Cheryl Stark, statuesque and blonde, exuding a strength mixed with irrepressible humor, died at the age of 70 on Jan. 2 in her home in West Tisbury. This past Sunday afternoon, scores of Vineyarders and, from off-Island, family, friends, and fans, assembled under the rafters of the Agricultural Hall to celebrate Ms. Stark’s life, and the important part she played in theirs.
She was one of our icons, a larger-than-life figure, a jeweler, a philanthropist, and a cutup whose loss seems to drain away some of the light from our Island.
Ms. Stark, originally from Texas, arrived here in 1966, fresh from jewelrymaking studies at the Museum School in Boston. Before long she was selling her own jewelry, along with some fellow arts-and-crafters, at a stall at the end of Union Street in Vineyard Haven. In a couple of years she had her own shop down near the harbor, where the Black Dog Bakery is located today.
It was the perfect location for the loquacious young woman with a broad grin as she greeted pals streaming from the ferry. One of those fresh-off-the-boat people was Margery Meltzer from Johnstown, Pa. The meeting was life-changing. Cheryl taught Margery jewelrymaking, and they became partners in business and in life. They made the jump from funky to glamorous when they opened the gleaming CB Stark Jewelers on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
At the gathering on Sunday, old friends told stories. Mary Breslauer said, “She was incredibly cool with who she was, even back in the ’70s when gay wasn’t cool. With Cheryl it was always cool, being proud of who you are.” Ms. Breslauer reminisced about the days when the Hot Tin Roof opened its doors to great bands and evening revelers: “Everyone danced, men with men, women with women.” It was groundbreaking, and Cheryl helped to make it so.
Noni Madison said she’d literally known Ms. Stark all her life: “CB was with my mom when she gave birth to me. I spent all the days of my childhood at her store.”
Filmmaker Barbara Kopple said, “Cheryl and Margery came to the Sarasota Film Festival to see my new movie.” She also confided that on an Island visit last fall, Ms. Stark, whose health was failing, told her, “If anything happens to me, I want you to be there for Margery.”
Back in 1991 Marge Dolan contacted Ms. Stark to tell her she intended to come down from Boston to look for land on the Vineyard. Ms. Stark said, “When you get off the boat, take my car and use it all day until you find something.”
Toni Cohen shared a story about the last time she saw Ms. Stark, at a nearby table during lunchtime in a restaurant. Ms. Cohen’s granddaughter kept swiveling to stare, giggling at Ms. Stark. Ms. Cohen’s friend John held the mic while she demonstrated the faces Ms. Stark had directed at her granddaughter, poking different parts of her face, sticking out her tongue, and messing up her hair.
Longtime friend Gail Sack said she always laughed so hard in Cheryl’s company. “She loved life; she told funny stories about her childhood.” She also warmly recalled a more contemplative side of Ms. Stark, seen walking the beach in search of sea glass for her jewelry.
Dee Smith told of the time her 12-year-old son, for her birthday, presented her with the well-known CB Stark’s bag and packaging that opened to reveal a pair of amethyst earrings. “But where did you get the money for this?” she cried. He responded blithely that Ms. Stark said his mom could come in anytime with a credit card. (This story is so Very Vineyard, and Very Cheryl; where else could a boy waft out of a store with a valuable set of earrings?).
Many other wonderful tales were told — and will no doubt be shared for a long time to come. Nick Arons played his saxophone, and celebrants/mourners filled plates from a potluck table piled high with salads, pasta, cakes, cookies, and coffee.
Store manager Sarah York said, “Cheryl taught me to say what you mean.” She sketched an example: One one occasion at the store, Ms. Stark confronted a man with the blunt question, “You’re not buying another piece of jewelry for your wife, are you? She has enough jewelry! Go buy her a sweater or something!”
Conceivably, each one of CB Stark’s fond family members, friends, and admirers own at least one piece of Cheryl’s jewelry from one of the 500 items she and Ms. Meltzer created: a gold pendant with the inscription “Entering Edgartown,” a silver charm of a long-gone ferry, or classic adornments from pearl earrings to diamond pendant necklaces. The CB Stark brand is 51 years old. May it live another few centuries.