Legendary Vineyarder Trina Kingsbury dies at 74

Writer, seamstress, brawler, lumberjill, naturalist, equestrian, illustrator — an Island original.

In this file photo, Trina Kingsbury chops a tree at the Ag Fair. — MV Times file photo

Artist and woodswoman Trina Kingsbury died at her home on Tea Lane in Chilmark Friday. She was 74.

The daughter of Gertrude and Craig Kingsbury, Trina Kingsbury was by many accounts a lumberjill extraordinaire who could hold her own against any guy in a bar fight, and from time to time proved it.

“Trina was always one of my stars,” Clarence “Trip” Barnes, who claims to have begun the woodsman competition at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, told The Times. “The crowd would go nuts. She was always the favorite at the fair.”

Barnes said this was in part due to her charisma and in part her sheer skill at ax throwing.

“She never missed,” he said.

“They have the one where they have the big pole and they have to cut it with ax to drop the thing,” Chilmark mariner Karsten Larsen said. “And you have to hit a pin and drive the pin in with the post.”

Larsen recalled watching her in an ax-felling competition one year at the fair where the goal was to drop a faux tree onto a pin target.

“Everybody’s sittin’ there whacking,” he said. “The guys all finish and they all miss it by quite a bit. You know, some of them get close. Trina she’d cut — she must have been there another 15 minutes. She’d stop and catch her breath and whack at it a few more times. The whole time she’s like sizing it up — looking, looking, looking — she kept whacking on it, whacking on it. Finally she hit that thing, and it just barely moved.”

Larsen recalled she cried out, “It’s gonna go!”

“And she whacked it again, and damned if she didn’t drive the pin right into the ground. She hit it so perfect. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

Albert O. Fischer, a friend, remembered Kingsbury fondly. “I’ve known Trina all my life,” he said. “I used to help butcher farm animals with her father, Craig Kingsbury. She had a very kind and generous side to her.”

Fischer noted Kingsbury had a deep love of animals. “We would talk on the phone often about things in nature, things we’ve seen,” he said. “When my youngest daughter was born four days before Christmas … when we came home from the hospital, Trina had put a little Christmas tree in our house with baked goods.”

“I always saw Trina, underneath that exterior and that point-in-your-face attitude, as a very, very sensitive woman,” longtime Chilmark resident Doug Seward said. “I think she was the type of person who was living outside the norm and never really wanted to live inside the norm. But there was, I always felt, a kind of soft side of her. It wouldn’t come out very often, but it would. Trina was the kind of person, if she wanted you to be a friend, you were going to be a friend.”

Seward said his late wife Barbara did a photo shoot with Kingsbury in Vineyard Haven, posing as her sibling. “It was called ‘Sisters,’” he said. “Because she did not see her other sisters, she felt that Barbara was going to be her sister. So with a little bit of trepidation, Barbara decided to go along with this. They had a wonderful time.”

Seward saw Kingsbury last in 2002, when her larger-than-life father died. “The last time I saw her I was on Circuit Avenue,” he said. “Her dad had just passed away. And she was making the rounds at all the bars that Craig used to go to as a tribute to him. I remember she had a dress on with boots. She saw me and grabbed me and gave me a big hug right in front of the Ritz.”

Thereafter, Seward said, she became reclusive. Seward’s daughter and son-in-law, who live nearby on Tea Lane, had been helping out Kingsbury and checking in on her.

Seward recalled a building-moving operation that led to visiting Kingsbury’s house: “I think it was 20 years ago she called me up.”

Kingsbury told her the folks who owned Gilberts Farm North Road had given her an outbuilding she wanted to move.

“I want you to come up and help me,” he recalled her saying. “I’m not a mover, Trina,” he replied.

“I was drafted. I was told to get up there. It was Matt Tobin, myself, a fella named Mike … I don’t know his last name. He was a very nice guy. And maybe four or five other men. So we went down there with this makeshift trailer, and we jacked it up. As the day went along, things got a little more boisterous. So Matt and I took it by the horns and got the thing done. And then she had a party afterwards in her house. I remember going in there and it was very sweet. She had a fire going and the place was really kind of cheerful looking. She had food out for everybody — she really appreciated getting that moved.”

Betsy Larsen, owner of Larsen’s in Menemsha, recalled Kingsbury would drop in every year to buy lobster for her cat’s birthday.

Eleanor Neubert, who managed the Ag Fair for 34 years, said Kingsbury was as adept with a needle as she was with an ax. “She did very detailed sewing,” she said. “It surprised people that she could do both. Throw an ax and do this detailed sewing.”

“I just got a kick out of her having a blue ribbon on her handmade knitting and things that she entered in the fair, in the Ag Hall,” Fischer said, “and then she’d be outside doing the ax throw contest. That pretty much sums her up.”

“I felt very sad that her life had gone down into this hole,” Seward said. “I had seen her when she was wonderfully sensitive, and I still want to believe her as that, and see her as that. She had some hard times. I think she did the best she could to get over them.”

“She was a very remarkable lady, and was a good friend of mine,” Barnes said.

He recalled giving her rides down to the Claremont Riding Academy in New York City, where she used to teach.

“Her students loved her,” he said. Horses responded well to her, he noted. “She was a real horse whisperer,” he said.

She was well known on the Vineyard for her illustrated maps featuring butterflies and wildflowers (a signed copy of one hangs in the kitchen of The Times offices), and Barnes lamented Kingsbury didn’t do more with her art.

Barnes remembered driving back from a party with Kingsbury on Long Island in an old Mercury. As they were passing through the Midtown Tunnel, Kingsbury looked back and said the car was on fire.

Barnes said firefighters showed up immediately, and doused the car with chemicals. They then departed, leaving the car, Kingsbury, and himself in the tunnel.

As soon as the fire engine left, Barnes recalled Kingsbury pointed to the charred automobile and said, “Don’t just stand there. See if it starts.”

Barnes said miraculously it did, and though singed and smoky, the car got them out of the tunnel and even further.

“I, like so many who knew Trina, was saddened to hear of her passing,” Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison wrote in an email. “Personally, I have many memories of her.  She will be long remembered as a true Vineyard character. My condolences go out to Billy and Christy and their families.”

Despite being a Chilmark resident, Kingsbury was at one time the Aquinnah town columnist for the The Times. She frequently wove musings into her town narratives.

“I have a quart of paint that cost $60 the new secondhand doors on my van (the others rotted off),” she wrote on August 27, 1998, “and to cover the rust on the rest of the vehicle. I took it off-Island last week. Someone took one look at it and said ‘Sanford and Son.’ I realized then that the doors are not going to be painted till after summer, for when other drivers see this apparition heading through Five Corners, they let it pass: It appears it doesn’t care what or who it crashes into though!”

“Generally speaking, when one speaks of the male torso,” she wrote on Nov. 14, 1996, “they call it a ‘chest,’ and for females they call it ‘breasts.’ How do people know it’s a female chicken they’re buying — calling them chicken breasts? The old school says that, when in doubt, use the masculine; therefore, why aren’t they called ‘chicken chests’? Hey, the winter hasn’t set in yet — the ponderings will get worse.”

Per her wishes, Kingsbury was buried in Abel Hill Cemetery without a ceremony, according to Seward.   



  1. I missed this initial announcement on Trina’s passing. RIP, Sister, RIP ! Lord knows you earned a good rest after some of the adventures you lived ! And I DO mean ADVENTURES! I had been coming to The Vineyard for a good many years before I finally moved here full time to take a job in the Radiology Department at the hospital. It should not surprise any of you who knew Trina, that her reputation preceded her. So my first face to face with Trina was when I was On Call and my beeper (remember those things?) went off and I drove in at about 3:00 am. for my introduction to Madame Kingsbury. I forget the time of year, but I’m guessing December some time, because, to nobody’s surprise Trina was lit like a Christmas Tree. Ordinarily, 3:00 am introductions to a thoroughly oiled person is not at the top of my list of favorite ways to spend part of an early morning. So while I tended to Trina her resume kept flashing through my mind (How many of Oak Bluff’s Finest did you say it took to…….) OH NEVERMIND! So after snapping a few pics of Trina and part of her insides, and listening to her chat away, I was finally able to let my guard down when Trina, in hospital gown announces. “I like you ! Come hear and let me give you a hug. I assure no part of Trina’s resume that I had heard a few times over, included “hugs”…at least not in the “friendly variety”. Trina was as renowned for tossing men with badges an equal distance as a sharpened ax, so when she opened her arms and gave me a hug, I was not really sure if I was going to be body slammed or whether I had just met a friend for life. Quite gratefully, it was the latter and I thought as I drove home that I had met her Dad Craig under similar circumstances…only his was without an invitation to hug, so let’s get that straight right now! So Trina went for The Big Sleep. If you know the name Kingsbury, it is embedded deep in this Vineyard soil. So Trina may have gone to seep, but I know Trina, and she will always be a part of Martha’s Vineyard. Much of my thoughts about The Vineyard these days is along the lines of “Man…THOSE were the days.” Trina Kinsgbury, I have the feeling, has quite a few of “Those were the days” moments. And I got to share in at least one of them.
    God Bless You, Trina.

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