One of the worst times for a snow in quite a few years on Martha’s Vineyard was February 1944. Just outside the town of Vineyard Haven, Craig and Gertrude “Turk” Kingsbury were at home on the Kingsbury farm. With an 18-month-old daughter and the snow coming down heavily, Turk gave birth to a tiny little girl, 1½ months prematurely. Craig skied down to Tashmoo Farm, where they had a telephone, to call Dr. Cosgrove, who eventually came by the next day, and said he didn’t think the baby would live, as it weighed less than 4 pounds.
A couple of weeks later, Craig ran into the doctor, who offered condolences for the death of their baby. Craig said, “No, she was so tiny that she could crawl through the slats of the crib, so we put her into the clawfoot bathtub instead. Trina’s doing great!”
21 years later, this tiny creature was over six feet tall, and stronger than could have been imagined. Growing up on that farm, going barefoot most of the time, nature and her family nurtured that little girl.
The curious and creative child had only adults as playmates, including George “Cookie” Cook, Hezekiah “Hezzie” Madison, “Buck” Legg, “Dynamite” Danny Oliviera, and Johnny Olsen, to name a few. So many of the people who visited the farm were happy to have an inquisitive child wanting to know about all that they were doing, watching and listening as she learned carpentry, animal husbandry, and life on a farm.
At age 8, she discovered Tashmoo Farm, Elsie MacLachlan, and Elizabeth “Libby” Blackwell Belden, who ran it. From 8 to 17, she continued to work and learn there; in her words, “life was like a Beatrix Potter world.” She grew so skilled at working with horses she began teaching riding at age 12. By the time she was an adult, she could train and teach for harness, the three seats of English, and sidesaddle, Western, and basic dressage.
She started out at the Tisbury School in 1949; she began violin lessons at age 11. SHe spent 10 years at Tisbury before going on to the new Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. She played violin in the high school orchestra and string ensemble, and graduated on June 11, 1961, with letters in music, citizenship, and sportsmanship. She and Billy Diaz were voted wittiest in the class. She and Hugh McGinnis were named the most artistic.
She won her very first red ribbon for art in the first grade, when Ted Meinhelt was her art teacher. Her drawing of a red chicken is still hanging in her living room. That began her love for the Agricultural Fair, particularly the hall, where she won ribbons for the embroidery, art, woodworking, needlepoint, sewing, fabric, design, woodcarving, crocheting, and knitting, and because she had watched all those older people making wonderful things, she had learned by watching. She was particularly proud of her miniature creations.
Trina took the business course in high school and learned stenographic skills, which would always give her something to fall back on.
After high school, she took to wandering, traveling first to Santa Fe, N.M., working with her friend Alice Vanderhoop. She financed her first horse and saddle by riding fences.
She wanted to study art, and worked firsthand with artists, paying her way by modeling. She played violin in the Santa Fe Symphony, and guitar, “for company.” Most of her wanderings took her away for two to four months at a time. When she was back on the Island, she worked at Cape and Vineyard Electric Co. on Packer dock; she also worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the Buoy Lab.
Trina worked with Dr. William Wilcox and Sonny Jackson at the Foote Memorial Animal Hospital. Next she attended the Museum School in Boston, which she gave up after one semester.
Trina went to New York, teaching at the Kenilworth Club in Rye, and at Claremont Riding Stable, which served Central Park. When she was 20, she worked in Cambridge for a German engineering firm and the following year for Mario Panizzi, importer of Florentine art in Brattle Square. In between travels, she returned to the farm to help out every spring as needed.
Taking a Norwegian freighter to France, she stayed in Paris and London before she began training with the British Horse Society in Somerset, England, where she achieved one of the most difficult certifications.
After exams, she and a fellow horsemaster traveled in Trina’s mini-truck through England, Wales, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Andorra, Spain, and Portugal. They parted company in Lisbon. Her friend returned to the states, and Trina drove back to England. Those seven months were the longest time she had been away from home.
She went back to the Vineyard each spring to help with the plowing, driving a massive yoke of oxen, Buck and Lion, which had been so well trained by her father, Craig, that they would follow Trina around like two puppy dogs.
Next, Trina went to upstate New York to be in charge of the 750-acre Verney Farms, driving standardbreds and training Morgans for a boss who excelled at many facets: environmentalist, horseman, conservationist, outdoorsman, sailor, poet, musician, and an unbelievable artist. This was the happiest time in her life; her boss, who had known her since she was little, was James Cagney.
At this time, her future husband, a merchant seaman, proposed, and she decided to leave her job to get married. When she was 19, Trina had made a deal on property on Tea Lane in Chilmark, and had begun clearing the land to build a studio.
She had promised her grandmother she’d have a riding school on the farm where Trina was born, but the farm never came to her. After her grandmother died, it went to Trina’s three siblings, in hopes they would return to the Vineyard.
She and her husband began building a house.
Trina was granted a divorce in 1974, and she began her wanderings again, living and working at the fire department in Thomaston, Maine, where she was the first female to hold that position in the state. She lived in Westhaven, Conn., driving daily to teach riding in New York State; then on to Casey Key in Florida, where she was a private nurse.
Eventually, all her travels would take her to 12 countries, 23 states, and the West Indies!
Trina had spent some time as a roving reporter for the Vineyard Gazette prior to her travels, and she continued to write, paint, produce amazing handwork, and develop her home acreage.
For 17 years, she wrote a quirky Gay Head town column, and contributed poems and drawings, for the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
She had great love for animals, both inside her home and outside in the fields and woods. She often prepared special holiday meals for her critters, enjoying their feasts when they came to eat.
Her last dog, Alice von Wolftrap, was the only dog featured in Lynn Christopher’s book, “Island Cats.” The only way Lynn could include Tossu, Trina’s and Alice’s cat, was to have Alice in the book too. Trina was also mentioned in Holly Nadler’s book, “Island Confidential.”
Probably the best known of her many artworks are her detailed and comprehensive “Wildflowers of Martha’s Vineyard,” and its companion piece, “Butterflies of Martha’s Vineyard.”
She continued to be in the annual Agricultural Fair, winning ribbons in the hall for her handiwork, and until she was 21, competed in the annual horse show. After that she entered the woodmen’s competition, which included chainsaw sculpture.
In January 1977, Trina asked David Berube of Edgartown, considered one of the best shellfishermen on the Island, to teach her the proper way to scallop. She said, “He is sort of a cross between Andrew Wyeth and the ‘Old Man and the Sea.’” Trina was the only woman up-Island to run her own scallop boat; she and her buddy Dale Robinson were scalloping partners for several years.
Trina Kingsbury graced the world with her wit, wisdom, and a touch of wickedness. Many knew of her generous nature. Her natural curiosity led her to grow in more and more directions. She befriended kids, encouraging them in learning and developing their own skills, and appreciating life as she had.
Her life came to an end in the very same four-poster bed where she was born. All her journeys and adventures and earnings were done. Her life is now complete, and nothing can be added or subtracted. Trina’s musing as her life was coming to an end: “Knowing I had just months to live was great, in the sense that it made for kind of a long Christmas. I didn’t let my friends know I was about to croak, rather said that I was clearing out my house. I’ve enjoyed giving things away, things I had made, and treasures I had collected during my wanderings.”
She will rest on Abel’s Hill, an everlasting monument to her adage, “Live while you live, then die, and be done with it!” It is hard to imagine that Trina Kingsbury would ever be done with it.