Authors Posts by Gwyn McAllister

Gwyn McAllister

644 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

The newest exhibit gets crafty with chairs.

“Winged Chariot” by Rick Brown. - Photo by Gwyn McAllister

After months of snowbound isolation, a new crop of artists came out of the woodwork — or their woodworking shops in some cases — for the latest exhibit at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. “Take a Seat: The Chair Show” features work by more than 30 artists, many of whom have never before participated in a show at the arts campus’ Virginia Weston Besse Gallery. The current exhibit, which kicked off with an opening on March 15, represents a pretty specific theme, but shows a wide range of interpretations, from full-size functional chairs to miniature decorative chairs, and paintings, photos, and sculptures featuring the popular furniture.

Starting with an everyday object, many of the participating artists have created something far from common, including once-forgotten chairs that have been given new life by some very creative individuals.

“I thought about how much the Island reuses, recycles, and presupposes,” says Featherstone assistant Veronica Modini, who came up with the theme and curated the show. “I thought that the chair was one single item that artists could use to demonstrate their creativity.”

Ms. Modini has made her own contribution to the show in the form of an overstuffed chair from a thrift shop, whose cream-colored upholstery has been given a modern look with splashes of pink and gray fabric dye.

Others have taken a similar approach, starting with the ordinary and making it something special. Artist Victoria Haeselbarth started with a discarded metal stool/chair that she rescued from the street. “I brought it home, and my son Wesley and I spray-painted it blue,” she says. “I looked at it and thought, ‘Why the heck did I drag that thing off the street?’” However, like any stray, all the stool needed was a little extra attention to make it presentable. After a home saltwater aquarium provided the inspiration, Ms. Haeselbarth painted a variety of marine life over the chair’s surface — and it’s now a welcome addition to her kitchen.

A handful of local woodworkers are also represented in the show. Cabinetmaker Patrick Mitchell’s contribution is a straight-back chair with rush seat. He has been experimenting lately with furniture making. “I never built a chair before,” says Mr. Mitchell. “I started fooling around with jigs for bending.” What he discovered, over the course of nine trials, was that there are a lot of technique and engineering skills involved: “It was total trial and error.” The finished product features some nice design elements, like inlaid pieces on the back slats.

Rich Brown, a boatbuilder by trade, fashioned a piece titled “Winged Chariot.” Mr. Brown said, “I wanted to whittle wings, but I had no idea what to put them on.” He settled on a small chair with working wheels. Sitting next to Mr. Brown’s mini chair is an ornately carved high chair made from two types of wood by Will Reimann. The working chair was constructed many years ago for Mr. Reimann’s infant son, who is now an adult. The lovely piece has the look of an antique from the days when form and function were given equal weight.

Among the depictions of chairs by local artists is a large painting by Jack Green that incorporates a shadow of a lattice-back chair; tiny watercolors of interior scenes with chairs by Jean Cargill (who is mostly known for her natural history paintings); photographer L.A. Brown’s iconic photos featuring a chair incongruously placed in outdoor settings; and small bronzes of seated figures by Audrey van der Krogt.

Acrylic and watercolor artist Jerry Messman appropriated a child’s chair for his work of art. With acrylic paint, he completely covered the small wooden chair with a decorative bark pattern. “I love texture,” he says. “I like taking an object and making it look like something else. I thought a wood bark pattern would be appropriate for a chair.” His piece is named, aptly enough, “Bark-a-Lounger.”

A quartet of mini chairs by Hannah Beecher is one of the most eye-catching displays in the exhibit. Ms. Beecher has constructed four different little chairs (about the right size for a teddy bear) from driftwood and branches. Each has either an upholstered seat or a caned bottom. They are charming little works of art that received a lot of attention at the opening on Sunday night.

The show offers great variety and a nice glimpse at the range of talent to be found among Vineyard artists and artisans. Artist Pat Albee has participated in a number of Featherstone shows, although she did not have a piece in the chair exhibit. “I think it’s wonderful how they think outside the box and try to incorporate the whole community,” she says.

 

“Take a Seat: The Chair Show” is open daily from 12 to 4 pm through Wednesday, April 8. For additional information, visit featherstoneart.org.

by -
0

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival brings international talent and topics to the Island.

An audience takes in a film at the Chilmark Community Center. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

From the scene inside a tent hanging off the side of a 20,000-foot mountain in the Himalayas to the midst of a smoke-filled gunfight between Mexican drug cartel gangs, some of the country’s hottest independent filmmakers brought audiences at the 15th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival to places very few will ever witness firsthand.

The range of movies presented at last weekend’s four-day festival represented some of the most daring — both physically and professionally — work to be found in the documentary arena today. Among the selections were the aforementioned, Meru and Cartel Land respectively, along with the story of a British journalist who spent 118 days as a political prisoner in Iran, an indictment of the administrations of universities from Harvard to Notre Dame to Florida State University on their handling of sexual-abuse cases, to an exposé on the Church of Scientology that piles up one startling revelation after another.

Not all of the selections dealt with weighty subjects. The documentary-heavy lineup also featured uplifting human-interest stories, like a profile of concert pianist Seymour Bernstein, and the story of a young man who took on the challenge of a solo nonstop sail around the Americas, as well as a handful of narrative films, including a few comedies.

But if a theme had to be extrapolated from this year’s festival, it would be human endurance. Many of the selections proved that with passion and determination, a committed individual can overcome all obstacles.

mvff-2
From left to right: Diana Whitten (director of Vessel), Miriam Hawley and Vilunya Diskin (co-founders of Our Bodies Ourselves), Andrea Pino and Annie Clark (film subjects of The Hunting Ground), and documentarian and MVFF board member Dawn Porter. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

 

One of the best things about the festival was that, as always, many of these brave individuals, both filmmakers and film subjects, were on hand to add further insight to their films and to field audience questions. More than half of the festival’s 22 featured films were followed by live or live-video Q & A sessions. Skype technology, new to the festival this year, was employed very effectively for postscreening discussions with, among others, Emmy and Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney and the subject of Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater.

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman, whose film Cartel Land was honored with Best Director and Best Cinematography awards at Sundance, was on hand for discussions after both screenings of his film.

Cartel Land, which will be released theatrically around the country in July, was offered as a special “sneak peek” screening at the Film Festival. Mr. Heinemann was happy to share his remarkable film with Island audiences, partly because he has a long history with the Vineyard, as well as a connection to the Film Festival. The filmmaker has been visiting his family’s home here since he was a child. As a teenager, he spent a couple of years working as a volunteer for the festival. Two years ago he was on hand for a Film Festival screening of his previous film, Escape Fire, which focuses on the state of the American health care industry.

“I have screened all my films here,” said Mr. Heinemann. “I’ve spent my entire life coming here. I love the community. It’s always interesting to hear what people here have to say. It’s a pretty opinionated group. You always get questions you don’t get elsewhere. I love being challenged and hearing other points of view.”

Mr. Heinemann said that Cartel Land is the film that is most “deeply personal” to him. “I was embedded with these groups for over a year,” he said, referring to the armed citizen defense groups that he profiles, along with American vigilantes, in his amazingly up-close and personal look at violence in Mexico.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, subjects from the film The Hunting Ground, participated in an extensive audience discussion on Saturday night. The two young women who have turned their experiences as rape victims into a full-time crusade to change legislation in this country, were rewarded here for their efforts when festival founder and executive director Thomas Bena passed around a donation basket on their behalf to raise money for their organization, End Rape on Campus (endrapeoncampus.org). Both women stuck around all weekend, taking advantage of the socializing nature of the festival to raise awareness for their cause.

Children participated in festival activities at the Chilmark library. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Children participated in festival activities at the Chilmark library. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The festival sprawled across the area, encompassing a number of facilities in Chilmark. Screenings took place at the Chilmark Community Center and the Chilmark School. Children’s films and activities took place at the Chilmark library, and in a makeshift art shack. The Hay Cafe, a heated tent furnished with hay bales and picnic tables, served as an entryway and gathering space. Between screenings, attendees dined communally at long wooden tables, enjoyed entertainment provided by a laundry list of local musicians, perused the collection of paintings by local artists, and mingled with filmmakers, film subjects, and fellow spectators.

The food this year was provided by Robert Lionette of Morning Glory Farms, who prepared a different farm-to-table entrée and salad each day. In the Hay Cafe filmgoers could purchase Chilmark Coffee Company coffee, Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate, Morning Glory Farm popcorn, cookies, and wine and beer.

The scene, as always, was a lively and convivial one. The festival attracts a wide range of movie fans representing all ages and all walks of life, and both visitors and locals. It’s a special treat for attendees to get the chance to interact with the filmmakers, and the filmmakers themselves find that the festival allows for a welcome exchange of both ideas and resources.

“Finish funds have been raised for movies here in the past,” said programming/managing director Brian Ditchfield. “At least one filmmaker hired an editor that he met here.”

Brian Ditchfield, Programming/Managing Director of the Film Festival, congratulates his sister, Miriam Ditchfield, skyping in after the showing of her short, "Day 90." – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Brian Ditchfield, Programming/Managing Director of the Film Festival, congratulates his sister, Miriam Ditchfield, skyping in after the showing of her short, “Day 90.” – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Actor/writer/filmmaker Peter Stray, whose short film You Were Great in This Scene was part of the Vineyard Shorts screening, has found that the festival provides many opportunities. “It’s a great way to get audience response,” he said. “I can also network as an actor as well as being here for my film. Making connections like this beats mailing out 100 résumés and head shots.”

While the festival here is far less of a celebrity schmoozefest than many of the larger film festivals, it has quickly earned a reputation among the film industry. “This year we had more submissions than ever from filmmakers and distributors,” said Mr. Ditchfield. “For the first time, I came out of all of this thinking that we could have a weeklong festival.”

While gaining national attention and attracting filmmakers from all over the country is flattering to Mr. Bena, what he was most pleased about was the hyperlocal nature of the festival.

Speaking of the Saturday morning film and breakfast event that featured The Future of Farming: Five Short Films, which brought together people involved in local agriculture, Mr. Bena said, “When we played the farming shorts here, there was this feeling that something happened. The visions were more realized than before.

“This is not a movie theater we’re building. It’s a gathering place and an arena for discussion. To have this level of industry success is amazing. But to realize community success on the same level is just as great,” said Mr. Bena.

Seems like the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival team is doing something right. Not only did sales increase from last year by 800 additional tickets sold, but three patrons made very generous contributions to the cause of some of the film subjects.

“That’s the sort of thing Brian and I are most proud of. Our mission is to produce community events, educational programs, and films that spark discussion, debate, and action,” said Mr. Bena.

Galadriel's offers a wide variety of jewelry, now 50% off until the end of March. – Photo by Gwyn McAllister

After 18 years in business, Galadriel’s, the jewelry, crystal, and curio shop in downtown Oak Bluffs, is shuttering its doors for good. Owner Amy Sklar has enjoyed being a part of the Oak Bluffs business district for close to two decades, but she says that it is time to move on.

The pretty little shop, located right in the middle of Circuit Avenue, across from Post Office Square, has long been a mecca for crystal hunters and jewelry lovers. But there are numerous other treasures to be found among the store’s extensive inventory. A trip to Galadriel’s is almost like a visit to a museum gift shop.

In preparation for a March 31 closing, everything in the store, including original artwork and home décor items, is now 50 percent off the already affordable prices, making the closing sale a virtual garage sale of unique objects.

The half-off sale also extends to the small but well-curated collection of oil paintings by Newport and Cape Cod artists that Ms. Sklar has amassed over the years. The selection represents many styles, from colorful abstracts to impressionistic landscapes, to a couple of expertly executed maritime scenes. All are beautifully framed. With prices ranging from $200 for a medium-size oil to $1,000 for a large realist depiction of an Asian seaport, the artwork is moving fast. Another great bargain can be found among the quickly dwindling selection of stained glass Tiffany-style lamps, which are now priced from $125 for a tabletop style to $200 for a striking standing lamp.

An array of display cases holds a wide variety of jewelry from turquoise Native American pieces to unique sterling silver and gold items, featuring semiprecious stones. The prices range from $4 to $8 for some costume jewelry items and nautical-theme charms, up to $400 for a large Tahitian black pearl set in an 18-karat gold pendant.

Crystals in raw chunks and polished stones abound — from the common (quartz, labradorite, citrine) to the more unusual (aquamarine, druzy). The shop was originally a bead store, but as her clientele grew, so did Ms. Sklar’s selection. “We’ve always dealt crystals to collectors,” says Ms. Sklar, noting that some of her faithful customers have been collecting since childhood. “I’ve always had an affinity for crystals.” From beautiful raw chunks and geodes to small polished stones, there are still plenty to chose from.

Over the years Ms. Sklar has expanded her inventory to cater to collectors of other types. The shop carries an eclectic selection of artifacts including scrimshaw, African art, and fossils (shells, fossilized walrus and wooly mammoth tusk pieces, and more).

Gift items include vases, obelisks, candleholders and lidded jars carved from onyx, and lots and lots of beautiful shells and coral pieces. The closing sale offers a great opportunity to stock up on a year’s supply of inexpensive birthday and house gifts.

“It’s been very nice to be a part of this community for so long,” says Ms. Sklar. “I want to thank all of my loyal customers and neighbors.”

Galadriel’s will be open every day throughout the end of March.

The Peter H. Luce Playreaders bring courtroom drama to the Vineyard Playhouse.

Jurors (Ellie Beth, Mike Adell, Gaston Vadasz, and Nora Nevin) take a vote on who among them finds the defendant guilty. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

One by one, more than two dozen people walked onstage in front of the audience at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse last Thursday evening. It looked like the theater was about to set the record for the largest cast to ever grace their stage — this time for a performance of Twelve Angry Jurors. However, and as would have been the case with a real-life jury, the majority of the group were excused, leaving just 13 Peter H. Luce Playreaders to take their seats at a long table.

Twelve Angry Jurors is a non-gender-specific version of Twelve Angry Men, the basis of the classic 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda. The adapted version includes parts for women, but none of the dialogue — aside from the appropriate pronouns — was changed from the original.

The show, directed by Leslie J. Stark, represented a first outing at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse for the 20-year-old Peter H. Luce Playreaders, and it was an excellent choice for a staged reading. The drama (which was originally performed as a television play in 1954) requires very few theatrical elements in terms of sets and blocking, and the limited action could be easily executed without the aid of stage directions.

The gripping drama also gave the audience an opportunity to witness the talents of a number of the regular Playreaders. And with the play’s themes of racism, the flaws in our legal system, and the perils of misconceptions and prejudices, it was certainly a timely choice.

The play takes place entirely during the first (and only) day of jury deliberations in a homicide trial. Twelve very different men and women (the 13th role is the bailiff) make up the jury, yet all but one agree on a guilty verdict during the initial vote. The one dissenter then works at trying, not so much to sway the others, as to force them to discuss the evidence and make an informed and just decision in a case with a mandatory death sentence.

Juror 8 (John Brannen) contemplates the evidence.  – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Juror 8 (John Brannen) contemplates the evidence. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

It’s a taut, emotional and inspiring story that holds its own against the great cinema courtroom dramas — ones that actually take place in the courtroom and include a cast of more than just a sequestered jury. We get a true backward glance at the trial itself, and an inside look at how a defendant’s fate may hang on the whims and prejudices of a jury of his “peers.”

For many in the audience, this was a first glimpse of what the Peter H. Luce Playreaders have been doing weekly for the past two decades. The group is named after one of the early members, who ran the show for many years, selecting the plays, casting, and directing. Since Mr. Luce’s passing, the group has become more of a democracy, with the various duties shared by the members.

Every Wednesday from 9 am to 12 noon, the Playreaders gather at the Tisbury Senior Center to present a reading. The choices range from Greek tragedies to Shakespeare, to the classics of the theater, to cutting-edge contemporary material.

The Wednesday performances represent the first time that the actors have read the script as a unit, but there’s always a lot of preparation prior to the public reading.

Actor and director Leslie J. Stark and his wife Myra were offered the helm when Mr. Luce passed away many years ago. However, Mr. Stark turned down the position, opting for a more inclusive approach. Every two months, two members are designated as “producers,” and select the themes and appoint directors. The directors pick the plays, do the casting, and research the material so they can offer an informative introduction to the play. The cast has one week to prepare for their roles. After the readings, the group discusses the material.

The readings offer much more than just entertainment. It’s an opportunity for the members to acquaint themselves with a variety of plays and learn more about the theater. “The group’s dynamic is such that the members have become much more knowledgeable,” says Mr. Stark; “they tend to read plays on their own and go the theater — here or off-Island — whenever possible.”

Juror 3 (Mike Adell) feigns stabbing Juror 8 (John Brannen) to prove his point. – Photo by  Maria Thibodeau
Juror 3 (Mike Adell) feigns stabbing Juror 8 (John Brannen) to prove his point. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The core members number about 25 in the off-season, increasing to around 35 in the summer. Newcomers are always welcome, either to stop in at any time or to become more involved. “We have an unofficial rule,” says Mr. Stark; “if you come three times, at the end of your third visit someone’s going to hand you a script and offer you a chance to read.”

Among the members are a few professional actors. Mr. Stark himself has a long history working in the theater. Before moving to the Vineyard, he worked full-time as an actor and director in regional, summer stock and off-Broadway productions. On-Island, Mr. Stark is well-known for his involvement with a variety of theater groups, including the Vineyard Playhouse, the Island Theater Workshop (ITW), and Shakespeare for the Masses. By his own estimation, Mr. Stark has performed in, and/or directed, 50 productions on-Island.

Mr. Stark can next be seen in a series of play readings at Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern on Tuesday, March 17. His next outing as director will be with ITW’s Short Play festival at the end of March.

The Playreaders have performed at three of the local libraries, the Featherstone Center for the Arts, the Chilmark Community Center, and the Federated Church of Edgartown. Last week’s performance at the Playhouse was very well received by a captivated audience that filled a majority of the theater.

On Wednesday March 18, the Peter H. Luce Playreaders will kick off a month of Edward Albee plays with two short plays Zoo Story and The Sandbox directed by Myra Stark. Readings are weekly from 9 am to 12 pm noon at the Tilbury Senior Center. All are welcome. Free.

The community comes together to support the Caldwell family.

The Caldwell family, from left: Samantha, her mother Anne, younger sister Julia, and father Glen. – Photo courtesy of the Caldwell family

Among those who helped motivate the Patriots on to their defeat of the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl last month was 9-year-old Samantha Caldwell of Vineyard Haven. Samantha was one of a handful of kids at Boston’s Children’s Hospital who were videotaped offering a pregame pep talk that was shown to the team before the game. Just hours before she was released from Boston’s Children’s Hospital, where she was recovering from brain surgery, Samantha offered up these words of encouragement: “You’ve got moxie!”

The same could be said of the Tisbury School third grader. Diagnosed with cancer, she just recently began daily radiation treatments that will last for six weeks. And Samantha’s hanging tough.

Now, friends of the courageous little girl will be offering their own form of support. On Sunday, March 15, Offshore Ale will host “Jam for Sam,” a daylong fundraiser and morale booster that will feature special menu items, a silent auction, and live music by a veritable Who’s Who of Island musicians.

The party will kick off with a special Irish breakfast in honor of St. Paddy’s Day. The music will continue throughout lunch and dinner time, until 9 pm. All proceeds from dine-in food sales will go toward helping the Caldwell family through this trying time.

More than just a fundraiser, the party should help lift the spirits of a family that is facing a long and arduous trial. Samantha and her mother Anne travel every week to Boston for a five-day regimen of radiation treatments. On Friday evenings, the two are reunited with Samantha’s father Glen and 6-year-old sister Julia for a shortened weekend before they return to Boston on Sunday afternoons.

This weekend the Caldwells are stretching their time on the Vineyard a little so that Samantha can attend as much of the festivities as possible. If all goes as planned, she will be on hand for the party — no doubt enjoying her Offshore Ale favorites, warm chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter pie.

The Caldwell’s trials began in early January, when Samantha was treated twice for severe stomach distress at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room. Shortly afterward, a series of seizures alerted medical staff to the severity of her condition. “They had to give us the horrifying news that she had a brain tumor,” says Mr. Caldwell. Samantha was airlifted to Children’s Hospital, where she underwent surgery. The procedure, which took place on a Monday, was successful. The next morning Samantha was up talking, walking a little, and eating. She was released that Friday, in time to attend a family Super Bowl party on the Cape. “She was really excited about that,” says Mr. Caldwell. “She’s a big fan.”

However, Samantha’s road to recovery had just begun. “We came back to the Island, and Samantha returned to school for a few hours each day,” says Mr. Caldwell. “Then we got the results from pathology. The tumor was cancerous. They started to map out the treatment schedule.”

Once she has completed the initial six weeks of radiation treatments, Samantha will get four weeks off before beginning a chemotherapy schedule that will continue until the end of the year. Undaunted, Samantha is keeping up with her schoolwork with the help of her teachers and her mother, who is on the faculty of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

“She’s a great student to begin with,” says Mr. Caldwell, “and a ferocious reader. When she’s done with radiation, she’s going to give everything she’s got to going back to school.” Samantha’s other interests include art and music and, according to her father, “she’s a wonderful big sister.”

For more than 10 years Samantha’s father Glen Caldwell worked at Offshore Ale, serving in a variety of functions including bartender and kitchen manager. He was onboard when Colleen and Phil McAndrews took over the business in 2006. “He was a huge part of the Offshore family,” says Ms. McAndrews. Samantha, too, pitched in, occasionally serving as unofficial greeter. “She loved to sit at the hostess stand,” says Ms. McAndrews. “Samantha kind of grew up there,” says Mr. Caldwell. “I left work there two years ago to work for Sysco Foods. It was a very difficult decision for me. I love the place.”

The affection is mutual, and when the McAndrews learned of the Caldwells’ situation, they knew they had to do something to help. Many others in the community were inspired to pitch in as well.

Mr. Caldwell, who served as tour manager for local band Entrain for many years, is very much a part of the Island music community. His longtime friend, musician Mike Benjamin, was instrumental in securing the talent for the upcoming event. “People emailed me back in about 10 seconds,” he says, “Everyone was eager to get involved.” The musical lineup will include (but will not be limited to) Tom Major, Joanne Cassidy, Wes Nagy, Mike Benjamin, Jeremy Berlin, Greg Harcourt, Geoff Patterson, and Steve Tully. More and more musicians are jumping onboard every day.

The Caldwells are impressed with the outpouring of encouragement and aid from the community. “What balances out this terrible thing that we’re going through is seeing so many people doing so much for us,” says Mr. Caldwell. “I’m fascinated by how the Island circles the wagons and really tightens up in times of emergency. From close friends, to those just outside our immediate circle, to people we don’t even know, everyone has been really wonderful to us.”

Mr. Caldwell would also like to give a shout-out to the Steamship Authority: “They move mountains for people who are going through difficult times like this. They’ve been great.”

“Jam for Sam” party and fundraiser for Samantha Caldwell and her family. All day Sunday, March 15, at the Offshore Ale Co., Kennebec Avenue, Oak Bluffs. Irish breakfast from 9 – 11 am, lunch from 11:30 am – 4:00 pm, dinner 5 – 8:30 pm. Special menu items. Live music and silent auction all day. All proceeds from dine-in food benefit the Caldwell family.

You can also make a tax-deductible donation to the Caldwell family through the local “You’ve Got a Friend” organization by mailing a check to: YGAF, Inc. c/o Samantha Caldwell, P.O. Box 1317, West Tisbury MA 02575. Please write “Samantha Caldwell” in the memo line. 100 percent of donations go to the Caldwell family.

Everyone’s an artist at the Paint Corner Art Bar.

Sydney Mullen and Linley Dolby attend a previous Paint Corner event at the Wharf last fall. – Photo courtesy of Leslie Belkner

“No experience required.” That’s the main thing that art instructor Leslie Belkner stresses in describing the Paint Corner Art Bar classes that she has been leading on the Vineyard for almost a year now. Amateurs as well as absolute newbies to painting are all guaranteed to “walk away with an awesome painting,” according to Ms. Belkner.

However, you might want to brush up on your dance moves. There is a penalty for vocalizing any negativity about yourself or your artistic abilities. “You have to come up in front of the class and dance to a Beyoncé song,” says Ms. Belkner. She’s half kidding, but also half serious. (Students have actually followed through on the punishment.)

That should give you some idea of the nature of the Art Bar, a trend that’s proliferated recently, especially in urban areas. According to Ms. Belkner, it’s a hands-on learning experience that will yield a professional-looking finished product, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Leslie Belkner, founder and director of Paint Corner Art Bar, teaches a painting class at Behind the Bookstore in Edgartown. – Photo courtesy Leslie Belkner
Leslie Belkner, founder and director of Paint Corner Art Bar, teaches a painting class at Behind the Bookstore in Edgartown. – Photo courtesy Leslie Belkner

 

Through her classes in Cambridge and here, the Paint Corner founder and director has made artists out of novices and believers out of nonbelievers. “We hear it all the time,” she says, “People walk in skeptics, saying, ‘I’m not creative at all.’ They walk out more than pleased with what they’ve produced.”

For each three-hour class, Ms. Belkner selects a picture and walks the class through the techniques necessary to make their own versions. Participants will learn skills along the way that they can take to future projects.

Paint Corner Art Bar has been operating out of a studio in Cambridge for two years now. Ms. Belkner and her roster of seven instructors offer six classes a week with a variety of paintings. Paint Corner has also hosted numerous private events, including birthday and bachelorette parties, corporate team-building events, holiday parties, meetups and fundraisers.

Since an offshoot of the Cambridge business was launched on-Island last May, almost all classes have sold out. The weekly summer sessions were held at various locations, including restaurants, inns, and private clubs. The once-a-month off-season classes have taken place mainly at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs. A core group of devotees has developed, and some have gone on to more advanced projects.

“It’s a great mixer,” says Ms. Belkner. “People are encouraged to walk around and talk and see what their friends are doing. It’s called social painting.” Generally, as is the case in the off-season events at the P.A. Club, alcohol is involved. Participants can order drinks from the bar, and there’s plenty of time for socializing.

Attendees of a Paint Corner Art Bar event in January at the P.A. Club show off their finished products.  – Photo courtesy Leslie Belkner
Attendees of a Paint Corner Art Bar event in January at the P.A. Club show off their finished products. – Photo courtesy Leslie Belkner

But drinking, joking, and the occasional dance presentation aside, participants are learning real skills along the way.

“Although we do make it fun, we layer in painting techniques,” says Ms. Belkner. “You will learn about perspective and design, mix your colors, and make your brushstrokes. You will absolutely learn about painting.” Art Corner provides all of the materials.

You don’t have to make an exact duplicate of the selected painting either; there’s room for individuality. “We say at the beginning of every class that you can follow along to the letter, or you can change things up. You can make the color palette anything you want. You can make a sunny or a stormy sky.”

Ms. Belkner has a background as both an artist and a teacher. Before opening Paint Corner, she had her own graphic-design business, and was a senior designer at Sam Adams and a museum teacher at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. She is also an established artist in her own right: “Paint has always been my first love. I work mostly in oils.” Ms. Belkner has shown her work in galleries in Boston and Cambridge. “I’m an artist. I really want to bring art to everyone. I make it fun and easy and a way for people to explore their creativity.”

Ms. Belkner has a strong connection to the Island. “I met my husband here. We got married here. We have a home in Oak Bluffs. I’m really so happy to be bringing this to the Island. I knew that there were a lot of people who have a creative spirit on the Vineyard.”

The artist/teacher recently started volunteering at the Food Pantry, and she would like to get more involved with Vineyard organizations. “I want to give back to the Island,” she says. “I’m aware of the issues that the Vineyard faces.”

A portion of the proceeds from the April 13 Paint Corner Art Bar event at the P.A. Club will benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard” event, happening on May 2. “As an MS patient myself, I find this cause extremely personal and important, and we are happy to help support this longstanding fundraising tradition,” said Ms. Belkner.

The next Paint Corner Art Bar event takes place on Monday, March 9, at 7 pm at the P.A. Club, and will feature a painting of a “Flower Patch.” Tickets are $40. Visit paintcornerartbar.com/vineyard for more information and to purchase tickets.

by -
0

Spike Lee enlists help from the Island community while filming his latest movie.

Spike Lee's "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is a remake of a film from 1973, "Ganja and Hess." – Photo courtesy Rotten Tomatoes

It’s not unusual for a film crew to camp out on the Vineyard during the off-season while taking advantage of Island locales for a new movie. It’s a lot less common for a legendary Hollywood director to choose the Vineyard as a location and then manage to wrap the whole thing pretty much under the radar of the local community.

That, however, is exactly what happened last fall when Spike Lee brought cast and crew to the Island to film scenes for his just-released film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Much of the movie takes place on the Vineyard — although, aside from a few shots outside the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the Island scenes are limited to one remote, classic Cape-style beach house and its grounds.

The movie centers on a wealthy college professor and his new partner, who become addicted to drinking human blood. Hardly your classic horror flick, the movie is highly stylized and almost (intentionally) emotionless in tone, and includes a good deal of social commentary. But this film is not for the squeamish. The violence (as well as the sex) is quite graphic, and more disturbing than your average vampire film, given it’s played out in more of a serial-killer realism vein, versus straight over-the-top gore.

Mr. Lee has publicly shunned the idea that he has made a “vampire” film. He was seeking less to shock with the violence of the theme than to explore the nature of addiction — as well as touching on typical Spike Lee themes like race, class, and power. The movie is actually a remake of a little-known film from 1973, Ganja and Hess, which Lee was inspired by years ago as a film student.

125844_gal.jpg

So far the film has received mixed reviews and been met with some controversy, although not so much for its subject matter as for its production history.

The low-budget ($1.4 million) film was funded through Kickstarter — a crowdsourcing platform usually reserved for independent projects by artists with limited means. The precedent for celebrity directors turning to crowdsourcing was set by Zach Braff (Wish I Was Here) and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars), who both raised funds through Kickstarter for their 2014 projects.

In an interview with ABC News Radio, Mr. Lee clarified that while his use of the Kickstarter site was new, the notion of crowdsourcing funding was not new to him. “It was not called crowdsourcing back then. It was just getting money. For example, the first film, She’s Gotta Have It, we raised $170,000 back in 1985 for the film,” he says. “So we’ve always used principles of crowdsourcing, but now it’s just the technology makes it that much easier to get the financing from the fans.”

Although some criticized Mr. Lee for turning to crowdfunding, the highly regarded filmmaker has defended the move by explaining that he wanted the complete artistic freedom that he would not have been allowed in a project “owned” in part by others.

And Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is clearly a labor of love — an homage to an all-but-forgotten director (Bill Gunn) and an overlooked film (Ganja and Hess).

The movie also lays claim to an innovative approach to distribution. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was released on Vimeo, the popular video-sharing web site, a full month before it hit select theaters on Feb. 13. The films The Bachelorette and The Interview were similarly prereleased online prior to their big-screen debuts.

Vineyard connection

Mr. Lee owns a home in Oak Bluffs and spends a good deal of time on the Vineyard. In his interview on ABC News Radio, the director explained why he chose the Island as a location:

“I’ve had a house there for 20 years, and it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I love Martha’s Vineyard. Even though they know I’m from New York, I get mad love in Martha’s Vineyard. So we didn’t advertise it, but many people stepped up to and helped get that film made.”

One of those who stepped up was Christopher Arcudi, who along with his partner Celeste Elser owns Biscuits restaurant in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Arcudi was able to visit the Lambert’s Cove set while delivering food for cast and crew. Biscuits catered all of the food during the shoot — providing two or three meals a day for up to 140 people.

“The Screen Actor’s Guild requires that employees eat every six hours,” said Mr. Arcudi. “The hours varied. Sometimes we’d deliver food around four or six in the morning. Sometimes at twelve in the afternoon, then six.”

Twice the cast and crew ate in the restaurant. The timing worked out well for the Biscuits owners, as the restaurant was winding things down for the season.

“Spike’s been coming to the restaurant for quite a few years,” said Mr. Arcudi. “He thought the crew would like the food. I’ve done some little catering jobs for him previously. He’s filmed some small projects on the Island before.”

“They were cool,” said Mr. Arcudi of the production team members. “I had one perception of Hollywood before, and I have a totally different perception now. It was a good experience. They worked really hard.” He said, “Spike has always been good to our business — supporting us and sending us clients. We’re happy to support him and the work that he does.”

Another local business owner who contributed to the making of the film was hotelier Caleb Caldwell of Oak Bluffs, who lent the filmmakers his classic Rolls Royce. The 1956 moss green, right-hand-drive Rolls Royce Silver Cloud is featured prominently in the film, and helps establish the lead character as a man of wealth.

“I knew they were working with a limited budget, and I was happy to be able to help out in some small way,” said Mr. Caldwell. “After the fact some people said that I had really missed the boat in not asking for any money. I was just dazzled by the fact that the car would be used in a movie by Spike Lee. They treated the car very well.”

Mr. Caldwell is the owner of the Nashua House and the Madison Inn, and co-owner of the Dockside Inn in Oak Bluffs. The Rolls Royce, purchased by Mr. Caldwell in 1994, was never intended to be a source of income. “I use it strictly as a courtesy car for the guests of the three hotels,” he said. “We give the guests rides to dinner or pick them up at the boat or the airport or just go out for a joy ride. It’s strictly a free service for the guests of the hotels.”

An interviewer for Entertainment Weekly asked Lee if he had the chance to take the Rolls for a spin. The director said, “No, no, no, no. I was too busy. But all the cars you see in the film, those were donated by people who live in Martha’s Vineyard. [They] just let us borrow their car. We had great cooperation, not just the many who gave money, but also across the board. A whole lot of people had to call in a whole lot of favors to get this done. So I’m eternally in their debt.”

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is available on Vimeo and iTunes and at select theaters. For more information, visit facebook.com/dasweetbloodofjesus.

A round up of reoccurring poetry events.

Award-winning writer, producer, and performer Arnie Reisman hosts a monthly poetry event at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse. – Photo by Michael Cummo

April may be national poetry month, but the Vineyard seems to be kicking things off early with an unofficial poetry season of our own. Whether you’re interested in hearing local poets read, learning more about internationally celebrated poets, or writing your own verse, there are plenty of events going on during the final weeks of winter and into the spring.

Poetry Cafe

Award-winning writer, producer, and performer Arnie Reisman is hosting a monthly series of readings by local poets at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s lobby lounge. Since November Mr. Reisman, the current Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate, has been inviting poets (three per event) to read their poetry. In between each 15-minute set, Mr. Reisman offers one of his own witty, humorous verses.

“I’ve really always thought of myself as a writer mainly and a poet secondarily,” says Mr. Reisman. “My poetry has appeared from time to time embedded in my columns, and I’ve been published in small journals.”

Still, the longtime summer visitor and current year-round Islander has thrown himself into his new role as poet laureate — reading his own work and hosting poetry readings at various venues.

“I think of myself as sort of an ambassador as much as anything,” says Mr. Reisman, “I want to show people that poetry is not harmful to your health.”

Jennifer Smith Turner.jpg

To date, the playhouse has hosted three Poetry Cafe evenings. The events have been well attended. The next Poetry Cafe event, on Feb. 17, will feature Rose Styron, Brooks Robards, and Annette Sandrock. The March 3rd poets will be Laura Roosevelt, Don McLagan, and Judith Neeld. On April 7, Michael West, Steve Ewing, and Valerie Sonnenthal will read.

The Poetry Cafe is held one Tuesday each month (dates vary) at 7:30 pm in the Marilyn Meyerhoff Lobby. Admission price of $10 includes beverages and baked goodies, often a slice of Pie Chicks pie.

“Six Contemporary Poets and Their Poetry”

Acclaimed Island poet Jill Jupen will be hosting a six-week educational and participatory poetry series at the West Tisbury library beginning Monday, Feb. 23. Ms. Jupen will be focusing on contemporary poets, one at each session. She wants to introduce people to some of the important 20th and 21st century poets who may not be as well known to everyone. “They’re all very different poets that I would encourage other people to read,” she said.

Her format is a unique and interactive one. “I’ll talk a bit about them and their various styles, and read a couple of their poems. Then people will be encouraged to write a poem in their style.” Ms. Jupen stresses that it’s not a requirement for people to do any writing.

Many of the poets who will be covered are people whom Ms. Jupen has met over the years. Others are people whom she has included in the interest of variety.

“[The late] Hayden Carruth was my best friend,” says Ms. Jupen; “I was his first student.” She remained friends with the award-winning poet and editor of a number of prestigious journals, even after he had moved from Vermont to upstate New York to teach at Syracuse University.

Through Mr. Carruth, Ms. Jupen was introduced to many other influential poets, including a few whose work she will be examining at the West Tisbury library workshops. The six poets whose work will be featured are: Stephen Dobyns (Feb. 23), Thomas Lux (March 2), Hayden Carruth (March 9), Mary Oliver (March 16), Dobby Gibson (March 23), and Tony Hoagland (March 30).

Ms. Jupen wants to keep the discussion groups relatively small. People are encouraged to sign up online at westtisburylibrary.org or in person at the library. It is not necessary to attend all of the sessions.

Lee H. McCormack, former Martha's Vineyard Poet Laureate Emeritus, hosts a writing and study group over the next few months at the Vineyard Haven library. – Courtesy of Lee McCormack
Lee H. McCormack, former Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate Emeritus, hosts a writing and study group over the next few months at the Vineyard Haven library. – Courtesy of Lee McCormack

“Uncommon Threads”

A writing and study group covering a very different range of poets will take place throughout the next few months at the Vineyard Haven library. Former Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate Lee H. McCormack will be focusing on a globally diverse group of poets whose timeline spans the centuries from the ancient world to the 20th century.

Mr. McCormack explains the idea behind the series. “I’m going to focus on non-American poets — mostly Eastern European and South American poets — who have profoundly affected American poets since the 1960s, when they started getting translated into English. The idea is to open people up to other realms of poetry, imagery, and metaphor that are very dynamic and don’t happen in American poetry,” said Mr. McCormack.

The sessions will offer both a reading and writing experience. “It will be a study group to open up new dimensions to people,” says Mr. McCormack. “I hope people will find new ways to approach imagery and metaphor that they can then apply to their own writing.”

The sessions will be relatively informal: “Every other week we’ll look at two or three poems by a few of the poets, then look at writing done by people in the group during that time frame. I look at my role in this as as much of a student as anybody else in the group. I want it to be a thoroughly open discussion, so we can all learn together.”   Because of the structure of the group, Mr. McCormack encourages people to attend on a regular basis, but is open to drop-in attendees and does not require that participants come to every session. He requests that people contact him ahead of time at 508-560-5071 or mydawgbeans@gmail.com, so that he can give them an idea of the scope of the group.

Other upcoming poetry events

Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern hosts weekly Tuesday-night open poetry and writing readings. Some will be themed. Check pathwaysmv.org for additional information.

The Edgartown Council on Aging, better known as the Anchors, hosts a weekly poetry workshop with Jill Jupen on Thursday mornings, which introduces new poets and encourages participants to write and share their own work.

The Tisbury Senior Center hosts a series of poetry readings every second Thursday of the month at 1:30 pm until June.

On April 1, the Vineyard Haven library will sponsor a group reading with Rose Styron, Arnie Reisman, and Lee McCormack. Check vhlibrary.org for details as the event gets closer.

Arnie Reisman will read from his work and host a poetry open mic at the West Tisbury library on April 21 at 4:30 pm.

Esther Burgess’ acts of civil rights leadership are acknowledged in new civil rights documentary.

The late Esther Burgess, long time Vineyard resident, was one of four women who traveled to St. Augustine in 1964 and were subsequently arrested. – Photo courtesy of AugustineMonica Films

In the long and often violent history of the civil rights movement, the city of St. Augustine, Fla., is not often mentioned. But a months-long series of events and actions there, which involved Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders, actually played a pivotal role in the passing of civil rights legislation.

A new documentary, Passage at St. Augustine, by filmmaker and journalist Clennon L. King, shines a spotlight on a piece of history which Mr. King refers to as “arguably the bloodiest campaign of the civil rights movement.”

On Feb. 7 at the Howes House in West Tisbury Mr. King will unveil the preliminary cut of the film, which has been 20 years in the making. The first-time screening, with an introduction by Mr. King, is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. King was invited by League member Julia Burgess, whose mother was interviewed for the film. The late Esther Burgess was one of four women (the only African American) who traveled to St. Augustine in 1964 and were subsequently arrested.

In 2003, Mr. King made the trip from Washington, D.C., where he had interviewed a former New York Times journalist, to the Vineyard specifically to interview Ms. Burgess. “I flew into Logan and overnighted it at South Station,” he said in a phone interview. “On my return the buses weren’t running, so I hitched a ride back to Boston.” The journey paid off. Mr. King, who interviewed dozens of those involved in the actions, was very impressed with the former Bostonian: “I had a huge amount of respect for Esther Burgess, this Canadian transplant.”

Among the other women who traveled to Florida in 1964 was the mother of the sitting governor of Massachusetts. “But Mrs. Burgess was the one who showed a rare leadership,” said Mr. King. Ms. Burgess passed away less than a year after the interview.

The footage sat on a shelf for more than a decade while Mr. King pursued various career paths, including positions as a video and print journalist for, among other media organizations, WGBH and the Boston Globe.

Previously Mr. King had screened rough cuts and footage from the film, but he was unable to raise money to complete the documentary until his brother stepped up and offered some of his winnings from a Powerball windfall.

In order to remain true to his vision, Mr. King taught himself film editing and finished the project in record time — partly at the urging of his girlfriend, and partly to meet the deadline for the Vineyard screening.

The one-hour documentary features a number of contemporary interviews with many of those involved, plus lots of 1960s footage, and archival interviews with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other key players, such as Andrew Young and C.T. Vivian. The film also includes interviews with members of the opposition, including Klansmen and the daughter of the segregationist sheriff.

“I approached this film very much through a journalist’s lens to give balance,” said Mr. King. “I was able to get access to the other side. As a journalist, what I’ve specialized in is getting interviews that no one else could get,” he said.

Mr. King’s father was a lawyer for the Reverend King. The younger Mr. King previously worked for former U.S. congressman and mayor of Atlanta Andrew Jackson Young, who was was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1960s and was a supporter and friend of Dr. King’s.

“I come by the subject matter honestly,” said Mr. King, adding, “It’s not uncommon for a journalist to fall in love with a story. For me it was always St. Augustine.”

With the aid of the archival footage, the documentary unflinchingly depicts powerful but graphic scenes such as civil rights foot soldiers being beaten by Klansmen and cops, a white hotel owner pouring acid into a swimming pool in which protesters were holding a wade-in, and other shocking events that have helped stamp those involved with the civil rights movement as fearless heroes.

This fascinating film will shed some light on an all-but-forgotten yet crucial piece of civil rights history. Mr. King refers to the St. Augustine movement as “the catalyst by which the Civil Rights Bill [Civil Rights Act of 1964] was passed.”

“The Senate fought it tooth and nail in one of the longest filibusters in history. It was not passed until July of 1964. After JFK’s death, [the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.] needed a campaign to fan the flames to get this bill passed. The fires of Birmingham had cooled. It was because of the bloodiness of St. Augustine that the bill got passed.”

Clennon King is pleased that he is finally able to fulfill a personal mission: “I had been entrusted with the stories of these people. Half of them are dead. I felt that I owed it to them and to history to have this story told.”

AugustineMonica Films presents Passage to St. Augustine at the Howes House at 9:00 am on Sunday, Feb. 7. A brunch will precede the screening, starting at 8:30 am. For additional information, call 508-693-3338 or email burgessjbb@gmail.com.

by -
0

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.