If you’ve made a trip up to Aquinnah recently, you may have noticed an unusual sign: “Fine Seaweed Art Show.” If you follow the road to the home of Corinna Majno-Kaufman, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the unique natural artwork to be found adorning the walls of the historic home’s dining room.
Ms. Kaufman uses a variety of colorful seaweed to create abstract works of art. Each piece features either a single sample or a small cluster of various plant types, with all of the intricate branches skillfully laid out to mimic the appearance of the seaweed floating in the ocean.
Anyone who’s tried to scoop up one of these lovely blooms from the water, only to find it morphing into an amorphous blob of slime once removed from its natural element, will be impressed with Ms. Kaufman’s work. Through years of trial and error she has found methods for maintaining the beauty, intricacy, and color of the plants in a dried three-dimensional form.
It’s wonderful to see something with such delicate, ephemeral beauty preserved for posterity. All of the tendrils, fronds, and branches are spread out in perfect imitation of their appearance in their natural element. Perusing Ms. Kaufman’s collection, one is struck by the variety of vegetation found in the ocean. The colors tend toward the pinks, but with a wide range of hues, from vivid rose to a sort of brownish-pink mauve. The pieces have almost the look of dried flower arrangements, but with a more abstract quality.
The friendly Ms. Kaufman is always eager to talk about her work, although she does maintain a few trade secrets. Her methods and materials for mounting the plants have been developed through almost obsessive experimentation beginning when she was 11 years old. She was initially inspired by the work of beloved seaweed artist Rose Treat, who died in 2011. Ms. Treat’s work differs from Ms. Kaufman’s in that she used seaweed more as a medium to create figurative and abstract “drawings.”
Ms. Kaufman, who grew up partly on the Vineyard, had her first big break as an artist at 15 when her work was praised by no less than legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. The Life magazine staff photographer, who had a home in Menemsha, discovered Ms. Kaufman’s seaweed cards during a visit to the Gay Head Cliffs. He bought the entire stock, and told the store’s proprietor, Lucille Vanderhoop, that he wanted to meet the artist.
“She told me that some guy from Time-Life bought all of my cards,” recalls Ms. Kaufman. “I didn’t know who he was, but my mother did.”
Although she never did get a chance to meet Eisenstaedt, she made a connection with the National Medal of Arts recipient years later. “Life happens,” says Ms. Kaufman. “Nineteen years later I was living in California, and was thinking that I needed to do something that makes me feel good. I remembered how much I loved doing seaweed art on the Vineyard. I decided that I needed a reference, so I called up Time-Life and asked for Mr. Eisenstadt. I said, ‘This is going to sound strange, but do you remember 19 years ago in Gay Head buying all of my seaweed cards?’ He said, ‘Oh yes. They are beautiful.’ We had a nice chat about my seaweed cards, and I asked if he would write me a referral. I sent him one of my cards, and he replied: ‘Thank you for your letter of June 21, and your lovely seaweed card. My work is exhibited this year again at the Granary Gallery. If you call them, ask for Bruce or Bandy, and tell them that I referred them to you because I found your work outstanding.’”
Ms. Kaufman eventually returned to the Vineyard and kept up with her artwork. In the meantime, she developed her own program of recovery based on steps she used to battle a longtime eating disorder. She went on to become a practicing alchemical hypnotherapist, as well as a guided imagery practitioner, and has now published an ebook titled “How to Quit Whatever You Want to Quit, Ten Steps to Overcoming Lifelong Addictions.”
Ms. Kaufman is a long-term resident of Aquinnah. She lives with her husband in an 1800s building that once housed the Gay Head Inn, and she considers the Vineyard her only true home. “I took my first step here on the beach,” she says. “I stayed in Uncle Charlie Vanderhoop’s chicken coop as a child.”
“Since I was here very early on, I want to give back to the community,” says Ms. Kaufman. “I feel that I can do that in two ways. One is in showing people the beauty that is all around us in the ocean — things that you may not even see — and the other is through emotional healing. I have spent 40 years doing that.”
Seaweed Fine Art is located at 2 Mariner’s View Lane, Aquinnah (off Lighthouse Road), and can be viewed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 2 to 7 pm, until July 16. For other days and times, call Ms. Kaufman, 415-887-8456. Information about her teachings and book can be found at corinnakaufman.com.