People and their collections

People and their collections

Dolly Campbell's husband, Bruce, built shelves that allow natural light to pass through her bottle collection. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Kay Dixon, a childhood Vineyard summer friend, is visiting Dolly Campbell when I arrive. She now comes annually, has just arrived, and always looks forward to revisiting Dolly’s collections and discovering what has been added. Getting to revisit all these objects makes her feel the same at-home comfort year after year. It would be impossible to miss Dolly’s collections — they fill shelving specially-built by her husband, Bruce, so her bottle collection can have natural light from the windows pass through them; old handmade herb choppers ring the uppermost walls around the kitchen; assorted animals can be found on the floor throughout her home, one-inch high handmade wooden birds extend over three windows sitting above the upper casing in the dining room, walls are hung with family portraits and collected favorites. There is so much to see, the eye must focus on one group, whether slab tiles made by Heather Goff or antique books lining shelves: it is just not possible to take it all in at once, so Dolly and I start in her kitchen.

Multi-colored bottles — pale amethyst, reds, assorted blues, dark green — come from as far away as New Zealand. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Multi-colored bottles — pale amethyst, reds, assorted blues, dark green — come from as far away as New Zealand. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Dolly grew up in Southport, Conn., in a neighborhood referred to as Fertile Acres, “because everyone was having babies [and] loved retail,” she says. “I’d go around the house and pick things up, then set up a little table outside the house and sell them. One time I sold my father’s wallet to the next-door neighbor for a quarter. He had to go and buy it back for a dollar because it still had money in it.” Dolly remembers seeing a photo story when she was married of Jackie Onassis’s New York City apartment —  all the tables were filled with family objects and mementos — and loving how it looked. She adopted the style as her own and rearranged objects in her grandmother’s house in West Chop, where she was living while her own home was being built.

Dolly started going to yard sales and limited her collecting to the Island, though the idea of stopping at thrift shops and antique stores off-Island appeals to her now. The only problem, she says, is where to put things. Dolly retired from 15 years of co-managing the Chicken Alley Thrift Shop in 2011. There, she purchased many treasured objects and kept her collecting spirit always ignited. She loves the varied shapes and forms of the no-two-alike herb choppers lining two sides of her kitchen walls just below the ceiling. She has an antique glass jar filled with sea glass, which she realizes is the first thing she ever collected and pieces go back to her childhood. Dolly admits there is more sea glass squirreled away in her basement. Her Vineyard Haven home is filled with many inherited collections, including family portraits in oil, sterling silver tea service from the early 1900s, furniture, old books — including Trollope and Dickens — that her husband Bruce collects.

Her bottle collection has mostly been purchased through thrift shop finds and includes unusual colors — a pale amethyst, reds, assorted blues, dark green, besides an array of clear bottles. She takes down one of her favorites that she brought home from a New Zealand stay with her son’s family. Although it looks old, it is a contemporary bottle that reminds me of Japanese Ramune soda bottles that have a glass marble inside sitting above the pinched neck. She told me that people break the glass to get the marbles out. I notice the jar of dice and she exclaims, “I love dice.”

Dolly loves many things. We continue from the dining room to the living room where I learn all the boat paintings and prints she found as presents for her husband over the years. One particularly large port scene painting came from the Foster estate which is now the Lambert’s Cove Inn, and hangs over the sofa in the middle of the living room. Dolly says, “Mr. Foster was a bachelor who traveled all over the world. He died and the bank took over and had a big open house. I think this was in the late 60’s. You see this is a Claude Lorrain look-a-like.” In fact it is a copy of his Port Scene with the Villa Medici from 1637 that hangs in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy.

Dolly co-managed the Chicken Alley Thrift store for 15 years and found lots of treasures there. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Dolly co-managed the Chicken Alley Thrift store for 15 years and found lots of treasures there. —Photo by Michael Cummo

On the mantel there are two lovely metal sculptures of dancers, both thrift shop purchases. I notice two Chinese cloisonné vases on the floor in front of one of the bookcases filled with mostly antique books. Dolly admits, “I used to collect vases, but ran out room for them because they take up too much space. I’ve given a lot of them away.” We go into the front hall and I fall in love with the animal door stops along a wall. There are antique boat prints and my favorite, I learn, was purchased on their honeymoon in New Hampshire — a large print of White Star’s Oceanic, the first ocean liner ever built.

Upstairs, the master bedroom’s walls are filled like the Louvre from the ceiling to floor with assorted paintings. One painter whose work Dolly has been buying for years is Claudio Gasparini, originally from Italy and since 1984 a seasonal Martha’s Vineyard resident, who has an annual show at The Granary Gallery. In one corner of the bedroom is a mirrored dressing table that once belonged to Island philanthropist and dear friend Molly McAlpin. Dolly has adorned it with necklaces, finds and family photos. I’ve been escorted through every room in the house including the bathrooms and then Dolly says, “Well, there’s lots to look at outside as well.” Her garden meanders up and down around the house and out to a very large koi pond. I could call it Dolly’s Folly: it reminds me of English gardens that were created to look as though built around ancient ruins. I love the sculptures and especially the dog house, House of Coco which, yes Dolly bought at a yard sale and hopes to restore some day.