Holiday shopping close to home

Allen Farm
A blazing fire in the farmhouse welcomed guests at the Allen Farm's open house last Saturday. The farm's shop offers a selection of gifts to suit anyone on your holiday gift list. Photos by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - December 14, 2006

At this point in the holiday shopping season, when the off-Island malls are crowded and chaotic and even the local stores feel a bit too hectic for comfort, a trio of home-grown Vineyard shops offers hand-made goods in a soothing atmosphere. Not only are you likely to see friends and neighbors behind the counter, but most of the merchandise is made by Island friends and neighbors too - and the browsing is refreshingly easy.

Start out in Tisbury where the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop celebrates its 16th year of offering an array of tempting merchandise. The little shop that began its life in an unheated North Tisbury farm stand and moved to several towns and storefronts is now located in the Mansion House, where coordinators are delighted with the comfort and visibility.

Nancy Benoit's Timeless Toys
Nancy Benoit's Timeless Toys at the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop are handmade and bright.

"I'm really thrilled about how wonderful it looks this year," said Linda Alley who sets out samples of her Tea Lane Sundries jams and mustards to the delight of hungry customers. "This is the best town for shopping."

The holiday shop features nine new contributors this year, including Diane Luckey whose origami crane art enhanced with sparkly beads would grace any evergreen branch, and Stephanie Tilton Rossi who shapes Chilmark wool into fuzzy sheep or pig ornaments and hand paints checker boards, each with a specific theme. Poet Dan Waters has added his popular cards, woodcuts, and volumes of poetry to the mix. Longtime art teacher Janice Frame is crafting totes and handbags in bright florals and tapestry fabric and there are fashionable leather bags too by Marie Meyer-Barton.

For the light-hearted gift there are cartoony watercolored drawings by John Hollander, visual quips on tourists and Vineyard living. Washington Ledesma's healing stones, ceramics painted with his signature peaceable colorful creatures make fine stocking stuffers. Jeri Dantzig puts together glass in neon hues for vibrant serving pieces and candle holders and there are painted wooden toys and decorations too, sea shell lights, and delicate three-dimensional paper art. Along with her popular paper collage lampshades Beldan Radcliffe is back with beaded jewelry, and potter Scott Campbell has generous bowls that feature fish and shellfish images, just right for a big serving of chowder.

Stuffed lambs
Cuddly stuffed lambs are nestled among the cozy Allen Farm wearables.

Noreen Baker's pill box hats are just right for a blustery day, in fabrics that mix color and texture; most are reversible - two hats in one!

Kathleen Tackabury's silver "Mermaid's Purse" design is based on skate egg pods and she creates dramatic pendants with Celtic "safe journey" symbols as well as more elegant earrings and pendants. Jeweler Diana L. Stewart incorporates fresh water pearls and semi-precious stones in her work and shows a batch of silvery earrings with a beach theme - scallop shells, starfishes, even sea horses.

Mark the changing of the year with the miniature Vineyard Nature Calendar, created by Penny Uhlendorf of the Conservatree to benefit Felix Neck, or Lisa Vanderhoop's Vineyard Seadogs Calendar.

Many customers will come just to stock up on tried-and-true favorites offered here each year - aromatic toiletries from Irene Fox's Island's Own, sweetly inspirational booklets and cards all hand-done by Ingrid Goff Maidoff, beaded earrings and bracelets by Pat Z. (Vanderhoop)...and it wouldn't be a country Christmas without Mabelle's (Medowski's) mittens, each colorful pair knitted with love.

Toasting the season

When even Vineyard Haven starts feeling like the Hyannis Mall, it's time to get out of town. A few miles up State Road, the Chicama Vineyards sign points the way to one of the coziest shopping experiences on the Island. After a sometimes bouncy ride down the winding dirt road, the Chicama Vineyards Christmas shop appears like an oasis in the winter desert. Browsing is easy here in the quiet West Tisbury woods where visitors are welcomed with a glass of spicy warm wine. The shop is tended by winemaker by Lynn Hoeft and her daughter, Rosemary. Lynn is the daughter of George and Catherine Matthiesen, who founded the vineyard in 1971. All three women work in the kitchen to produce many of the edibles sold here.

Wine rack
A unique way to display wine, this holder is offered at Chicama Vineyards.

Wine is the main feature, of course, with several types available - merlot, chenin blanc, semillion, the light and semi-sweet Island Summer Red, and even Cranberry Satin, a dessert wine. All wines are made on the Island, and a small percentage of the grapes are grown here too. But you don't need to be shopping for a wine lover to hit the holiday jackpot here. The kitchen hums overtime turning out fruit jam, chutney, herbed and flavored vinegar, and mustard with exotic seasonings. Olive oil comes in exotic flavors including Thai, Cajun, and Jamaica Zinger.

Items are attractively displayed in wicker gift baskets and empty baskets are available for visitors to create custom packages. Chicama Vineyards will ship any of the merchandise except for wine; their application for a state wine-shipping license is pending.

Along with the Island-made products a number of non-local items accent the gift selection. There are fancy little wine biscuits, unusual candies - some made here - wooden cheese boards handmade in Vermont, bright red mugs for hot soup or chili on a cold day, and spreaders with fanciful handles for your jam or mustard. Wineglasses from Romania are hand-blown and splashed with color and a wicker picnic basket is fully appointed, ready for the first warm day. Ingenious glass cruets will hold both oil and vinegar in one vessel; there is a variety of corkscrews and even a champagne key to avoid the stress of popping the cork by hand. A cleverly designed wine holder in a grapevine motif hangs from the ceiling, and Ms. Hoeft's watercolor still lifes brighten the walls.

Wool season in Chilmark

For country shopping at its best, and views to soothe even the most retail-frazzled spirit, continue up-Island to the Allen Farm in Chilmark. Last Saturday, owners Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin invited one and all to their lovingly restored home to launch the holiday shopping season. After greeting friends and admiring the lofty Christmas tree, braced by eggnog, hot cider, and sweet and savory delicacies, visitors meandered out into the farm shop.

Washington Ledesma vase
Washington Ledesma's designs at the Mansion House are peopled by intriguing but friendly-looking creatures.

Wooly delights fill the little low-ceilinged shed to bursting, many of them gifts that are not only cozy but have the additional élan of being Vineyard grown and made. Sturdy vests are sewn off-Island from Allen Farm wool using a design by one-time Vineyarder Valerie Beggs. There are blankets in natural tones and several sizes woven from the Chilmark wool, and hand-knit sweaters too. Rather do it yourself? The wool itself is for sale along with stitch-by-stitch patterns for warm wearables.

Amid the knitted scarves, neck warmers, hats, and thick mittens one finds cuddly stuffed lambs, fleecy ornaments to hang on the tree, and a smorgasbord of scented candles. Margaret Logue of West Tisbury weaves lovely scarves with the Allen Farm wool. There are fanciful felt mermaids in vibrant colors by Christa Fischer of Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury, and chunky necklaces in ocean tones made by artist Kitty Murphy, fleece angels by Kristin Kingsbury, Terry Haas's sturdy pottery and more.

There are a few gourmet edibles including flavored salts, vinegars, oils, and a number of sale items, too, including baskets and decorative holiday accessories for home and tree. And consider the possibility of Allen Farm lamb or chicken for the chef on your list.

Drive home at your leisure, watching the lights twinkle on in the Chilmark hills. And thank the stars that are just beginning to glow that this holiday shopping day ends with inspiration rather than exhaustion.

Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop, Mansion House, Main St., Vineyard Haven. Open daily, 10 am to 6 pm, through Dec. 29; Chicama Vineyards Christmas Shop, Stoney Hill Road, West Tisbury; Monday through Saturday,11 to 4 pm and Sunday 1 to 4 pm. Allen Farm shop, South Road, Chilmark; daily, 11 am to 5 pm until Christmas.