“Martha’s Vineyard Tile: Hidden Gems in Island Homes”


“Martha’s Vineyard Tile: Hidden Gems in Island Homes,” photography by Alison Shaw, text by Shelley Christiansen. Vineyard Stories 2010, 192 pp., $34.95.

It could well be introduced as a coffee-table photography book, or a book about Island tile craft and the environment, Island home interiors, or maybe a book about Vineyard style, history, and its glass and ceramic artisans. “Martha’s Vineyard Tile: Hidden Gems in Island Homes” certainly surpasses the subject of tile, and those who at first might respond to the subject of tile as they would to hair clips or bottle corks should be prepared to be dazzled.

“Surprising isn’t it?” publisher Jan Pogue gleefully asks. “For a long time I didn’t know how to describe it — a book about tile? I didn’t want people’s eyes to glaze over.”

What began as a simple idea, the book commissioned by Annie and Jeremy Bradshaw of Martha’s Vineyard Tile Company in Edgartown, and designed with invention and flair by Jill Dible of Atlanta, Ga., evolved into a rather remarkable, many-layered collaborative effort by four gifted Island women: Ms. Bradshaw, Vineyard Stories publisher Jan Pogue, photographer Alison Shaw, and writer Shelley Christiansen.

Ms. Pogue describes the challenge: “How do you take a bunch of pictures of kitchens and bathrooms and make it interesting and give it all a Vineyard feel?” Together with the Bradshaws they envisioned the text being short, freeform essays about the Vineyard, all having a definite Martha’s Vineyard perspective. Ms. Pogue wanted the book to have “a floaty” feel — something that conveyed the rhythm of waves. They were determined the book would be different from a conventional interior design book. And they are pleased. “The book definitely has a soul to it,” says Ms. Bradshaw, who says the book was “on my bucket list,” and refers to Ms. Pogue, Ms. Shaw, and Ms. Christiansen as “a sisterhood.”

Each of nine chapters presents a separate Vineyard style, the work of a particular Island artisan who expresses it in his and her tile work along with Ms. Christiansen’s interviews, and Ms. Shaw’s stunning photographs of Island scenes and home interiors.

The chapters include: Quansoo, Joan LeLacheur; Tivoli, Washington Ledesma; Water Street, Linda Carnegie; Ancient Ways, Nancy Pollucci; Farmer’s Market, Amy Hahn; Wasque, Jenifer Strachan; Mytoi, Lisa Strachan; Summer Street, Maureen Williams; Moshup, Dana Nunes.

Each begins with Ms. Christiansen’s evocative prose. Describing the Wasque style — sea and sky colors against a backdrop of neutrals — she writes: “Wasque is different from other vantage points along Nantucket Sound. The seascape is more daunting. The blue-gray waters seem more intense. The foam seems more dashing. The threshold to faraway continents over the horizon seems more romantic. This is where you go to be awed by nature.”

Ms. Shaw surpasses herself in translating the essence of object, mood, and atmosphere. She zooms in on details such as shells, soap dishes, rocks, flowers, china, decorative accessories, all of which help make the tiles look glorious. The tiles become an ingredient in a study of color and form. There are full-page photographs of a stormy sky at sunset, a row of pale conch shells in front of a wall of gossamer green tiles, a fiercely colored ladder-back chair on a Campground porch, brilliant orange apricots lined up in front of a blue tile wall, and a perfect full moon mystically hovering on top of a tower of balanced beach rocks.

To animate the photograph of an open shower accented with multi-colored quarry tiles, Ms. Shaw set up her tripod and timer, and — alone in the house — undressed and snapped a picture of herself drying off behind a frosted glass partition.

The book includes a brief history of tile art, “the quintessential surface material,” explanations of grout, “the wallflower of tile design,” and even practical tips on installing tile: “You won’t want your mortar drying quickly over here when the next tile you need to set is way over there.”

There is also an Island resource list at the end of the book that lists architects, builders, and other tile companies — the Bradshaw’s acknowledgement of the caliber, material, and expertise of business available to Islanders.

Martha’s Vineyard Tile Co. began 15 years ago in 300-square feet of space. It is now contained in 2,400-square feet.

The energetic Ms. Bradshaw is now debuting her new Saturday morning television show, “Tile Trends” hosted on Guinevere Cramer on MVTV that features new tile lines, maintenance, installation, and a question and answer segment. If the book is any indicator, the show should prove entertaining.

Martha’s Vineyard Tile Co. holds its open house holiday party and book signing on Saturday, Dec. 11, at 6 pm at its showroom at Airport Business Park. Refreshments catered by Deon’s. For more information, call 508-693-9707.