New Driftwood gallery opens in Vineyard Haven

A mermaid atop a teapot is at Bill O'Callaghan's new gallery, Driftwood. — Photo by Elke Klein

The grounds around Bill O’Callaghan’s new studio and home, The Driftwood Gallery, are like something out of a fairy tale – elaborate clay castles crowned with plants loom over gardens adorned with Hobbit holes and driftwood cabinets.

Since moving to Vineyard Haven from Edgartown last September, Mr. O’Callaghan, also known as “The Mad Potter,” has created an inviting environment to display his many wares at 696 Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

After moving to Martha’s Vineyard from Ireland in 1986, he began work in construction. Around that time he started doing clay on the side — and never stopped. He became obsessed with it, using every spare minute on his potter’s wheel.

A desire to keep his work interesting sparked innovation, and he expanded from mugs and bowls to sculptures of all sorts. Miniature figures, birdhouses, mermaids, and dragons are only some of his many creations. His garden is now bedecked with his work, which ranges from mugs to eight-foot, plant-festooned castles with dragons wrapped around their topmost spires. The size of the castles was originally limited by the size of the kiln, but Mr. O’Callaghan found he could make the sections stackable, leading to castles of inspiring proportions.

Mr. O’Callaghan credits his wife, Robin, for giving him “tons” of ideas. His body of work reflects his willingness and ability to develop new ideas. He tells stories of how pieces were adapted from their original design – fitting function to form in the finished piece. “I began making castles just for fun, then put plants in them. It was a natural fit. It brings them to life a little bit,” he said.

Mr. O’Callaghan’s blending of plants and clay is also on display in the miniature gardens he makes. For them, he places plants, clay figures, and Hobbit holes in large bowls. The plants often look like tiny trees.

Fantasy runs through many of these works, but his fascination with the fantastic is not contemporary. The miniature musicians, mermaids, and other fairy tale creatures derive inspiration from Irish mythology. “It’s direct from Irish folklore. That’s where Tolkien and everyone else got it from, too,” explained Mr. O’Callaghan.

Mr. O’Callaghan brings to life stories, as he makes clay books that have horses and other figures rising out of the covers and clay books that are planters. Mr. O’Callaghan also makes candlesticks, sharks, and whales, and most of his pieces are glazed with bright blue and green pigments.

One of Mr. O’Callaghan’s newest items is driftwood furniture. He began making display cases simply to show his work, but people took an interest in them so he began selling them as well. He now makes cabinets entirely of driftwood, using stone inlays to give color, because of the natural greyness of the wood.

The studio at 696 Main Street in Vineyard Haven is a short drive past downtown Vineyard Haven. If one drives along Main Street into West Chop, he or she will see a blue sign on the left. Down that driveway Mr. O’Callaghan and his family are renting and renovating a house transported to the spot from Edgartown in the 1950s. “It’s been so nice here. The neighbors have been great and have welcomed us,” said Mr. O’Callaghan.

Mr. O’Callaghan’s work is also shown at Gossamer Gallery in Chilmark and at Featherstone Center of the Arts in Oak Bluffs, where he has large clay sculptures on display on the grounds.