. Ms. Freeman’s daughters, who were both raised on the Island, recently returned home and are finding a lot of support for their work.

Ms. Freeman said that just about everyone comes by the flea market during the summer: vacationers, young people who work on the Island, house guests who are given a tour of this Island tradition. Across the field, as mother and daughter arranged their work on tables, another vendor’s tent flew straight up into the air, flipped over, and landed on top of a car. Ms. Freeman looked up.

“Outside, we are up against a lot,” she said. “It’s like fishing!” Ms. Freeman-Miller added, laughing.

Heat, rain, and wind aside, the Chilmark Flea offers a wonderful outing for visitors and Islanders alike. Customers who come early might want a breakfast treat from the Scottish Bakehouse table and lunchtime visitors can eat at one of the shaded picnic tables before heading to the beach. The market runs on the same days as the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market so visitors can make a day of all-local shopping, from food to clothing to housewares. Customers seem to spend just as much time people-watching and chatting with vendors as they do admiring the unique finds and creations. A stroll through the tents yields a bounty for treasure hunters: simple and stylish bikinis, vintage vests, an antique picnic basket, wampum jewelry, and an antique sign that reads, “fish stories told here.”

The Chilmark Flea Market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm, June 26 through August 31. The market takes place at 142 North Road, on your left if you are headed up-Island. Parking and admission are free.

Freelance writer Heidi Sistare lives in Vineyard Haven. She recently attended the writing program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.