Authors Posts by Gwyn McAllister

Gwyn McAllister

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How three local businesses use their web sites to keep busy year-round.

Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs carries a wide variety of spiritual, inspirational, and New Age–oriented gifts that are also available through the store's website at thelifedivine.com.

Martha’s Vineyard businesses tend to struggle with the seasonal nature of the Island. The few months when the Island population is at its peak are profitable, the rest of the year not so much. However, some local business owners have figured out a way to keep relatively busy throughout the year. By setting up online shops, retailers can reach out to the wider world and also offer their wares to summer people all year long.

Heidi Feldman, co-owner of Martha's Vineyard Sea Salt with her husband Curtis Friedman. – Courtesy MV Sea Salt
Heidi Feldman, co-owner of Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt with her husband Curtis Friedman. – Courtesy MV Sea Salt

“Our mission is to have a local product and sell to our local customers,” says Heidi Feldman, co-owner with her husband Curtis Friedmanof Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt. “But our local customers are comprised of over a million and a half a year [based on the number of annual visitors to the Vineyard who could be potential customers]. Our method of deploying sea salt is selling to locals and visitors who buy it and bring it home. But they needed a way to buy it rather than to call me.”

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt was launched in 2013. Ms. Feldman and Mr. Friedman offer hand-harvested and solar-evaporated salt from the ocean around Martha’s Vineyard, and organic salt blends such as Blueberry Honey, Lemon Balm, and Smoked Oak. The couple sell their products at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market (including the indoor winter market), but when the bulk of their customers have returned to various points around the country, sold on the flavor of purely natural salt and wanting a gustatory reminder of the Vineyard, they can now restock directly from the M.V. Sea Salt web site.

Order your Martha's Vineyard Sea Salt anytime at mvseasalt.com.
Order your Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt anytime at mvseasalt.com.

“You can’t sell online unless folks know about your product,” says Ms. Feldman. “The challenge is getting the word out on the web. We’re relying primarily on word of mouth. We want to support that with web content. The way to create web content is to find keywords that are already out there, and use them in blog posts, Twitter posts, stories, etc.”

Ms. Feldman, who handles the business side of M.V. Sea Salt while Mr. Friedman focuses on the production end, has learned a lot about online marketing, but she has also turned to the experts to help her build her web presence. “We use an Island-based web developer, graphic designer, printer, and social media talents.”

Chilmark Coffee makes a great local gift. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Chilmark Coffee makes a great local gift. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Todd Christy of the Chilmark Coffee Co. launched his coffee-roasting company in 2010 with an emphasis on product rather than distribution. “When we started this business, I was thinking it would really be focused on the local community,” he says. “Mostly we were trying to make a really great product for the Vineyard. I wasn’t thinking too much about where else it would go; just trying to get it into stores. What we found was that people who were here in the summer wanted to buy it after they left the Island.”

Mr. Christy is constantly trying out new beans and artisanal blends to appeal to every palate. His fair trade beans come from all over the world, through a variety of distributors: “Currently we’re moving away from distributors to go beyond organic. We’re trying to do more direct trade from the producers. The idea is to bypass the middleman and eliminate the number of hands touching the product.”

All of this comes with a price tag. “We use only high-end beans,” he says, “We’re buying coffees that are $4 to $6 a pound green. I pay twice the shipping that any roaster pays on the mainland.” Chilmark Coffee Co.’s Island-roasted coffees sell for $16 or $17 a pound. But coffee connoisseurs from all over are willing to pay the price for premium coffees. And a new breed of coffee aficionados have found Mr. Christy through his online presence. “Our web site is a great place for people — not only friends but competitors — to see what we’re doing.”

Mr. Christy often orders coffees from other roasters, and has found that the micro-roasting community tends to be curious about, and supportive of, one another.

Even businesses that don’t produce anything locally have discovered that that their loyal off-Island customers want to continue a relationship year-round.

Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs carries a wide variety of spiritual, inspirational, and New Age–oriented gifts that are also available through the store's website at thelifedivine.com. — Photos courtesy of www.thelifedi
Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs carries a wide variety of spiritual, inspirational, and New Age–oriented gifts that are also available through the store’s website at thelifedivine.com. — Photos courtesy of www.thelifedi

The retail store Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs carries a wide variety of spiritual, inspirational, and New Age–oriented gifts. Owners Rita and Frank Chiaravalle have a great eye for unique, quality items, including cards, artwork, candles, books, meditation aids, statuary, jewelry, carved beach stones, and much more. Regular customers tend to rely on Sanctuary to provide a range of creative and inspiring gifts for all occasions.

To accommodate off-Island fans, the Chiaravalles have been selling online for more than 10 years. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” says Ms. Chiaravalle. “You need to personalize it as much as you can. People don’t want to deal with a warehouse.”

“In the summer, people are happy to know that you do have an online store. They don’t want to schlep things on the ferry. They don’t have the space. They don’t have the time to shop.”

Customer service is very important to the Sanctuary owners. “We ship out within the same day or the next day,” says Ms. Chiaravalle. “We offer free shipping for orders over $100. We don’t have a lot of returns, but we have a very fair return and exchange policy.  Some people are uneasy about ordering online. Our site is very very secure.”

The online store has really become a full-time proposition for the Chiaravalles. Not only is the ordering and shipping process time-consuming, but making sure that new customers can find them is a labor-intensive process.

“Like anything, it’s the energy and the work you put into it,” says Ms. Chiaravalle. “It’s that behind-the-scenes effort: the back end of the web site, the search engine optimization. It’s important that you’re keeping your content fresh every day. People who aren’t doing it well are missing out.”

So far the effort has paid off. “What’s really interesting is that we get people who have never even been to Martha’s Vineyard,” says Ms. Chiaravalle. “When they find out that we’re on M.V., it has that mystique as well.”

Offering a constant supply of new and interesting products keeps customers coming back to the online store, and attracts new business all the time. But selling online is hard work. “You really have to be on top of things,” says Ms. Chiaravalle, “making sure you have things in stock. You don’t want to frustrate people after they go through the process.”

Ms. Chiaravalle has found that the payoff is worthwhile. “It’s been such a gift for us. Holiday shopping in the store doesn’t technically heat up until the last 10 days before Christmas. The online business starts in November. Then in the last week it tapers off, so that we can focus our energies on the local business.” Sounds like a perfect combination for sustainable success.

Sanctuary will be closed until February, but you can shop there year-round, 24/7, at thelifedivine.com. Order your Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt anytime at mvseasalt.com. Shop for Chilmark Coffee around the clock at chilmarkcoffeco.com.

Artist Kate Taylor offers unique and economical versions of the coveted Native American art.

A collection of Kate Taylor's Native American-inspired art, now available at an affordable price. – Photo by Michael Cummo

While Kate Taylor is best known as a singer-songwriter with a soulful voice and a folk/country/blues sensibility, the longtime Vineyard resident has also been making and selling wampum jewelry for more than 40 years. Her designs go far beyond the wampum beads and polished pendants that we generally see scattered across the Island. Each of Ms. Taylor’s designs is a miniature work of art. Her pieces often incorporate semiprecious stones and intricately carved shells and sea glass, set against a unique piece of striated clamshell that serves as a canvas to tell a story.

These beautiful one-of-a-kind designs are understandably cost-prohibitive for many potential buyers, due to the use of expensive materials and the labor required by the work. Luckily for the masses, Ms. Taylor is now reproducing some of her favorite designs as metal-backed resin-print pendants. For only $43, you can now sport one of Ms. Taylor’s custom works of Native American-inspired art.

Among the available designs are a sunrise, a full moon reflected on the ocean, a pine tree in a snowy forest, a view of the campfire lit inside a teepee, a turtle totem, and a cross design made up of tiny dots of wampum.

The six pieces are actually copied from the front and back designs of three different original pendants. Each work, painstakingly put together,  is a mini marvel created from tiny carved polished bits of stones and shells. The ocean at night is made up of two different colors of wampum to delineate the sea and the sky, and the reflection of the full moon in shimmering abalone. The forest scene features an evergreen tree of sea pottery with petrified wood trunk, a dark blue sea-glass sky, a scallop shell setting sun, and a tiny crescent moon carved from wampum. The turtle is made from an intricately carved piece of wampum decorated with a Native American pattern in turquoise.

Even as two-dimensional reproductions, the images are striking, colorful designs that incorporate traditional ethnic art and a fun contemporary style.

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Kate Taylor at home with one of her coveted pieces of wampum jewelry. – Photo by Michael Cummo 

Ms. Taylor started making wampum jewelry with her husband, the late Charlie Witham, in 1971. She had become fascinated with Native American culture and art and started informally studying the history at museums and elsewhere. “I realized that the wampum beads were made from the same shell that was on the Island,” she says. “I read up on how they used to make the wampum and what the traditions were. There is a wonderful and rich history.”

Among the things Ms. Taylor discovered is that much of the art was used as a means of communication. “I was drawn to the style, the artistic sensibility, and the materials that they used,” she says. “But what was really fascinating was that the traditional uses of it were so deep and important. They didn’t have any written language, so they used the bead as a mnemonic device to record important events and treaties. If you wanted to invite someone to a meeting, you sent them beads.”

Although Ms. Taylor and her husband started out making decorative pieces, the work eventually evolved into little scenes created with sea glass, abalone, scallop and conch shells, and semiprecious stones. Each piece is a little story in itself — often inspired by Martha’s Vineyard.

For years Ms. Taylor made pieces on commission and sold her work through a couple of local jewelry stores. “In 2002 I released my first record in 20 years,” she says; “I was doing more performing. I couldn’t keep the stores stocked.”

Fortunately Ms. Taylor’s designs are enjoying a second life as reproductions, and the pendants — hung on leather or silk cords — have become quite popular. “It’s nice to do something that doesn’t have to cost so much,” she says.

You can find Ms. Taylor’s necklaces for sale on her web site, katetaylor.com.

Other recent works of art available on Ms. Taylor’s site are puffy hearts made of Swarovski crystals by women in Africa. At the request of her longtime friend Ellen Ratner, the musician/artist travelled to Africa and taught the Heart Women of South Sudan to construct small heart necklaces made up of 73 Swarovski crystals. The sale of the necklaces will benefit those suffering from PTSD. They can be purchased for $35 at katetaylor.com and goatsfortheoldgoat.com.

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Mother and son Jemima James and Willy Mason treat the audience to a duet. -Photographs by Larisa Stinga

Among the many new off-season initiatives recently launched by the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, the latest — Island Moon Coffeehouse — got off to a great start last Thursday. Folk veteran Jemima James recruited her son, acclaimed singer/songwriter and recording artist Willy Mason, for a mother/son lineup that heated up a cold winter night.

Ms. James will be organizing and hosting the monthly Island Moon Coffeehouse at the Playhouse throughout the rest of the winter and spring months. She will reach out to talent from among her friends and associates, and be on the search for young, local, up-and-coming musicians to introduce to Island audiences.

All the performers together, from left, Georgie Gude, Willy Mason, Jemima James, Shawn Barber, Marciana Jones, Nina Violet, Josh Campbell and Stu Gardener.
All the performers together, from left, Georgie Gude, Willy Mason, Jemima James, Shawn Barber, Marciana Jones, Nina Violet, Josh Campbell and Stu Gardener.

“There’s a whole lot of talent around,” said Ms. James in a post-show interview; “I’m just gonna funnel it in there.”

A good representation of that talent was on display at the inaugural event. No fewer than eight artists showed off their varied talents to an enchanted crowd. Ms. James opened the evening performing some of her standard songs, along with a few covers and some new material that will be included on a soon-to-be-released recording titled When We Get Old. The Playhouse show featured the lineup from her record.

Last October, Ms. James spent two weeks recording songs for her upcoming release at a studio in the Catskills. She brought along members of local band Good Night Louise as her accompanists. The popular band, who play often around the Island, boasts a cast of very skilled musicians. It was a real treat to get a chance to witness such a tight unit backing up Ms. James’ talent.

Harmonicist Georgie Gude warmed up the crowd with a solo, before the other Good Night Louise members took to the stage. The lineup also included  Shawn “Bones” Barber and Stu Gardener on guitar, Josh Campbell on standup bass, and Nina Violet, who played clarinet and violin and provided background vocals along with her sister Marciana Jones.

Ms. James offered her unique blend of folk, country, and blues, delivered in a laid-back style. Though many of her songs are quite countrified, the tunes are original, catchy, and never formulaic. The show set a mood perfect for a cold winter evening. The audience comfortably filled the spacious lobby area, settling in to a cluster of cocktail tables facing the stage. The Playhouse acoustics are fabulous. The full sound of the large ensemble filled the room. It was a wonderful, communal, and comfortable experience, much like listening to the rumble of distant thunder while sitting in front of a warm crackling fire with friends.

Jemima James sings a Bill Haley (famous for  "See you later alligator" ) song.
Jemima James sings a Bill Haley (famous for “See you later alligator” ) song.

As always, it’s a pleasure to hear local hero Willy Mason, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. He played a mix of his classics, along with treating the audience to a few older songs that he plays less frequently. Mr. Mason somehow combines a genuine warmth and a little shyness with the professionalism of a seasoned live performer. His songs are as affecting and emotionally stirring as they are highly personal.

Willy Mason and Marciana Jones perform together.
Willy Mason and Marciana Jones perform together.

Recently Mr. Mason has been performing with his wife Marciana Jones on backing vocals. Her voice is a nice counterpoint to Mr. Mason’s rough-edged sound, adding a touch of brightness to songs that are often a little melancholic, without competing with her husband’s strong and unique sound. Mr. Mason has a genius for pulling a lot of nuance from his voice while staying in a somewhat confined, confessional range. It’s precision that comes off as effortless, charming, and above all, sincere.

“He gets stronger and stronger every time he goes out on the road,” said Ms. James,  who notes that her son has been doing short tours with Ms. Jones in preparation for an upcoming two-month tour with Ben Howard; “it’s given me a lot of inspiration to see how strongly he’s developed by just going out on the road and doing the music all the time.”

Sisters Nina Violet and Marciana Jones grew up with Mr. Mason, and the three have been supporting one another’s musical efforts since high school. “It’s really wonderful to have these two families joined in this way,” said Ms. James.

Future Island Moon events will most likely include Ms. Violet and Ms. Jones — both strong songwriters and performers in their own right. Good Night Louise will also be making future appearances performing their own original music. “Shawn Barber is a terrific writer,” said Ms. James. “Good Night Louise has a very strong following of their own.”

There’s plenty more local talent to be tapped for upcoming shows. Ms. James is reaching out to other singer/songwriters, but also plans to mix in a few other musical genres.

Playhouse artistic and managing director M.J. Bruder Munafo is enthusiastic about the collaboration with Ms. James. She’s hoping to build an audience for the handful of new events she’s introduced this winter. Among those are cabaret evenings hosted by Molly Conole, poetry readings hosted by Arnie Reisman, and weekly screenings of classic movies selected by Jamie Alley (visit mvplayhouse.org for the full schedule).

“I have a new formula,” said Ms. Bruder Munafo; “find somebody enormously talented and put them in charge. I love having this programming in what I like to call ‘the Islander’s season.’”

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Music returns to the venue that was once Che’s Lounge

Charlotte Benjamin, left, and Elijah Berlow perform together as the Fruit Flies at Nat's Nook in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Good news for those fondly reminiscing about evenings spent at the former Che’s Lounge in Vineyard Haven: Live music has returned to the space that now houses coffee shop and creperie Nat’s Nook. Last Friday at the cozy spot just off Main Street, Vineyard Haven, a full house enjoyed mini performances by a variety of singers and songwriters. The event served as the kickoff for a venture organized by musician Alex Karalekas that will present a concert every Friday evening, hopefully continuing into the summer months with some off-Island imports participating.

The evening’s performers ranged from up-and-coming amateurs to fixtures on the Vineyard music scene to successful recording and performing artists. Everyone played two or three songs in what proved to be a very democratic, ego-free showcase of Vineyard talent.

Ben Taylor and Kate Taylor performing a cover of James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes." – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Ben Taylor and Kate Taylor performing a cover of James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The highlight of the evening came when three members of the illustrious Taylor family entertained the crowd in back-to-back performances. Isaac Taylor lent his soulful voice to a handful of original tunes, including a haunting antiwar song called “When Will We Rise?” Then Ben Taylor took the mic for a short set prefaced by a very funny story about his recent appearance at a jazz festival.

Ben finished his set by inviting his aunt Kate Taylor to join him for his final song, one which was written by James Taylor and recorded by Kate.

It was a real treat to hear a lineup of the musical Taylors in an intimate setting. It was equally a pleasure to get a glimpse of some of the emerging talent, including 18-year-old Charlotte Benjamin, who harmonized with singer and guitarist Elijah Berlowe. The two perform together as the Fruit Flies. Ms. Benjamin, daughter of musician Mike Benjamin, has a remarkable voice — sweet and emotive.

“It’s rare that you have a packed place and have people being quiet and listening,” said Ms. Benjamin after her Friday-night set.

That sort of atmosphere is exactly what Mr. Karalekas had in mind. “There’s really nothing on the Vineyard for musicians except pub gigs and the [Chilmark] potlucks, which don’t happen often enough,” said the “Songs at the Nook” organizer. “The potlucks don’t give musicians the opportunity to showcase a full set. They can only play two songs.” Future Nat’s Nook events will feature two or three acts.

For years Mr. Karalekas has been organizing the occasional potluck musical evenings at the Chilmark Community Center. This past weekend he was particularly busy. On Saturday he gathered a variety of musicians for one of the popular potluck evenings, which included many of the Friday-night performers as well as dozens of others.

Since the closing of Che’s Lounge many years ago, a couple of other venues have experimented with live music. The most successful venture was the Pit Stop on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs, which hosted music and other events during 2011 and 2012. Since then, fans and performers of original music haven’t had much of a space to call their own.

“For me it’s so exciting to have someone open their doors to us and provide a place for the more serious artists to be showcased,” said Mr. Karalekas. “Playing the pubs means doing covers, and people are noisy and drunk.”

Nat’s Nook will be a true listening room, where audiences can gather primarily for the music. Of course, socializing is a big part of the experience too. On Friday a very diverse crowd had the chance to catch up with friends and feast on sweet and savory crepes, pastries, and coffee and tea.

Another big advantage over the bar scene is that all ages are welcome. “Kids here have nothing going on,” said Mr. Karalekas (he did mention the weekly open-mic nights at the Teen Center as another alternative). “It’s always been a problem here. When kids get to be 19 years old, they still can’t participate in adult activities. It’s an extra source of anxiety.”

Songwriter Anthony Esposito strums on the guitar and sings at Nat's Nook. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Songwriter Anthony Esposito strums on the guitar and sings at Nat’s Nook. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Plenty of younger people were in attendance at the inaugural event, but the crowd was truly a mix of all ages. The atmosphere was cozy, with a cluster of small tables facing the performance area in front of picture windows looking out onto the courtyard. Candlelight provided a soft glow. A piano on loan from David Stanwood, guitars, and other instruments were available for participating musicians. Musician Anthony Esposito served as soundman. Many in attendance remarked that the scene was very reminiscent of the old Che’s Lounge.

Mr. Karalekas is grateful to Nat’s Nook owner Natalie Grewar for providing the space and also to the owner of the former Che’s, P.J. Woodford, who created and maintained a great spot for local and visiting talent for many years. “I want to give P.J. credit for getting us going. As much of a renegade, rebel soul that he is, he deserves a lot of credit.”

Judging by the size of the crowd on Friday and the enthusiastic response, Nat’s Nook will likely establish itself as a go-to hot spot for music fans on the Vineyard. Get there early to secure a table, and enjoy a coffee and one of their delicious crepes featuring interesting fillings.

On Friday, Jan. 9, the lineup will include sets by Nina Violet, Rose Guerin, and the Fruit Flies (Charlotte Benjamin and Elijah Berlow). Showtime is 7 pm to 10 pm. Nat’s Nook is open for breakfast and lunch every day from 7 am to 4 pm.  

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Music kicks off 2015.

David Stanwood entertained the audience on a newly refurbished piano at Pathway Project’s New Year’s Eve event at the Chilmark Tavern. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Pathways Projects Institute at the Chilmark Tavern, the off-season performance and gathering space, made good use of its latest acquisition on New Year’s Eve. For the second year in a row, Pathways’ founder and director Marianne Goldberg hosted an informal precelebration party early on Wednesday night. The event gave local musicians the opportunity to initiate a piano which David Stanwood recently rescued and revitalized.

A handful of musicians performed for a crowd that comfortably filled the small space. People gathered at the bar, sipping wine and beer and snacking on cheese and and vegetables, while others filled in the seats at tables grouped around the room. Among the performers were Mr. Stanwood, Mait Edey, Ben Higgins, and Matt Stamos on piano, George Davis on guitar, and Kim Hilliard, who played guitar and sang a mix of originals and cover songs.

Mr. Stanwood was pleased with the inauguration of the piano. “First, if you can hear a piano in a room full of people, it says something,” he said. A few months ago, Mr. Stanwood was alerted by Thomas Mayhew that a piano was destined for the dump. On hearing that it was a Mehlin, the piano innovator and musician was immediately interested. “I knew from my experience that every one I’ve ever seen has some interesting feature. I said I’ll be right over.

“Right away I had a good feeling, which is part of the experience with a piano — just feeling good around something. There’s more to a piano than just the sound. I thought it would be perfect for Pathways. Two of the pianists here were wanting an 88-key piano.”

Although Mr. Stanwood is an expert with piano design, repair, and tuning, it turned out that the 1930s model needed very little to put it back in service.

The new piano will prove a valuable addition to the Pathways effort. Over the course of the next few months, the initiative will present a mix of music, poetry, and prose, and digital and visual art projects. Many of the evenings will have themes. Next on the schedule is an open mic poetry night on Tuesday January 13 at 7 pm. On January 120 an “Arts & Scripts — Now” event will feature works in progress, followed by an “Arts & Scripts — Music” event on January 22 with Alex Karalekas and others.

Guests at Pathway Project enjoyed the Chilmark Tavern on New Year's Eve. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Guests at Pathway Project enjoyed the Chilmark Tavern on New Year’s Eve. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Pathways is an ever-evolving initiative. This year Ms. Goldberg will add a few new twists, including mini festivals and offsite events. Among these will be an undertaking called “Let There Be Light M.V.,” which Ms. Goldberg hopes to bring to various Island marinas, and an Ocean Festival, which will be held between the Chilmark Tavern venue and the Featherstone Center for the Arts in April. All of the events will involve a variety of the arts — both visual and performance. Part of the Pathways mission is to encourage collaboration among artists in various disciplines.

The Chilmark Tavern events are free and open to all. Many of the evenings include open-mic participation. The space has proved to be a wonderful gathering spot for artists and those who appreciate the vast pool of talent to be found on the Island.

“This is the one place that’s most comfortable and familiar to me,” said musician and writer William Waterway, who has been involved since the initiative began eight years ago: “It’s a warm, cozy environment. I know everyone. There’s something about that.”

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Martha’s Vineyard artists and gallery owners share their New Year’s Eve rituals.

Photographer/gallery owner Louisa Gould shares her New Year's plans. – Photo by Gwyn McAllister.

– Some folks like to usher in the New Year with parties and lots of friends. Others opt for a quiet evening at home. The Times caught up with a variety of artists and other creative types to see what they had planned and what significance the New Year holds for them personally.

Choreographer/producer/director Wendy Taucher of Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater has been getting together with a group of other theater people for decades. She and a group of old friends gather every Friday in New York (when she’s in town) and they will celebrate New Year’s Eve together. “Some people hang out like family,” she said. “Some walk to Central Park for fireworks. It’s kind of like urban family night. It’s anti super-celebration, but those who want to do something special can. It’s like a bunch of cousins getting together. We show up at this one place in Times Square. It’s a bunch of theater folks — old, old friends — 30-year friendships. All stories are welcome.”

Gallery owner/stylist/style icon Mikel Hunter also gets together with a group of old friends every year. “We always go to Sarasota for New Year’s,” he said. “It’s a fun way to ring in the New Year with friends. It’s really our core group of people with a strong Vineyard connection who will be down there. I think New Year’s is really about friends and reflection.”

Gallery owner/stylist Mikel Hunter gathers with old friends in Sarasota each New Year’s. – Photo by Anthony Esposito.
Gallery owner/stylist Mikel Hunter gathers with old friends in Sarasota each New Year’s. – Photo by Anthony Esposito.

Photographer/gallery owner Peter Simon is planning a fairly laid-back New Year’s Eve. “I’m going to Pathways for an early New Year’s Eve bash,”: he said. “I look forward to that. It gives me something special to do. At this point in my life, I don’t want to revel around Oak Bluffs. I’ve done the fireworks at the Harbor View. I’ll probably watch a movie with Ronni [Peter’s wife – artist/jeweler Ronni Simon]. Ronni’s a member of the Writer’s Guild. She gets the screeners for the Academy Awards. We’ve got all the top-line Hollywood releases. We’ll pick a movie and curl up and watch.

“New Year’s is the last of the trifecta of the holidays. I feel it’s a time to get off to a fresh start. I have a chance to reflect on what I want to do with the next year. I always want to reinvent myself in some way. Leading up to the holidays it’s a countdown. The way the media handles these holidays is too much. I’m glad to be getting back to a normal way of life again.”

Artist Washington Ledesma likes to plan ahead for a new project or initiative rather than try to put a resolution into effect immediately. “I do an inspection of what activity I’m interested in doing,” he said. “One of the things I have learned in all these years living on this planet is that if I start one week — or one month — before doing the things that I planned it works out better. It gives you a chance to look inside at what you’re doing and program it. Years ago, I used to make proposals to myself. Finally I realized that I spent a lot of time not doing what I had planned. The older you get, you get a little more wise.”

One thing that Mr. Ledesma has been contemplating for years is getting a bunch of artists on the Island together to present a puppet parade like one he once enjoyed watching at First Night in Boston and a traditional parade he attended as a kid in Uruguay. “I’ll probably start talking to other artists this year,” he said.

Musician/artist Kate Taylor’s plans are driven by music. She’s going to Atria specifically to see Johnny Hoy. “For me New Year’s feels like a fresh start and a hopeful time,” she said.

Artist Kate Taylor plans to ring in the New Year at Atria and see Johnny Hoy. – Photo by Eli Dagostino.
Artist Kate Taylor plans to ring in the New Year at Atria and see Johnny Hoy. – Photo by Eli Dagostino.

Designer and boutique owner Stina Sayre will also be celebrating in style. “I’m going out dancing with my husband,” she said. “Something we should do every year. What I like about New Years is that you’re starting to see that it’s getting a little lighter out every day. We’re moving forward.”

Singer/actor/director Taffy McCarthy will be performing music for the Windermere residents on New Year’s Day, something she does every year.

Photographer/gallery owner Louisa Gould also has a very Vineyard New Year’s tradition. “We always take a few friends out to the beach in our 4-wheel drive. We toast the New Year, crank the tunes and dance on the beach at the midnight hour. I love the ocean and what better way to bring in the New Year, Vineyard style?”

Ms. Gould, whose Main Street, Vineyard Haven gallery is open year-round, takes advantage of the quieter months of winter to focus on her artistic ventures. “New Year’s for me as an artist is a time to begin thinking and creating for the next season,” she said. “Although summer is months away, I need to have most of my own artwork created by the end of March in order to prepare all the other artists and their work for the season. The gallery is open year-round, albeit only on Saturdays and by appointment from January to March. I find it is a vital way to stay connected with the community, especially in the more year-round town of Vineyard Haven and it provides for longer discussions and quality time with clients.”

Holly Alaimo, former gallery owner, generally saves her celebrating for New Years Day. “New Year’s Day is my birthday and also my parents’ anniversary,” she said. “The thing I don’t like about it is that everyone’s hung over after New Year’s Eve. This year, my sister is coming up from Pennsylvania. It’s really great having her here. John (musician John Alaimo, Holly’s husband) is playing at a private party at the Yacht Club on New Year’s Eve. We’ll celebrate on New Year’s Day. It’s a new year in two ways for me. I like the idea of a new beginning. It doesn’t have to be about any kind of resolution. Just knowing that you can start again.”

Artist Mark Zeender has a suggestion for what to look for 2015. “I hope third-rate, cynical, and easy art is out; and art made with a profound conscience, hard work and a longing for perfection is in,” he said. “In 2015, people should go out of their way to find two local artists — Joan Walsh and Tim Vitalis, both are too modest and so talented.”

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Local artists reflect on inspirations in the year about to end.

"Sushi" by Daisy Lifton.

It’s typical for individuals with a creative bent to continually recreate and redefine themselves. A few Vineyard artists did just that in 2014 and they describe the notable changes in the work they’ve created in the past year.

"Migration" by Donna Straw.
“Migration” by Donna Straw.

Painter Donna Straw is perhaps known best for her linear based depictions of houses and bird houses. But just two years ago she started working in a more fluid and organic style. She moved away from her former architectural subjects which lent themselves to the striated color block style and more towards Vineyard landscapes with curves and depth. More recently she has combined the two styles, which she refers to as modeling and taping (for the method used to render the straight lines).

“With the modeling I felt like I could articulate what I wanted to say with the landscapes,” Ms. Straw says. “Then lo and behold, I was in Chilmark and I looked at this amazing stone wall. It was so architectural and sculpted. It lent itself to the inner way that I express myself with color and line.”

Ms. Straw completed a series of 10 paintings of stone walls using both linear and modeled elements. “Because I had done landscapes for the past three years, I combined the two. I like that you can work with the fragments and the way the stones curve spatially. There are a lot of elements in a stone wall. You can play one element against another.”

The new series retains much of the stylistic, somewhat flattened quality of Ms. Straw’s classic style which focuses the attention on her use of color and light — often enhanced with touches of metallic paint to represent glints of sunlight. “I’m much more comfortable with the hard edged style,” Ms. Straw says. “I think it gives me the opportunity to work more graphically and to distinguish myself from other artists. I still get to represent the Vineyard, but I’m doing it my own way, in my voice.”

Ms. Straw will still continue to experiment with different styles. “It’s exciting to go into another passageway and discover something different,” she says. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I want people to realize that I have more breadth than one series.”

"Heath Hen" by Daisy Lifton.
“Heath Hen” by Daisy Lifton.

Artist Daisy Lifton focuses solely on traditional Asian techniques, including origami and brush painting. She is always dabbling in new things. In the past couple of years, she’s been experimenting with a collage technique called chigiri-e which involves creating images with pieces of torn colored handmade Japanese paper. Ms. Lifton has used the process to create beautiful Vineyard landscapes including depictions of the Gay Head cliffs and Menemsha harbor. These small works have a wonderful delicacy and almost an abstract quality that is quite charming.

More recently, Ms. Lifton has begun creating designs on black tee-shirts using bleach on black fabric. Although the method is not a traditional one, she works with typical Asian subjects like horses, monkeys, birds, and chrysanthemums. It’s amazing how much detail Ms. Lifton can extract with the bleach using subtle shadings of brown to created detail and depth.

Ms. Lifton is always refining and experimenting with her techniques. She recently managed to solve one problem with the mounting of the homemade hemp and mulberry papers on which she executes her brushstroke paintings.

“For years I have been mounting my paintings to another piece of similar paper with a cornstarch based glue,” says Ms. Lifton. “It’s a method that I learned from Sensei Koho in New York, but I always had problems due to changes in weather and humidity on the Island.”

This past year, Ms. Lifton started mounting the delicate papers directly onto canvases which have allowed her to create larger pieces while keeping her work very affordable. “It’s sort of like a collage combination. I tear the paper. People like the rough, ragged look.”

Always an innovator, Ms. Lifton has managed to combine ancient techniques with modern practices, creating stunning art at the intersection.

Ed Shulman painting.
Ed Shulman painting.

Painter Ed Schulman has a very distinctive, primitive style which relies on evoking his subjects with simple fluid lines and the use of a muted palette. This past fall Mr. Schulman spent a good deal of time in his native New York City where he drew inspiration from the people and energy of the city.

“I was born and raised in New York,” he says. “I feel very comfortable in New York. My work, I think, has an urban chic. I’m inspired by the city. There’s a heartbeat to New York that’s constant that is very sympathetic to an artist.”

This past year, Mr. Schulman has also been working on refining his skills and extending his vision. “My confidence is building,” he says. “I’m starting to use larger formats and increasing the amount of texture that I add to a painting. I’m a little more interested in composition. I realize that I’m developing my own style. I’m not going back historically quite as much as I was before. I’m trying to develop and enhance my own style.”

New works by Mr. Schulman demonstrate the unique qualities of his two homes. He does both simple, crude, impressionistic seascapes as well as cityscapes that highlight the colors and vibrancy of New York. His work has a very appealing contemporary feel that also harkens back to painters of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s — a time when artists were interested in depicting real life with passion and emotion.

People even forget to celebrate National Fruitcake Day on Dec. 27.

Is there a dessert with a worse reputation than fruitcake? –Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

What’s the deal with fruitcake? How can a dessert possibly suffer from bad PR? How can something full of sugar, fat, and fruit, soaked in alcohol, be relegated to the ranks of such universally disdained foods as lima beans, Brussels sprouts, and liver? The two halves independently sound good — fruit and cake. Yet the final product, somehow, becomes far less than the sum of its parts. What has made this basically harmless (harmless, that is, until it’s flung at someone’s head) confection the object of so much scorn?

Well, part of the problem is overexposure. The classic fruitcake is an amalgamation of dried fruits and nuts, sugar, a little flour, and eggs, which is then soaked in rum or other spirits. The dried ingredients and the high sugar and alcohol content combine to produce a natural wonder of preservation. This long shelf life made the fruitcake the perfect mail-order item in the days before chemical preservatives. American companies started distributing fruitcakes by mail in 1913. As with all things, mass production and competition for price point led to inferior quality and the use of cheaper ingredients (including those cheerfully toxic-looking red and green cherries). Fruitcakes also became synonymous with charity drives, and you know how people feel about anything they’re guilted into purchasing.

The indestructibility of the fruitcake also makes it an ideal regifting item. This practice became so notorious that Johnny Carson put the nail in the coffin of the fruitcake’s reputation when on The Tonight Show he famously quipped, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

The joke was so popular that decades later, “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” became a running segment on The Tonight Show, and Jay Leno sampled a 125-year-old “heirloom” fruitcake on air in 2003.

While the fruitcake may be despised by many today, it has a long and illustrious history as a popular dessert throughout the Western world. But there’s also a sordid side to the fruitcake’s past. In the early 18th century the cake was outlawed throughout continental Europe on the charge that it was “sinfully rich.”

Fruitcake is the traditional wedding cake in Great Britain. Beneath the ornate white fondant façade of the centerpiece of the 2011 royal wedding lurked a fruitcake (draped in marzipan!). In this country, the cake is most popular in the South, where many of the original mail-order suppliers are still located. In the early part of the last century, Southerners tended to load their fruitcakes with one of their most abundant resources — nuts, leading to the expression “nutty as a fruitcake.”

This phrase probably hasn’t helped the confection’s image much. The scorn inflicted on the fruitcake has taken a decidedly vicious turn recently, as evidenced by the annual Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colo., and an initiative called the Great Fruitcake Recycling Project, whose website lists such suggestions for repurposing fruitcakes as using them for doorstops, hammers, speed bumps, car trunk weights, and dartboards. The Recycling Project will also accept, by mail, any unwanted fruitcakes to pass along to more appreciative recipients.

Some people apparently love fruitcake. It was reputedly one of Princess Grace’s favorites. There’s even a National Fruitcake Day — Dec. 27.

And judging by a recent Facebook inquiry, there are many on the Island who not only like the dense dessert, but make their own. Traditionally, fruitcakes are prepared around Thanksgiving to allow time for saturation and flavor infusion. Truman Capote’s mostly autobiographical short story “A Christmas Memory” relates the the adventures of a young boy and his elderly aunt who spend days gathering ingredients and preparing for their annual holiday baking. It all starts on a frosty morn in late November when Aunt Sook proclaims, “It’s fruitcake weather!” (Incidentally, Capote’s real aunt was the Tonight Show’s Fruitcake Lady).

Betty Burton’s fruitcake

Betty Burton in Oak Bluffs has adapted her grandmother’s fruitcake recipe to make it a little more healthy — as healthy as something with sugar and molasses loaded with a rum kick can be. She replaces much of the candied fruit with dried or fresh fruit, but keep in mind that dried fruits have to soak for a few hours before they are used.

1 cup raisins

½ cup dates

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup dried cherries

½ cup chopped fresh or canned pineapple

zest of one lemon

zest of one orange

¼ cup candied ginger, chopped

½ cup pecans, broken into pieces

½ cup orange juice

1 cup rum

1¼ stick unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup molasses

2 eggs

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Brandy for basting and/or spritzing

Mix the dried fruits in a large bowl with the orange juice and rum. Set aside to marinate for at least three hours.

Heat oven to 325ºF. Cream butter. Add sugar and molasses. Add eggs lightly beaten. Add pineapple and dried fruits with all the liquid.

Combine dry ingredients (including spices). Mix bit by bit into the butter batter. Fold in nuts. Spoon into a 10-inch greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, spritzing with brandy several times during baking time. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If no batter sticks to toothpick, cake is done. Cool on a baking rack completely before turning out of pan.

Pair a fruitcake with wine

We asked the Times’ new wine columnist, Sam Decker, what would be the ideal pairing for fruitcake. Here’s what he said: “Tawny port all way. Port, it could be said, is the fruitcake of the wine world.”

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The Edgartown fire engine led the Edgartown Christmas parade in 2013.

Holiday gifts, delectable treats, Christmas music, activities for kids, spectacular displays, and, of course, Santa — all the seasonal cheer you could possibly want will be crammed into four days this long weekend during the annual Christmas in Edgartown celebration.

And while you’re enjoying the gala weekend, you will be helping to support some worthy causes. “We’re trying this year to promote how Christmas in Edgartown helps support nonprofits,” says Annie Cooke-Ennis who, along with Janice Wooden, is co-chairing the celebration this year. “In a time where there’s so much commercialism being shoved down your throat, we want this to be a time of not only joy and celebration, but also community giving.”

This year, according to Ms. Cooke-Ennis, over 70 organizations will be benefitted by various events or activities.

All of the favorite festivities will be back this year, including Donaroma’s Evening of Enchantment, the lighting of the Edgartown Lighthouse, the Christmas Parade, the Great Chowder Contest, the Teddy Bear Suite at the Harbor View Hotel, the MV Preservation Trust Cocktail Party at the Daniel Fisher House, and the Minnesingers Holiday Concerts at the Whaling Church

There are also a few new items adding to the growing roster of events and activities. For one thing, this year the festivities will begin on Thursday, instead of Friday. On December 11, Morning Glory will host a Farm Party with a train village, snacks, a bonfire and more from 4 to 6 pm. Holiday parties will follow at Backwater Trading Company and the Edgartown National Bank.

The spirit of charity is very much in evidence. This year, the community can help decorate six Christmas trees which will then be donated to families in need. Six children’s art groups from around the Island will hand-make ornaments and all can help trim the trees on Saturday, from 2 to 4:30 pm.

Lighthouse Properties, which recently relocated to downtown Edgartown, will host a gift wrapping station on Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 4 pm. Donations will go to Habitat for Humanity.

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary will be moving its base of operations downtown this year. On Sunday, kids and adults are welcome to stop by the Anchors to make nature ornaments and crafts with proceeds benefitting Mass Audubon Felix Neck.

Joining the growing list of activities at the Harbor View Hotel will be entertainment provided by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. Brian Ditchfield and Brooke Hardman will present a short dramatic reading of Mr. Ditchfield’s original story A Child’s Christmas in Edgartown which is adapted from the classic Holiday tale by Dylan Thomas. Following the reading, the Film Festival will screen A Christmas Story.

Entertainment Cinemas will also host two movie screenings on Saturday which are free with a donation to the Food Pantry of cash or non-perishable food items.

There will be quite a few opportunities to shop for unique gifts, including at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Jewelry Jingle, featuring second-hand costume and fine jewelry at great prices; Hospice’s Handmade from the Heart sale with some fantastic items all donated to benefit Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard; the Arts and Crafts Festival at the Edgartown School featuring the work of 40 Island artisans; and the Local Arts and Crafts Fair at the Kelley House. Also, many — if not most — of the downtown area stores will hold special sales or donate part of their proceeds to charitable organizations.

So get into the holiday spirit this coming weekend, knowing that you’ll be helping to spread cheer far and wide. Ms. Cooke-Ennis says that last year the celebration raised $50,000 for charities both on and off Island. The organizers are hoping to meet or exceed that figure with this year’s festival.

For more information, visit edgartownboardoftrade.com.

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Nina Violet. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand

Although the Dumptique — the free shop at the West Tisbury dump — has a Frenchified name, most would agree that that’s purely ironic. There would appear to be little connection between the castoff clothing and housewares outlet and the traditional idea of a boutique: a place to shop for up-to-the-moment styles.

Brian Weiland. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand
Liam Weiland. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand

So it might be hard to imagine that the humble Dumptique has a presence in one of the toniest sections of Paris — but such is the case. Right now, hanging in an art gallery located on one of the city’s hippest streets, is a collection of photographs taken at the Dumptique.

The exhibit, called “The Dumptique and the Dumptiquers,” features posed portraits of a variety of people shopping at the well-loved recycling center. The collection is part of a group show at the Galerie du Jour, owned by clothing designer Agnès B.

The photographer is filmmaker Brigitte Cornand of West Tisbury and Paris. She is best known for her documentaries on well-known artists. After studying art at the Louvre School in Paris, Ms. Cornand started making film portraits of artist friends and worked as a producer of art programs for Canal+.

Eventually, Ms. Cornand relocated to New York City. “In the early ‘90s I met the sculptor Louise Bourgeois in New York City and did a film on her,” wrote Ms. Cornand in an email to The Times. “She loved Chere Louise. We became friends, and she asked me to move to New York.” The documentarian eventually made four films with Bourgeois.

During her time in New York, Ms. Cornand visited the Vineyard often. “When Louise Bourgeois passed away, I decided to move up to West Tisbury, where I used to go frequently for 10 years.”

Evie Krieling. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand
Evie Krieling. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand

In the meantime, she had started experimenting with photography. “More recently I bought a very tiny camera to take a photographic record of my friends in New York. My camera, a small digital Leica, became my best friend. It is like a diary. Now I have it in my bag at all times.”

Like many artists, Ms. Cornand found inspiration in the beauty of the Vineyard: “Martha’s Vineyard is a special and rare Island which breaks your habits. The countryside is gorgeous with its sumptuous greens, trees and woods, fields with ponds protecting the land with their fingers.”

She also found artistic inspiration in the people: “The spirit of the Island is beautiful. Old style, generous and kind.”

Through her volunteer job at the Dumptique Ms. Cornand had the opportunity to meet a wide range of Islanders. “Immediately I understood that the Dumptique of West Tisbury is a kind of treasure room. It’s unique. It’s a meeting place, a rendezvous of all ages and different social standing. I met many of my new friends there.”

“I noticed that all these people coming for the picking, or bringing donations, were very stylish. Little by little I decided to take pictures of them. My friends, the volunteers, helped me a lot.”

The photos were taken over the course of a year from May 2013 to May 2014.

Sabra Saperstein and Olivia Pattison. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand
Sabra Saperstein and Olivia Pattison. —Photo by Brigitte Cornand

Longtime friend Agnès B. got a chance to look at the Dumptique photos last year while Ms. Cornand was in Paris. She liked them well enough to include them in a group show at her Galerie du Jour, which is located one block from the Pompidou Centre in the Beaubourg area of the fourth arrondissement. The show opened on Nov. 8, and will hang at the gallery through Dec. 20.

The Galerie du Jour is a contemporary art gallery specializing in photography but open to a wide range of media. It opened in 1984 with a collection of graffiti art. The gallery exhibits the work of many well-known artists, including filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Harmony Korine and photographer Nan Goldin.

Agnès B. boutiques are located in cities all over the world in some of the most stylish retail locations. Agnès B., who also owns a film production company and another gallery in Japan, is known to be a patron of the arts, as well as a style setter.

So don’t be surprised if the Vineyard look (let’s call it practical/resourceful) eventually ends up on the streets of Paris, or maybe even the runways of Fashion Week.