Galleries : Shining Examples
While paintings and photographs of landscapes and seascapes may be the dominant offering of Island artists, there are those whose inspiration translates to gold, silver and semi-precious stones.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The first thing that might catch your eye as you enter Vineyard Sky Bead Design, Sarah Young's small jewelry shop in Oak Bluffs, is a unique necklace: a double strand of opals and other colorful semi-precious stones from which hangs a tiny glass globe filled with miniature whelk shells. Ms. Young describes it as being representative of the beauty of the Vineyard.
"People here tend to favor things that are reminiscent of the sea," says Ms. Young. "They appreciate the natural quality we have here that they don't find everywhere."
Her inspiration, she says, usually comes from the materials themselves. "I'll buy a strand of pearls because it has a particular luster or shape. I've been doing this for so long that I can look at something and think of something beautiful to make from it."
Ms. Young works with semiprecious stones, freshwater pearls, vintage glass from Europe, handmade glass, and Austrian crystal. She uses Turkish and Balinese silver for chains, findings and accent beads.
She says, "I have a friend who's a therapist, and she told me that I spend a great deal of my day in a trancelike state. Sometimes time goes by and I'm not even aware of it."
The Massachusetts native has been honing her skills for quite some time, having loved beading since she was a child. She studied the craft, worked in a bead store in Cambridge, and attended trade shows. Eventually she started teaching beading, and even learning how to make her own glass beads. She showed at the Artisans Festival before opening her shop in 2006, on the porch of the Nashua House in Oak Bluffs.
Ms. Young appreciates the fact that she has a loyal customer base - mainly women in their mid 30s to 50s who appreciate one-of-a-kind pieces. "That's one of the most gratifying things about making jewelry. It means my designs have evolved, which makes it more interesting for me as well."
Jeweler Beth McElhiney moved to Martha's Vineyard around the same time as Ms. Young, and also showed at the Artisans Festival before opening her own Vineyard Haven gallery on State Road two years ago.
She began apprenticing as a jeweler at 14, then studied at both the prestigious Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She managed a Madison Avenue jewelry store in New York City, eventually becoming the production manager of a large New York jewelry manufacturer.
Inspired by her globe-trotting lifestyle, Ms. McElhiney casts and fabricates silver designs that incorporate historical patterns from around the world. Bold Celtic designs and intricate old-world architectural flourishes are represented - everything from eye-catching paneled cuff bracelets with an almost medieval appeal, to dainty rings impressive in their detail.
While she used to draw primarily from Celtic patterns, her work is now more universal. She says, "I have a really strong design identity with Italy because of the depth of history and the levels of civilization there." She cites a few of her influences: "It could be a gondola prow or a molding. The window grates in Venice are amazing."
Although her travels have taken her throughout Europe and South America, Ms. McElhiney seems content with her Island home. She comments on the strength of the Vineyard arts community and the support of the public. "It's a special medium to be in. Clients have become my friends because they know I'm always changing."
Photos by M.C. Wallo
A relative newcomer to the field of jewelry making, Ivry Russillo describes herself as a bit old-fashioned in every thing she does. She believes that also applies to her jewelry: "It has that funky vintage vibe."
She studied at a traditional school, Studio Fuji in Florence, Italy. Ms. Russillo says that students there were taught to make everything from scratch, including their own sterling silver, wire, and supplies. They even learned how to put traditional jewelry-making tools together.
Her work utilizes the art of hand engraving, which she says is still practiced everywhere in Italy but not very common here. She comments that in this country, where most pieces are machine-made, "You lose the connection with the piece with technology - trying to find the easier, quicker way."
Sioux Eagle in Vineyard Haven carries some of Ms. Russillo's hand-engraved pieces - silver lockets with delicate one-of-kind etchings. She seems to have an affinity for flora, and her latest design, the Tree of Life, includes meticulously carved leaves and a tiny central heart.
For the holidays, she has created a line of jewelry crafted from molds which she made from snippets of Italian spruce. The silver sprigs, whether twisted into a conversation piece ring or suspended from a delicate chain with a tiny colored crystal droplet, are examples of Ms. Russillo's design and technical ingenuity.
The 29-year old jeweler, who dismisses the notion of using more modern, time-saving tools, notes, "I tend to pick the harder things to do because I like the challenge." Like Ms. Young, she finds the work meditative: "I definitely get in a zone. It's nice to turn my mind off and lose myself in trying to achieve a perfect little detail."
Oak Bluffs resident Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.