Authors Posts by Gwyn McAllister

Gwyn McAllister

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New exhibit at the MV Museum uncovers stories of seamstresses of the past.

Sierra Adams inside the "Mystery Quilt" exhibit at the Martha's Vineyard Museum. – Photo Courtesy MV Museum

A group of high schoolers have taken a bit of Vineyard history as a starting point to shed some light on some of our early Vineyard residents. As part of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s education program, the members of two high school organizations, The Women’s Information Organization (WINFO) and the History Club, were given the task of researching the story behind an 1890s quilt. The quilt, donated to the museum by Patricia Kirwin, was a 19th century group sewing project, as evidenced by the names of a dozen different women who signed individual triangular pieces of fabric that were sewn into the quilt in question. So who were these women, and why did they make the quilt?

MVRHS senior Mercedes Giambattista was hopeful about what the artifact might reveal. “I saw the names on it, and that’s what really piqued my interest,” she said, at the unveiling of the quilt exhibit last Wednesday. “One of my theories was that they might have been a secret society,” though no evidence for that conclusion was found. Instead, Ms. Giambattista has deduced a somewhat tamer motive for the century-old sewing project: “I think the women were part of a quilting group. They probably used the project to get together to socialize and gossip.”

While that explanation may not have quite the element of drama Ms. Giambattista anticipated, the young women involved in the curatorial project have managed to unearth a good deal of information about the quilt participants. Through close examination, very thorough research, and interviews with experts, five high schoolers, including Ms. Giambattista, Samantha Potter, Sabrina Carlos, Gabi Carlos, and Nicole Bourgault, have pieced together an illuminating narrative — similar to the way the early seamstresses worked as a group to piece together the decorative quilt.

From left, Sabrina Carlos, MVRHS history teacher Corinne Kurtz, Gabi Carlos, Mercedes Giambattista, Samantha Potter, Nicole Bourgault, and MV Museum educational director Ann DuCharme. — Photo courtesy of Martha's Viney
From left, Sabrina Carlos, MVRHS history teacher Corinne Kurtz, Gabi Carlos, Mercedes Giambattista, Samantha Potter, Nicole Bourgault, and MV Museum educational director Ann DuCharme. — Photo courtesy of Martha’s Viney

The “Mystery Quilt” exhibit occupies the museum’s Spotlight Gallery, a small space devoted to rotating exhibits. The antique quilt is featured prominently on one wall, along with blown-up photos of the panels that include the quilters’ names. Short bios of the women can be found on the adjacent wall, where visitors are invited to peek under little scraps of quilting fabric to learn more about the historical participants. The amateur genealogists tracked down as much as they could by going through old records and the Dukes County Census. In some cases, very little could be gleaned about the individuals.

However, two of the women — mother and daughter Mary Olive Hammett and Daisy Hammett — are brought to life through photos and more extensive bios. Kim Manter Cottril, great-great-grandniece of Mary Olive and member of the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild, supplied the photos and helped with the research and installation. “It was a terrific multigenerational collaboration of women,” says the museum’s education director, Ann DuCharme.

As part of the research, the five young women involved contacted the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild, which supplied an example of a contemporary quilt and samples of fabrics in traditional patterns, along with information about quilting and the possible techniques of the mystery quilters. WINFO member Nicole Bourgault, who attended a quilting session, has now become interested in the art. “It just resonated with me,” she says of the research project. “It was cool that they did this in the 1890s, and this kind of stuff really does live forever.”

Ms. Bourgault found some similarity in the modern quilting guild and what she imagines the 19th century group would have been like: “All of the women were really helpful. They didn’t know me, but they welcomed me in. I hope that’s what it was like back then. Some of the original quilters were from Edgartown, some from Chilmark, but they all came together to work on this.”

The researchers speculate that the quilters may have been part of a church group and that the project was possibly a fundraising effort. The quilt donor had no information about the artifact’s background.

MVRHS senior Samantha Potter, the sole representative of the History Club, found the project fulfilling: “It was so great to take those 12 names and create the story out of so little. It was nice to rescue the women from history.”

The research project was part of the museum’s ongoing initiative to involve students from all of the Vineyard schools (and the Senior Centers) in the Island’s history. The quilt exhibit is the third Spotlight Gallery show this year that was developed by MVRHS students.

The next Spotlight exhibit, “Teeth,” will focus on scrimshaw carvings. Alongside the museum’s collection of archival pieces and an old whale jaw, students will be showing off their own work — whale teeth and faux scrimshaw made from pottery. “‘Teeth’ is a great example of the student-driven, student-based work we are encouraging,” says the museum’s education director, Ann DuCharme. “The program is designed to have them do the work.”

 

The “Mystery Quilt” exhibit will continue through May 13 at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. “Teeth” will be on display from May 15 to June 10.

 

Noavakay Wibel Knight turns thrift-store castoffs into new-again bags and garments, and helps save the planet.

Julia and Noava in clothes Noava created from Thrift Store finds, in the kitchen of a house on Ocean Park. – Photos by Michael Cummo

Noavakay “Noava” Wibel Knight is about to launch her first commercial venture. After a lifetime spent designing and sewing, she is finally ready to turn a passion into a business. This summer, Ms. Knight will debut Humane Imperfection — a line of backpacks, bags, clutches, and change purses.

Julia McNelly and Noavakay Wibel Knight — with bags and garments from Noava’s new line, Humane Imperfection — pose on the second floor balcony at 55 Ocean Ave, on Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. Noava’s skirt was once a shirt, and her bag was once a blanket. – Photos by Michael Cummo
Julia McNelly and Noavakay Wibel Knight — with bags and garments from Noava’s new line, Humane Imperfection — pose on the second floor balcony at 55 Ocean Ave, on Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. Noava’s skirt was once a shirt, and her bag was once a blanket. – Photos by Michael Cummo

The name of the business gives an indication of why Ms. Knight has waited so long to go public with her talents. “The reason I have never made a business out of what I do is that I could never figure out how I could source fabric ethically and ensure that on the production end, no one was being exploited.”

The solution was literally right under her nose. Through her job at the Chicken Alley Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven, Ms. Knight has been able to source much of the material for a clothing line which she has shown at a variety of Vineyard fashion shows. More recently, she has been working on the Humane Imperfection line of fabulous, upcycled one-of-a-kind bags.

Through her combination of skill, artistic flair, and ingenuity, many discarded items have been given a second life. For example, a suede piece that Ms. Knight describes as “a hideous ’80s dress” has now been repurposed as a gorgeous turquoise fringed sling bag decorated with rivets and crystals. Ms. Knight also used the butter-soft suede for a variety of smaller bags.

Noava sketches out her ideas first.
Noava sketches out her ideas first.

Other items are constructed from top-quality wools in plaids and tweeds, salvaged from discarded coats, along with leather items, blankets, pants, men’s shirts, and other durable materials. Each unique bag is artfully pieced together — some in a sort of stylized patchwork pattern, others with a different, yet complementary look, on front and back. Ms. Knight has also utilized things like old belts and other bits of recycled hardware to complete the upcycled look.

The Humane Imperfection line will debut on Memorial Day weekend at the Loving Kindness sale — a trunk show of handmade items that will take place at a private home on Indian Hill Road. Ms. Knight is also working with a small facility in Pennsylvania to produce a line of factory-stitched backpacks made from ethically sourced fabrics in small runs. That line will be introduced later this year.

Every product in the line was something else first.
Every product in the line was something else first.

The designer believes that the Vineyard is an ideal community to foster a new initiative of this type. “The Island is really supportive of the arts,” she says. “You need a controlled environment like this to successfully launch a small business.”

Ms. Knight has been involved in the fashion trade since she was a little girl growing up on Martha’s Vineyard. Her mother, Leslie Wibel, designed children’s clothing and used her own kids as models. Ms. Knight picked up sewing as a young girl. At age 10 she made her first original piece — a pair of polar fleece bell-bottom pants.

As a senior in high school, Ms. Knight participated in a work-study program with Sylvie Farrington of Sylvie Bags. She worked for that small business for seven years. Ms. Knight has also worked variously as a seamstress for the Sail Loft in Vineyard Haven, as the costume designer for the Vineyard Playhouse, and as an intern for a very successful swimsuit design company in St. John called Ranifly.

The teal suede bag was once a groovy dress (with fringe).
The teal suede bag was once a groovy dress (with fringe).

“I realized when I was in St. John,” she says, “that there were people with these small businesses who were successful.” Since returning to the Island from the Caribbean, Ms. Knight has designed clothing for herself and friends, and participated in a number of local fashion shows, including the first two Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week events.

Since she began working for the thrift shop in xxxx, Ms. Knight has initiated a number of events to help raise money for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the organization that benefits from sales at Chicken Alley. Two years ago, she launched the annual Needlebook Fashion Show — a party, showcase, and sale of thrift-store vintage and designer items. Last year the show raised more than $8,000 for MVCS. The resourceful Ms. Knight has also organized a handful of costume parties at various venues to help promote the thrift shop’s stock. She’s brought a youthful attitude, and a good deal of creativity and initiative, to the store’s staff.

Bag details.
Bag details.

So Ms. Knight is giving back to the community through her work at the thrift shop, as well as doing her part to promote sustainable practices by repurposing and supporting local and American-made products. “Everyone should have a basic understanding of where things come from, so they have a sense of appreciation,” says Ms. Knight. “We’ve lost our style identity to the trends that no one can keep up with anymore. I think we’re starting to go back to core styles, rather than jumping onto every trend bandwagon that you’re only going to wear once and have it end up in the landfill. We’re all concerned about where our food comes from, but the fashion industry needs to catch up on the sustainability initiative.”

Noava used the fringe from the groovy teal dress on a smaller bag as well.
Noava used the fringe from the groovy teal dress on a smaller bag as well.

Ms. Knight herself bases her personal style on embracing the timeless. Her must-haves? A cashmere sweater and jeans. “You have to have a few good pairs of jeans in different styles. You can’t just wear skinny jeans all the time. There wasn’t a single pair of skinny jeans on the runways this year.”

The designer is also a firm believer is forging your own look: “People should be more willing to stand out. Why not? It’s fun. People appreciate it. When people make the effort, even if it’s not my style, I always appreciate it.”

About That House

Julia McNelly on a second floor vantage point offering sweeping views of Ocean Park and Nantucket Sound.
Julia McNelly on a second floor vantage point offering sweeping views of Ocean Park and Nantucket Sound.

55 Ocean Ave was itself lovingly “upcycled” by its owners, who have recently listed it with Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate, for $3.65 million. Original wood floors and walls, new marble tile in bathrooms, and completely renovated and expanded kitchen complement views of Ocean Park and Nantucket Sound from most windows and decks. For more information, contact agent Terie Geary: terieg@mvlandmarks.com, 508-693-6866 or cell: 508-981-5090.

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Poison Ivy: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, by Cynthia Riggs. Minotaur Books, $25.99 in hardcover. Available at Island bookstores and online at Amazon.

Victoria Trumbull, the heroine of author Cynthia Riggs’ series of mystery novels, a 92-year-old, scrappy, savvy female detective living in a rural area, follows in the footsteps of other famous old lady sleuths like Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher. But don’t expect Ms. Riggs’ character to sit around drinking tea, crocheting, and sharing pictures of her grandchildren: This amateur detective is not your typical old dear.

In Ms. Riggs’ latest, Poison Ivy, we find Ms. Trumbull — part poet, part deputy sheriff — variously setting off in a sailboat in a violent storm, waiting it out on a stakeout, and even creeping through a field in the pitch dark to aid in the ultimate apprehension of the killer. If these scenarios seem unrealistic to any readers, take note: The 82-year-old Ms. Riggs has as much energy and gumption (as well as poetry chops) as her fictional counterpart.

The author also has a great eye for detail, along with a Vineyard pedigree — she’s a 13th-generation Islander — to know the ins and outs of the Island as well as anyone. So in place of gritty city streets and the hardboiled denizens of the underworld, the very prolific author (this is her 11th mystery in the series) offers up a cast of characters just as interesting. Ms. Riggs’ latest book is populated by a cast of Island eccentrics, cranks, and busybodies, as well as a handful of young people from a variety of backgrounds: a virtual potpourri that defines the Island population.

The difference between the Martha’s Vineyard mystery series and other mysteries set in provincial towns is that, just as in real life, celebrities and other noteworthy visitors tend to pop up on the Island, only to become embroiled in manhunts and other crime-solving capers.

Poison Ivy has as its central plot the serial murders of a number of visiting college professors. (Perhaps there’s something in Ms. Riggs’ past that sparked this interest in turning professors into murder victims? She has both a degree in geology and a master’s in creative writing.)

While the recently founded fictitious Ivy Green College in Vineyard Haven is being carefully scrutinized by a board of off-Island professors, some among their ranks are mysteriously turning up dead and buried on the college campus. Is someone trying to sabotage the Vineyard’s plans for establishing an institution of higher education? Or is a professor who was denied tenure taking out his or her wrath on his more fortunate counterparts? While the local police are at a loss for where to go with the investigation, Victoria takes some proactive measures.

But the murders aren’t the only mystery in Poison Ivy. There’s a kidnapping, a generations-old family feud, a question of paternity and even — the most evil of all — a student-thesis-stealing professor. Ms. Riggs delves deep into the backbiting, competitive nature of academia, and also, maybe longingly, imagines a Vineyard with a bona fide college.

The twists and turns of the various plots hold the reader’s interest straight through to the apprehension of the murderer. But it’s really the details of Island life and the assemblage of interesting characters that make Ms. Riggs’ book a standout among other works of detective fiction. Among her colorful characters, Ms. Riggs introduces us to a heavily tattooed and pierced young mother and poet, a youthful software magnate who’s taking a career break to research his Island roots, a fishing-obsessed TV star, and a recovering alcoholic who has dropped out of the corporate world to work as a handyman. A second group of key players is made up of staff members from a nearby off-Island college.

Readers familiar with the Island will recognize many of the locales which Ms. Riggs describes with an eye for local color — among the landscape as well as the citizenry. From the gossipmongers hanging out on the porch at Alley’s to some salty sailors, there’s a lot of familiar ground. Ms. Riggs also touches on interesting facets of the Island’s history, like the deaf community that once flourished up-Island and the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head.

It’s not surprising that the author is able to bring so much authenticity to her works of fiction. Not only is she a longtime Vineyard resident with connections to many sectors of the community (Ms. Riggs owns the Cleaveland House, a B & B in West Tisbury, and runs a local poetry group), she is also as familiar with everything maritime as just about anyone on the Island. She has variously operated boat charters, run the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Boat Co., and worked as a rigger for the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard.

Her unique résumé has allowed Ms. Riggs to add those realistic touches that make each book a great introduction to the Island and Island life. And as an amateur naturalist, Ms. Riggs knows the land as well as the sea of her ancestral home. Each of her mystery books is named for a type of local flora.

It’s a pleasure to tap into a resource that’s expert in so many areas of Vineyard life. While Ms. Trumbull may also have credentials in some surprising areas of knowledge, like any good little old lady sleuth, she also enjoys working in her garden and chatting over a cup of tea — with friends as well as murder suspects. Ms Rigg’s lady detective is about as likable and fascinating an Island character as you’re likely to encounter anywhere.

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The West Tisbury library. – Photo by Michael Cummo

For years there have been multiple opportunities on Island for poets to partake in a variety of reading settings. For prose writers, not so much. Recently writer Niki Patton decided to address this inequality, and launched a series of readings for writers of any and all genres — aside from poetry.

Once a month Ms. Patton hosts an open-to-the-public event called Writers Read at the West Tisbury library. Writers of all levels — from established authors to neophytes — are welcome to present short readings from their works in progress, fiction or nonfiction, for a fixed amount of time.

The series began in February and so far, a dozen writers have participated. The genres offered have ranged from memoir to snippets of novels, to essays, to monologues, to science fiction. Among the writers have been successful published authors like Holly Nadler and Suzanna Sturgis, and relative newcomers like Amelia Smith and Ed Merck.

“We’ve had a good, broad range,” says Ms. Patton. “People can read for up to seven minutes. The idea is to keep it short enough so that there are enough different types of work to listen to.”

For the maiden outing in February, only four writers showed up to read. There was enough time to solicit feedback from the audience. Last month, the number of readers did not allow for discussion, but Ms. Patton encouraged people to stay after the hour-and-15-minute allotted time to talk to the writers.

“What I’m hoping to do is develop a format where writers can feel safe to ask for what they want from the audience,” says Ms. Patton. “There are people who hate positive feedback, and other people who really live by [writer’s workshop leader] Nancy Aronie’s method — letting the writers know what works and what they really loved. There’s a third, more neutral approach where people ask the writer a question about their work which will further the inspiration of the writer and help them to decide what they want to develop further. I want it to be the author’s call.”

Ms. Patton has been toying with the idea of a prose reading event for years. An accomplished writer, actor, and monologuist herself who, in a former life, worked as a media producer in New York City and wrote a successful book on windsurfing, Ms. Patton has participated in a number of random readings on the Island, but she wanted to provided a regular forum for people who are not necessarily part of a writers’ group.

“We have so many poetry readings on the Island,” she says, “I realized that we were missing out on prose. I missed hearing prose and prose writers’ voices. When I sat and started listening to these pieces, I was in heaven. Everything was so good.”

For the initial event in February, Ms. Patton read a snippet from a monologue. She is happy to contribute if there is a shortage of writers, but will primarily serve as host. “I love reading my work, but I’m happy to serve as facilitator,” she says. “I’m a proletarian at heart. We have a lot of great writers on the Island. I wanted to do this to give play to the people who aren’t names. I want to make this available to everyone.”

Writers who would like to read from any work in progress (excluding poetry and screenplays) can contact Niki Patton at Gaia1muse@aol.com or call 508-693-430.

 

Writers Read will be held monthly at the West Tisbury library. The next and third Writer’s Read event will take place Monday, April 13, at 7 pm.

 

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Speakers Monday spoke about the challenges and successes of the Island art scene.

David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard, moderated a discussion with Barr Foundation Senior program officer E. San San Wong and NEFA Executive Director Cathy Edwards. – Photos by Michael Cummo

Representatives of many of the Island’s arts organizations, as well as individual artists and members of the general public, gathered at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Monday afternoon for the Arts Martha’s Vineyard annual meeting. An hour long presentation gave attendees the opportunity to see what the four-year-old organization has accomplished in the past year, and to hear about arts-based initiatives in Boston and around New England.

The speakers invited for this year’s event were Cathy Edwards, executive director of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), and E. San San Wong, who is the arts and culture senior program officer for Boston’s privately funded Barr Foundation.

Arts Martha’s Vineyard was founded in 2011 to promote, foster, and increase awareness — both on- and off-Island — of the arts and culture on Martha’s Vineyard. Among the initiatives launched by Arts M.V. are the Fall for the Arts and Spring for the Arts annual events, and the establishment of a state-recognized Cultural District in Vineyard Haven.

Prior to introducing the speakers at the Monday gathering, Ann Smith, executive director of the Featherstone Center for the Arts, gave a short introduction. Among other things, she cited the statistic that the “creative economy” comprises 10 percent of Martha’s Vineyard’s economy. She said that the arts are the third largest Island industry, after tourism and the service industry.

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, gave a rundown on some of Arts M.V.’s accomplishments for the past year. Citing feedback from local businesses and transportation providers, she noted that the four-year-old Fall for the Arts initiative has proven a successful draw for shoulder-season tourism. She also announced that the signage designating the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District will be in place in the next couple of weeks.

David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard dance residency and performance center, moderated a panel talk by the two visiting speakers, Ms. Edwards and Ms. Wong. Each woman spoke at length about initiatives recently launched by their individual organizations. Ms. Wong, who serves on the steering committee for the City of Boston’s cultural planning process, also spoke about how the current Boston administration has proven very supportive of the arts.

Ms. Smith added to the conversation by announcing that Arts Martha’s Vineyard will be hosting a talk at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse with Matt Wilson of MASS Creative as part of the Spring for the Arts initiative. Mr. Wilson will address the issue of grassroots organizing around the arts, on a date to be determined.

Both Ms. Edwards and Ms. Wong stressed that they had seen arts entities in Boston and New England have success by collaborating with fellow artists and sharing work and information, both personally and digitally.

A post-talk Q & A drew not so much questions for the two speakers as commentary on some local collaborative initiatives. Sue Dawson, co-owner of the Alison Shaw Gallery in Oak Bluffs, spoke about the former Oak Bluffs Arts District, which, in her words, “imploded” after some of the anchor businesses pulled out of the Dukes County Avenue neighborhood. Peter Simon of the Simon Gallery described his plan for hosting a weekly gallery stroll/salon along Main Street, Vineyard Haven. He said that a brief experiment last fall did not prove very successful, but that he hopes to reintroduce the idea in the summer. Artist Washington Ledesma encouraged other artists to set up collaborative businesses, as he and nine other local artists have done in establishing the Night Heron gallery in Vineyard Haven. He talked about the advantages of pooling resources, and drew a laugh when, in his heavy Uruguayan accent, he said of the gallery, “It’s eight women and two men, the perfect marriage.”

 

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.

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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.