Natural world

Artist Jannette Vanderhoop puts the whole world into her ‘Treasure Boxes.’


The driving force behind much of artist Jannette Vanderhoop’s work is a desire to educate people to respect nature through art. “I have always been interested in art as a form of environmental expression,” she writes in the artist’s statement accompanying an exhibit currently on view at the West Tisbury library. “I wanted to take random parts of the natural world and create art objects that are symbolic of people and their relationships with nature.”

The series of “Treasure Boxes” that make up the show were created by the artist over the course of 10 years. Each is made up of a variety of objects — both organic and manmade — artfully combined to create an interesting artistic artifact. However, the pieces weren’t constructed in a random fashion. Each wall-hanging box tells a story, and as a series, they represent an even bigger picture.

In a recent interview, Vanderhoop explained, “The storyline follows the conquering of the world, starting from the beginning of creation.” The artist has paired a short poem with each image to help further the narrative. Beginning with a piece titled “Turtle Egg” to represent the very beginning of life on the planet, the series continues with “Canoe,” which references, among other things, Vanderhoop’s Native American ancestry. The narrative then chronicles global exploration, the era of land grabbing, and the consequences of the quest for world domination, to man’s destruction of the planet. As she enumerates in her artist’s statement, the work covers “the ships, the world, technology, advancement, patriarchal rule, death, progress, politics, the founding of America, the new world charged righteously through touting the banner of manifest destiny!”

The work wasn’t necessarily created in timeline order. The first piece that Vanderhoop created, “GMO,” occupies the last slot in the current series. The treasure box includes a number of natural items, along with three metal insects. The final line of the accompanying poem reads, “this is the destruction that cannot be undone.” 

“It comes full circle,” said Vanderhoop. “This is where we’re headed if we keep going at this rate, if we just keep on extracting.”

“Alt White,” the penultimate piece in the series, was inspired by the 2016 election. Made in a round cookie tin, the piece features patriotic symbols and bits of Americana. The poem expresses the theme of the piece. “Governments begin to stumble recruiting from the poor deplorables, the hopeless rust belt the alt white, errr right Christian dogma owns the day and night harkening back to when America was great when the means was justified by the dividends.”

“It’s wordly and it’s timeless,” said the artist in reference to the series as a whole. “It represents the march of time and what we are heading towards.”

Each piece is made up of many, many items, inviting close inspection. Vanderhoop notes that she used the project, in part, to clear out her studio of the numerous “bits and bobs” she has collected over the years. Each is unique in look. Some, like “Turtle Egg” and “Natural History Gallery First Mates,” display a fluid sense of composition, others have more of a curiosity cabinet look. Some, like “His and Hers,” are composed according to color (black and white to represent the yin and yang). Although they were not created as a series, Vanderhoop wanted to unify the work. “Each box is unique and has a distinct theme,” she said. “I have paired the boxes with my original poems to further tell a story; one of a grand adventure, personal oblivion as well as global and spiritual connectivity.”

Vanderhoop has been selling her line of Island Naturals — original contemporary Native American jewelry — at the Artisans Festival and elsewhere for over a decade. She creates her own wampum pieces, and pairs them with a variety of natural stones to create one-of-a-kind, eye-catching necklaces and other items. Although she uses wampum and other materials associated with Native American art, Vanderhoop likes to think of herself as a contemporary, rather than traditional, artist. She has sold hundreds of her necklaces to visitors and collectors all over the world. Currently, her work can be found at the Vineyard Holiday Shop at 68 Lagoon Pond Rd., Vineyard Haven, and at her Etsy shop. Along with her signature necklaces, Vanderhoop also offers affordable wampum and leather tassel earrings, little leather pouches, and sea treasure glass ornaments.

A woman of many talents, Vanderhoop has written and illustrated a children’s book called “Cranberry Day,” which she uses as a tool to teach children about Wampanoag history and culture. She has taught in schools and museums for more than 10 years. She is also a yoga instructor, owner of a landscaping business, and a member of the board of the Aquinnah Cultural Council, an organization that she has dedicated a good deal of time and effort into revitalizing. The artist has recently received recognition off-Island as a featured artist in Boston for both Creative Commons and for cultural survival bazaars.

In all of her work, and throughout her travels, Vanderhoop has tried to honor both her Wampanoag roots and her connection to nature. “I was born and raised here, but I’ve traveled around the world,” she says. With her latest project, the artist offers viewers an opportunity to travel with her — around the globe and throughout the eras.