The Artisans Festival's creative community
Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo
For the past 14 years, from 10 am to 2 pm on any Thursday and Sunday morning from June through October, scores of artists and artisans meet, greet, and with hardly an extra motion, set up tents around the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, or assemble their booths inside underneath the beams and ceiling fans.
As morning turns to noon, customers mill, sipping lemonade or iced tea, asking questions, and finding just the right painting, photo, book, purse, jewelry, ceramic, carving, or other piece of art to take home. It is a slow-moving commotion of show-and-tell, where creativity reigns.
This past Sunday was Marlborough College senior James Streicher Evan's first day as an exhibitor at the Artisans Festival.
"I'm working on my senior show," the painting major said, as he worked on a large portrait propped up behind his tent. Gesturing at the canvas, he said, "This is my stepfather, Dwane Benning, and it's one of five portraits that I'm doing for the show." He explains they include his family and his mentor, Dan Waters — a long-time exhibitor of his block prints, books and stationery at the Festival.
Mr. Evans feels very welcome among the artists. "It's a community, all the other artisans are really friendly. There were a lot of people just stopping by to say hello."
Within his first few hours, a painting sold. "I just made $400, so I'm psyched," he said, smiling.
On the porch of the Grange Hall, Andrea Rogers, the show's manager, ties dried lavender into artful bunches. Among the stalks of lavender, she finds a branched one, with two blossoms on a single stalk.
"Twinsies!" she declares, showing it to her neighboring exhibitors. As she chats, her daughter, also an exhibitor, stops by to visit.
Across the way, Benjamin McCormick, who's participated in the Festival for close to 10 years, displays his photographs of fish, wildlife, and water scenes. Among his most spectacular photos are underwater shots of fish, lunging open-mouthed for the bait.
"Where did you take this picture of the seals?" a visitor asked.
Mr. McCormick explains about the seal colony on Chappaquiddick, and they begin to talk about fishing.
"Fishing is my passion," said Mr. McCormick, "so when someone starts talking fishing I'll happily ignore every other customer, but I'm sure I learn just as much as they do from those conversations."
The customers become part of the community, too, whether they come once a summer or once a week.
"I live around the corner," said Stephanie Brothers. "I walk here every Thursday when my child is at camp, and I get a coffee and see everyone. It's very relaxing and you know everyone here." She gestures around. "There are some beautiful things — look at those pictures."
Pennsylvanian Kathy Cillo comes to the Vineyard for a week every year. "When I'm here, I always come to the Artisans Festival. I have a cousin who invited me to visit 10 years ago. Since then, I've come back every year," she said.
Under a tent Daisy Lifton draws Chinese characters on paper and beach stones. Beside her, Ilan Nelson and Lana Ho fold origami. They are freshmen in college and have been making origami at the Festival since they were 12 years old. Ms. Lifton does custom calligraphy, as well as selling framed brush paintings.
"People on vacation are outside the normal boundaries of their life," Ms. Lifton said. "The Vineyard opens the doors to conversations that wouldn't happen under other circumstances."
Ms. Lifton recalls a Cantonese-speaking couple who stopped by her display. The gentleman was Steve Lee, an expert on Chinese history, who had learned traditional calligraphy from his family as a boy.
"He took a very poetic approach to the shapes," remembered Ms. Lifton. "He described the energy of the characters. He got very passionate about it, and about Chinese culture and history. He really gave a gift to me with his time and help."
The Artisans Festival is a nexus of creative interchange, providing opportunities for artists to build community, to watch people react to their work, to learn, as well as to market their work.
The Vineyard Artisans Festival at The Grange in West Tisbury town center is held from 10 am to 2 pm, Thursdays and Sundays through October.
Amelia Smith is a regular contributor to The Times.