The ramshackle shack that appeared on the Gay Head Cliffs in late July and triggered some local criticism has undergone a rapid makeover. The refurbished building opened Saturday as Bowen’s Arrow, a gift shop launched by tribal member Jennifer Staples.
The shop is meant to highlight Staples family history in Aquinnah, Staples said. Her grandfather, Richard Kestenbaum, who served in World War II as a bomber photographer, left behind a collection of Aquinnah photographs Staples has transferred onto coffee cups, coasters, and other articles. The shop also contains Staples’ handmade block prints, and a kids’ section with a focus on Native American art projects. One of her block prints, Staples said, was inspired by an old postcard depicting her grandmother, Esther (Ryan) Kestenbaum, in Wampanoag garb. The postcard simply read “Gay Head Girl,” she said. Staples has put the block print reflection of the postcard on cards, bags, clothing, and soon-to-be-framed prints.
“Everybody’s been so supportive,” she said. The shed, and shelving and a display case inside, were gifts from Islanders. Many Aquinnah community members have stopped in over the past few days to congratulate her, she said.
The shop also serves as a vehicle for Staples to spend more time with her mother, tribal elder Kristina Hook, she said. Additionally, it gives her kids, 12-year-old Charlie and 15-year-old Max, who like Staples live in Los Angeles, a way to come to the Vineyard and spend more time with their grandmother.
“They go clamming with my mom on Red Beach,” she said. “They’re really good at it, too.”
Hook has traveled several times out to Los Angeles to speak in Charlie and Max’s classrooms about the Wampanoag people, she said.
Additionally, Staples said, the shop provides a beachhead for her sons to commune with a tribal community they live far away from. Staples’ mother moved away from the Vineyard at 16. Her mother’s parents, the Kestenbaums, resettled in Sandwich. After her mother married, she moved to Pennsylvania, where Staples was raised. However, as a teen, Staples spent her summers in Aquinnah, a place she maintains a strong connection to.
Staples signed a five-year lease with the tribe, and expects to run the shop from June through September.
The Bowen in Bowen’s Arrow refers to her mother’s youngest brother, Silas Bowen Kestenbaum, she said.