Galleries : Giles Welch at the Smithsonian
Ten summers ago a small boy with a mop of black hair walked alone under the Gay Head Cliffs, studying the shoreline. As he collected his prizes - deeply colored pieces of shell, smoothed by sand and tide - he put them in his pocket. They would become the centerpieces of the key chains he fashioned for sale at Stony Creek Gifts, his mother Berta Welch's shop, atop the Cliffs.
Now 23, Giles Welch smiles at the memory. "That's the only thing I knew how to make then. It was good money for a 12-year-old kid," he said with a grin.
With fingertips scored with old cuts, the skin thinned by hours spent cutting, shaping and polishing each shell by hand, he has perfected his artist's eye over a decade, to create Native American pendants, earrings and bracelets. His jewelry has become so notable that the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., has requested pieces, now being crafted, for the Smithsonian and its companion museum, the Hays Center in New York City. The jewelry will also be sold in the Smithsonian's online store.
He credits his parents, Berta (chairperson of the Aquinnah Cultural Center) and Vernon Welch, and their immersion in their Wampanoag heritage, for his prestigious commission.
"In 2003, my parents were asked to create tile inlay for the American Indian mall at the Smithsonian. They took me to work on it with them," he said. "We did 1,200 feet of tile inlay along the walkways, using wood and Wampanoag wampum," he recalled.
The Smithsonian's museum staff noticed the teenager's work and bought a few pieces for their shop, but little came of it until last month when he learned the gift shop had buyers for his work.
Mr. Welch went to Washington to show his collection to the Smithsonian in May. "I'm making 40 pendants and 40 earrings for the first order. Then I'll make bracelets for them," Mr. Welch, said over dinner last Friday night at the Chilmark Tavern.
Mr. Welch said that his father, who also makes jewelry, has been an important mentor for him. "He taught me some stuff, gave me a shop and the tools to make jewelry, but he also let me find my own way," he said. "I have my own style, it's unique to me just like everyone else's is to them," he said.