When the last beach ball is deflated, when we’ve waved our last farewell to the summer visitors, when we’re already debating which restaurants are still open, there is still a wealth of creative talent on this Island. We poked our noses into festivals, co-op galleries, and pop-up shops to examine who is doing what for the holidays. And, more important, where can we get some?
Heidi Feldman, Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt
It started with a bag of chips. “Our shiitake [mushroom] operation failed because of all those moths and caterpillars that descended on the Island,” says Heidi Feldman. “I was sitting in my car outside of Alley’s eating a bag of vinegar and sea-salt potato chips when I realized nobody on the Island was making sea salt. I started asking around, and Curtis [Friedman, her husband and business partner at Down Island Farm] started asking around.” They started making test batches on their kitchen stove, but decided to use solar-powered evaporators to keep fuel costs down.
That was in 2013. Now available in five varieties and several package sizes, Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt is ubiquitous on the Island, used in five Island restaurants, in products for five Island companies, and sold in 20 Island stores. “It’s a sun-dried, premium-finish sea salt,” Heidi explains. “It’s 60% saltier than normal table salt.”
The couple have great plans for the holidays. In addition to their current retail outlets, like Juliska, Not Your Sugar Mamas and LeRoux, their products will be featured at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and many holiday events. “We’re doing all kinds of salty gifts for the holidays,” Heidi boasts. They’re putting together combinations that will include products from other Island creatives, like Scott Campbell’s clay spoons and bowls. “Everything will have an Island theme,” she says. “Everything that’s included will be from the Island.”
Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt/Down Island Farm products are for sale at West Tisbury Farmers Market (Saturdays, 10 am-1 pm), Vineyard Holiday Market on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven (this weekend through Christmas), Juliska, LeRoux, Cronig’s, Morning Glory, Rainy Day, Not Your Sugar Mamas — check website for complete listing. 508-560-3315; firstname.lastname@example.org; mvseasalt.com.
Teresa Yuan, decorative wreaths
“I’m a very creative person,” Teresa Yuan says, her voice ringing with enthusiasm. “I can’t just sit still.” A landscaper under the name Yuan Gardens during the three growing seasons, Teresa continues her involvement with nature over the fourth. Using flowers and vines she dries herself, she constructs wreaths in many sizes, shapes, and colors. And they’re not just for the holidays. Scallop shells share space with ocean-blue hydrangeas and sunshine-yellow roses. Mini crabs cuddle up with dried sage and a big red gingham bow. These are Island-themed to the max, and much more durable than you would think. “If you keep them out of the sun, they can last four or five years,” she says.
A native New Yorker who came to the Island in 1978, Teresa is also a painter (her work is currently showing at Kennedy Studios) and has taught cooking classes. Flower drying was a trial-and-error process when she began. “You can dry too early,” she explains. “And you can pick too early.” Now her basement is hung with bunches of drying flowers, herbs, and vines, and the hum of dehumidifiers. “I just love flowers,” Teresa says. It shows.
Teresa Yuan’s wreaths will be available at the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, and by appointment at her Edgartown home studio. She also takes custom orders for fresh holiday wreaths. 508-627-8428; email@example.com; teresayuan.com.
Sue Fairbanks, glass bead jewelry
Brave: That’s the word that comes to mind when speaking of Sue Fairbanks. Brave for buying an RV upon retirement to travel the country. Then brave to pick up a portable hobby that uses flame and hot glass. Sue’s stock-in-trade is lampwork beads — those glass globes that Pandora made so popular. She creates them in sizes that range from ¼″ to 2″, and in many color and design combinations. Some are etched to resemble beach glass, but most are pop-your-eye shiny.
It wasn’t easy learning the process, and there were a few minor injuries along the way. Sue explains, “I have never burned myself with the glass, but on the rod called a mandrel [around which the bead is formed]. I would heat up the mandrel before I put the glass on it, then realize I didn’t have the color I wanted to use, so I’d stand up and move, forgetting that I was holding a hot mandrel in my hand. So I would loosen my hand, and it would slide, and I’d grab it at the hot end.”
The process itself, even when not dangerous, is complicated. Learning how much flame to use with how much glass and for how long is a matter of trial and error — a product of experience and patience.
But it would seem that the growing pains Sue suffered were well worth it. She sells a lot of inventory over the summer in the festivals and flea markets, and her jewelry will be available over the holidays at several Christmas markets.
Sue Fairbanks’ jewelry will be available at the Featherstone Holiday Flea Market, the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, and at Moonstone in Vineyard Haven.
John Duryea, Krug & Ryan Co.
“I love my knives,” John Duryea admits, and “they’re the best thing for the knife,” he says fondly about the two butcher-block cutting boards he uses in his home kitchen. “Any other kind of cutting board damages the knife. I am a home cook, for sure, and they get used quite a bit. These are chef-quality. End-grain. The best kind.”
John began producing the handcrafted, hardwood end-grained butcher-block cutting boards in the winter of 2007, when he was asked to be in three wedding parties and a guest at three more. “That’s six wedding gifts,” he exclaims. He was working in construction, and things had slowed down for the winter. “I made these as wedding gifts to start with,” he recalls. “Here we are, seven seasons later, and I’m doing this full-time.”
The products are butcher-block-type boards, painstakingly cut and assembled. “Not many are being made this way,” John says. “It’s the old-school way of doing it. There was a lot of trial and error that winter of 2007.”
The boards come with a 20-year warranty and instructions on how to maintain the board. Krug & Ryan’s customers range from younger people who are also faced with buying wedding gifts for their friends to 40- to 60-somethings who love their kitchens and love to cook.
John Duryea’s work is available at the Thanksgiving Vineyard Artisans Festival, on his website, and by appointment. 508-388-9999; krugandryan.com.
Sarah Crittenden, silk and dyed wool accessories
Sarah Crittenden has been playing with dyes on wool for 15 years. “With the yarn, I like to do crochet — do different things and use my colors in yarn creations,” she says, “but with silk scarves, it’s all about the colors. Rather than having the color and doing something else with it, the goal is to get the color.” She speaks rhapsodically about madder root and Japanese indigo and scabiosa flowers, about the beautiful turquoise, deep blues and purples, and rosy reds they produce.
Sarah, who, with her “sweetie” Rusty Gordon runs Ghost Island Farm in West Tisbury, grows most of the natural materials she uses to dye her 100% silk scarves. But the dying process seems more fun than work for her. “I have this playful spirit,” she says. “I really enjoy playing with the process and seeing what happens. It’s not that I don’t care if it’s a fail, I just don’t worry about it.” She frequently redyes colors that come out blah, and she’s been known to rip up unfortunate results to use as ribbons for bouquets.
Sarah Crittenden’s scarves will be available at the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven and at the farm stand at Ghost Island Farm on State Road in West Tisbury.
Alice Thompson, Photos by Alice
An iPhone? Really? Who would think that one could take this kind of quality photo with an iPhone? Alice Thompson of Oak Bluffs, that’s who. “I’m totally intimidated by mechanical things,” Alice demurs. While some people have problems learning how to use an iPhone to make a phone call, she seems to have mastered it as a tool for her art.
“She’s known for having an eye,” says former co-worker Diane Hartmann. “Her work is beautiful.” Alice readily admits it: “I do have a really good gift from God. I like to photograph from my heart and what I’m led to.” The results are stunning, ready-to-frame matted photos in three sizes, and greeting cards that, she says, “sell like hotcakes.” The photos are mostly scenes of the Island and Italy and France, but include some snowy winter vistas that are perfect for holiday greetings.
With the exception of the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop, Alice prefers to sell in person at the festivals and flea markets, rather than place her work in retail stores. “You know, I really enjoy meeting the people,” she says. “I love the one-on-one contact, so I can tell them the stories behind my photos, as opposed to them going into a shop and picking out a card.”
Alice Thompson’s wares will be available at the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven and at several of the holiday gift fairs on the Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert and Debra Yapp, Miles from Mainland
These folks are a natural team. He makes the lamp base, she makes the shade. He pulls together a frame for a mirror, she decorates it. And they both consider their retirement enterprise “an adventure.”
Bob and Debra Yapp of West Tisbury were schoolteachers. She taught mostly third and fifth grade at Edgartown School, and he split his time between the industrial-arts shops of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. They taught for 68 years between them, sometimes finding ways to combine their efforts into projects for their students. Now retired, they’re working out of their home studio in West Tisbury. Bob creates inlaid-wood home furnishings, and Debra dries ferns, leaves, and flowers to decorate Bob-made mirror frames, trays, and picture frames. “We love working together,” says Debra. “It’s really fun. Especially operating out of our home. There’s really no stress if we don’t sell something. We have the space to do it, the time to do it.”
Her husband concurs: “We have a blast. There’s never a boring moment. We’re always excited about developing new things.”
The old standards comprise a large variety of home furnishings, from a mermaid-inlaid tissue box to a custom “live edge” coffee table — all made from natural materials, found and sourced on the Island. What’s new this year, by popular request, are napkin holders, desk accessories, and wooden deer for holiday tablescaping. And, like the Yapps, all are greater than the sum of their parts.
Miles from Mainland wares are available at Rainy Day in Vineyard Haven, the Holiday Craft Show in Edgartown, the Thanksgiving Vineyard Artisans Festival, and in the Yapps’ home studio by appointment. They are also on Facebook at Miles from Mainland. 508-693-4565;
Celine Segel, CS Jewelry
The method is centuries old, but the product is new as the last second. Celine Segel, late of France, now residing and working in West Tisbury, has brought the ancient techniques of chainmaille to her modern jewelry.
“You might be more familiar with chainmaille from seeing the knights’ armor,” Celine tells us. “It dates back to 2,700 years ago. They’ve found traces of jewelry used by the Vikings and even the Egyptians. They don’t really know how far [back] it goes, but it’s very ancient.”
The process, as she explains it, goes like this: You coil metal wire (gold, silver, etc.) around a rod, then hand-cut it with a saw to create “jump rings” – open circles. Using pliers, you pull the ends apart and weave them into one another. Sounds elementary, but the results can be very complicated — and beautiful. And yet Celine started working at her trade in a very simple way: “I just wanted to make myself a chain,” she says. “I stumbled on the technique and took some workshops, and the rest I taught myself.”
CS Jewelry comes in silver, gold, and coated rings, and ranges from an uncomplicated suspended-pearl teardrop necklace to frantic and colorful Byzantine bracelets. Celine sells a triple-decker coated-wire bracelet that comes in stunning colors. The dilemma becomes, Which to buy?
Irene Fox, Simple Joy Herbals
Many of Irene Fox’s formulas came about by necessity. She’s a West Tisbury gardener and landscaper, and she suffered the slings and arrows of extended periods on her knees in the brush. “You’re landscaping!” she laughs. “You get cuts and scrapes. Here’s the perfect balm to make for that. You’re landscaping! Your muscles hurt, so I created an arthritis muscle salve. It’s like 20 different herbs that heal and take the pain away from achy muscles. I have dry hands! I want to make a moisturizer.” Soon she was producing for other people and selling at farmers’ markets — the logical venue for such things.
Now her inventory has expanded far beyond the needs of the dig-in-the-dirt set. Every product, from balms to splashes to butters, is made from 100% natural ingredients — even the preservatives. And her market has expanded. “Now it’s different,” Irene says. “Selling at the Farmers Market, you have the full range of demographics. You’ve got people from Washington. You’ve got people from California. You get a lot of people who have not a clue what natural healing is all about, but because they’re at the Farmers Market, they stop and ask what you’re doing. It turns on a lot of people who would never go into a health food store.”
Irene Fox’s natural products are available at Morning Glory Farms, Healthy Additions (Cronig’s), Ghost Island Farm, the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, and various holiday events. 508-388-9793; simplejoyherbals.com.
Laura Silber, Demolition Revival Furniture
What Laura Silber doesn’t do: rework or refinish existing furniture. What Laura Silber does do: create furniture and furnishings of her own design made from reclaimed board (decking, siding, flooring) and repurposed hardware. The result is fun, often colorful, and always surprising. Cabinet doors will be fashioned from Victorian metal heating grates. An antique in-door mailbox serves as a drawer pull. Old tin ceiling tiles form a decorative panel on a cabinet.
Laura learned her craft by building her own house. “It’s always surprising to people that I’m a woman and I’m doing this, and I work the power tools,” she says. “I do all the stuff on my own. There’s an assumption that the heavy cutting and heavy labor isn’t done by me. I do, every once in a while, have to call in somebody to hold up the end of the board.”
But there is one man involved. Laura trained under Island cabinetmaker Ralph Braun. “He’s an amazing, amazing, cabinetmaker,” she says. “Because he trained in Germany, he worked with old, old materials and houses. He has an amazing understanding of vintage materials.”
Laura Silber’s work can be found at Vineyard Artisans Festivals, on her website, and in her West Tisbury studio by appointment. 508-696-8475; email@example.com; demolitionrevival.com.
Berta Welch, Aquinnah Wampum
Tourists wear Black Dog. Islanders wear wampum — as do “in the know” tourists.
Some of the best wampum comes almost directly from the source. Berta Welch is a native Aquinnah Wampanoag — the original creators of the coveted purple and white beads. In fact, one of her favorite things to do is correct the misconception that wampum was used as currency by the tribe. “Early colonists of New England mistook the offering of wampum to establish peaceful relations as payment,” she says. “The English assigned value to the beads as currency.”
Berta’s creations are prettier than any shiny coin. Her technique mixes the quahog shell beads with other stones and shells, or she creates inlays of wampum on wampum. Her bracelets, necklaces, and earrings sport a unique contemporary style unlike that of other Island producers.
Ironically, it was her husband, Vern Welch, a native of Rhode Island, who started making wampum. Now it’s a family affair, with their son Giles and daughter Sophia adding to the mix. “We all work in our own styles,” Berta says. The work of all four artisans is featured in the family-owned shop, Stony Creek Gifts, on the cliffs of Aquinnah.
Berta Welch’s work can be found at Allen Farms, Claudia’s in Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, and at Stony Creek in Aquinnah on weekends through Thanksgiving, and by appointment. 508-645-3595; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Hearn, MV Treasures
“I started because my daughter told me how beautiful I was when I wore earrings,” recalls Laura Hearn. “She was about 2. Of course, it started me wearing more earrings and more bracelets, and that’s what got me into jewelry.” That was five years ago.
Laura’s current passion, leather and bead wrap bracelets, came about because she saw one she liked, but couldn’t afford it. So she bought an inexpensive one and took it apart to learn how to make it.
Her business actually began with making and selling necklaces of knotted hemp: “A friend of mine saw one and loved it, and purchased two for presents. That’s what made me realize I could make them and people could buy them. I was a stay-at-home-mom at the time. This was something I could sell online and in stores, and not have to leave the house and worry about childcare.”
Now her daughter is 7½ years old, and thanks to the Internet — her Etsy shop, and Facebook — MV Treasures has customers all over the world. And because of Laura’s placement in Citrine and Slip 77, she has a lot of Island customers. She’s done custom bridal jewelry, and will create bracelets to order.
Donna Michalski, Aunt Ollie’s Soap
You can’t go wrong with soap. Hostess gift, something for that fussy aunt, your hard-to-buy-for brother, the boss — everyone washes. And if they don’t, we don’t hang around with them, right? Donna Michalski, AKA Aunt Ollie, produces two kinds of soap — melt-and-pour fancy glycerin soaps, and cold-process, from-scratch (using lye and oils) specialty soaps. And she is truly an artist — one could almost say a chef. Many of her glycerin creations are shaped like layer cakes, cupcakes, and candies. “I learned cake decorating in college and,” she chuckles, “I’ve always been interested in food.”
She began producing soap for profit two years ago when she was asked to make up some baskets for a silent auction. “I had fooled around with soap for myself, then thought, Why not?” Donna recalls. She posted pictures on Facebook, and people began to ask if they could buy it. “Now I paste everything I make on Facebook,” she says.
For now, she’s focusing on soaps with holiday themes — including gingerbread men, Christmas trees, holly, and peppermint — but she also carries a line of Island- and beach-themed soaps, including one that is shaped like the Island. And she’s working on other bath items like fizzies, bars, and bombs.
Donna Michalski’s soaps can be found at the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, and MV Florist. She also takes custom orders for showers, weddings, reunions, and other events. She’s on Facebook as Aunt Ollie.508-696-8759.
Randi Hadley, retro aprons
When Randi Hadley of Vineyard Haven moved to the Island in 1981, she brought her sewing machine with her on the plane. She made all of her own clothes in high school (“I was very fashionable,” she confides), and started making aprons about five years ago. And they are clever. Besides being very vintage-looking — some are actually made from vintage patterns — they are reversible. One side is pure retro. Randi uses up to four different fabrics, and buttons with shapes like chickens, teacups, mermaids, or roosters. Some even include wampum.
The other side is plain fabric. “My idea is that you cook with the plain side out,” she explains. “Then, when you’re ready for dinner, you flip it around and you can wear it to the table.” For a final practical flourish, she attaches a hand towel.
But her aprons are not always for the kitchen. “I wear mine out, sometimes,” she says. And customers have been known to hang them as artwork on the walls of their kitchens. They’ve taken blue ribbons at the Ag Fair four years out of five.
Randi Hadley’s aprons are available at Alley Cat in Vineyard Haven, the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, and by appointment. Custom aprons can be ordered.508-696-9215.