Artisans adapt

With some options out of the picture, Island artists and artisans find new ways to reach their customers.

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Artists and artisans have to be flexible these days, especially those on the Vineyard whose primary sales outlets, the Chilmark and Featherstone Flea Markets, have been canceled, and the Artisans Festivals have temporarily switched from an in-person to an online platform.

The latter has made a concerted effort to offer a weekly event with live videos, tours, and demonstrations. While the venture has gone well so far, with the live events and website attracting a following, many vendors have found it beneficial to try additional ways of marketing their wares, and this is where their creative talents have come in handy.

Andrea Rogers, who runs the Artisans Festivals, also sells lavender. She grows her own plants and harvests them in June. At that time she sells fresh lavender, and she also dries much of her crop to sell as bunches and sachets. She has offered her fragrant products at the Artisans and Farmers Markets for years. This summer, she decided to try something new.

Rogers set up a little farm stand at the end of her driveway on Pondview Drive off Barnes Road. She offers her lavender products along with herbs from her garden. Customers can purchase by the honor system. She also has a host of regular customers who call her for drop-off or pickup service.

Heather Goff and Bill O’Callaghan have also found a way to sell from their home. Right before the shelter-in-place directives came into effect, the two started work on an outbuilding gallery on their property. The venture had been planned for some time, but the pandemic sped up construction.

Along with the small gallery that offers work by both ceramics artists, O’Callaghan also put in a trail that features his whimsical work in a natural setting. Walking along the path, one will encounter mythical creatures, tree spirits, clay castles, hidden eyes, and more. “The sculpture trail is a great place for a destination,” says Goff. “We’re really happy to be able to give that to people. Families are visiting. There’s a Land Bank trail that goes right past our property, and people have been spotting the sculptures in the woods from there.” Goff adds that visitors can arrange for a guided tour with fanciful stories about the creatures, told by O’Callaghan in his thick Irish brogue.

The gallery shop features all sorts of decorative vessels and sculptural pieces by O’Callaghan, as well as a wide array of Goff’s popular ceramic tiles. She also does commissions for customers looking for a unique backsplash or other tiled accent.

Last year artist Tara Reynolds decided to leave her job at Rosewater Market to focus full-time on her artwork. She planned to sell at the Artisans Festivals and at the Chilmark Flea Market. Her timing couldn’t have been worse. Still, she used the free time toward expanding her Etsy store. “I hadn’t really updated it in a while,” she says. “I’ve had the store for about seven years but I really just had a couple of my children’s books on there. It wasn’t really much of anything.” In response to the pandemic, Reynolds has been promoting her work through social media, and she has joined a group of artists and artisans whose work is featured at the new Circuit Ave. shop, Tangerine, in Oak Bluffs. You can also find her work in Edgartown at Juniper & Co. on North Summer Street in the Court House parking lot.

Reynolds offers a wide array of items made with a unique collage method. She creates textured papers with paint and recycled materials, cuts out shapes, and creates designs with the cutouts. For a striking stained glass look, she outlines the individual pieces with India ink and white gouache. Reynolds also creates a number of fun, colorful items like earrings, ornaments, stickers, and mugs.

Sylvie Farrington has made and sold her popular line of vintage bags for more than 20 years. SylvieBags are made from original barkcloth (a sturdy, textured, patterned textile that was a popular choice in the 1940s and ’50s for home furnishings).

Unlike Reynolds, Farrington was serendipitously ready for shutdown circumstances. “I had just launched a website the week before the pandemic,” she says. “I spent a year working on it.” Craftworks in Oak Bluffs also started offering her products earlier this year. “I like to have somewhere to send people to buy in person,” she says.

Farrington acknowledges the efforts of the festival staff to adapt to the current restrictions by launching the virtual version. “I want to give them huge credit for trying something new,” she says. “I think it has potential. It’s been kind of a push to get everybody to that level with technology. For me, it’s been an incentive to do things like Facebook Live. It’s actually working.”

Farrington notes that maintaining relationships with her customers is crucial these days. “During times like this, it’s really important to love all of your clients,” she says. “I have email lists. I try to feature special offers. People really appreciate that. Sometimes I throw in an extra item to an order. There’s something really special when people feel they have a relationship with an artist.”

To reach Andrea Rogers, visit vineyardartisans.com; visit Island Folk Pottery at facebook.com/islandfolkpottery/, visit Tara Reynolds at tarareynoldsartmv.com, and Sylvie Farrington at sylviebags.com.