Another season of the Artisans Festival kicks off with old favorites and new finds

Artist Francis Creney answers questions about his pottery. – Photo by Emily Drazen

Updated June 20

The Vineyard Artisans Festival opened its 18th season last Sunday, showcasing over 70 artisans, including a handful of new exhibitors, at the Grange Hall on State Road in West Tisbury.

Festival impresario Andrea Rogers pronounced herself pleased with the 2015 lineup. “We have a wonderful new artist, John Osborn, who works in natural wood jewelry and does scrimshaw handcarving, which is becoming very difficult to find. Taylor Stone is a very creative young cut paper and book arts crafter and artist. Taylor is an Islander who attended Savannah College of Art and Design,” she said.

Ms. Stone is also a second-generation Artisans Festival craftsperson. Her mom, Lori Stone, exhibited handmade dolls at the festival for several years, Ms. Rogers noted.

“As the season develops, we’ll have additional artists, including the world premier of Island copper artist Clay Edwards on Sunday, June 21. We have entries this season from Ivry Russillo [leather bags], Walker Roman [farm animals], and textile artist Kate Fournier,” Ms. Rogers said.

“We’ll have more than 100 artists participating in the Sunday and holiday festivals this year,” Ms. Rogers said. The Vineyard Artisans Festivals are held each Thursday (July 2–August 27) and Sunday (June 14–Sept. 27) at the Grange Hall between 10 am and 2 pm. Additional holiday shows include Labor Day (Sept 4–6), Columbus Day (Oct. 11), Thanksgiving (Nov. 27–28), and a Holiday Show (Dec. 12), all with extended hours.

Ms. Rogers says her show naturally turns over about 10 percent of its exhibitors each year. “We are always looking for new talent,” she said. One new “find” this year is John Osborn, 83, whose family has been in plain sight on the Island for 300 or so years, and longer off-Island when the first family member stepped off the Mayflower.

Mr. Osborn was enjoying himself immensely last Sunday at the world premier of his craftsmanship. The artist displayed wood and scrimshaw necklaces made from Island-sourced materials. Mr. Osborn’ s work began from his wood carvings of whales and baseball players. After carving several small right whales as a necklace for his wife, Judy Valentine, Mr. Osborn began his jewelry work, adding scrimshaw carving along the way.

Scrimshaw is a 200-year-old sailor’s art that used whale bone and teeth on which designs and patterns were etched and inked. Mr. Osborn would have an affinity for the work, given his family owned or operated 15 whale ships out of Edgartown in the 19th century. “Not many people do it by hand today,” Mr. Osborn said. He does not use whale’s teeth or bones for his rare handicraft, but employs a hard vinyl composite used for piano keys. “It’s perfect for scrimshaw hand-etching and inking,” he said.

On Sunday, his work attracted a steady stream of browsers, unaware that they were standing two feet away from a connection with the founders of their country.

“I find the wood on the beach and refine it at home to the proper shape and size, sand, slice, and shellac it,” he said. Mr. Osborn’s signature piece is a scrimshaw map of the Island with each town’s boundaries etched and colored.

His feel-good piece is his own ball cap, with a scrimshaw map of the Island attached to the front, serving as a logo.

Inside the hall, Carol Tripp, a happy wool weaver, was set up in her booth for her 16th year as a festival artisan. “We go from sheep to blanket,” Ms. Tripp chuckled, indicating an array of homegrown dyed and spun yarns, clothing, blankets, coverlets, and linens in natural fibers. She and husband Richard Tripp keep some sheep here in Vineyard Haven and the reminder off-Island, in Lakeville.

“Changes over the years? This was always a high-quality show, which was why we came, but it keeps getting better and better. Quality. Variety. It offers a long season, plenty of opportunities to sell. After all these years, people know it’s a good show, and they come back to shop it year in and year out,” said Ms. Tripp.

“Andrea has insisted on high standards. She juries applicants carefully to insure that the work is done by Island people themselves. Believe me, that’s very important in the high-quality craft business,” continued Ms. Tripp.

“We do pay attention to new talent, perfectionists who keep getting better,” Ms. Rogers said. “Everything needs time to grow. Things don’t just happen without nurturing.”

Correction: An earlier  version of this story incorrectly spelled Lori Stone’s name as Laurie Stone, and incorrectly reported that she sells handmade puppets. She sells handmade dolls.