‘To inspire and educate’

Artist and storyteller Jannette Vanderhoop depicts history in her treasure boxes.


Jannette Vanderhoop is a storyteller, one who teaches and shares her stories in many different ways. A member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Vanderhoop is an artist, jeweler, author, illustrator, and educator. In just about everything that she creates, she is looking to enrich people in one way or another. “No matter what I’m doing, I want to impart knowledge,” she says.

One of Vanderhoop’s most ambitious projects, and an example of her efforts to educate through art, is currently on view at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. “Jannette Vanderhoop: Treasure Boxes” is a series of found object mixed-media pieces that, according to the museum website, “tell a story of a grand adventure, personal oblivion, and global and spiritual connectivity. Overall, there is a storyline that is reminiscent of a certain time period, when the West was conquered — not just the west of the United States — but of the world.”

The wall-mounted boxes each contain an individual, abstracted story, told through the artifacts, both natural and manmade, artfully arranged within a three-dimensional frame. Each can be viewed separately, but there is also a through-narrative to the series. Vanderhoop has paired a short poem with each image to expand on the individual themes. The pieces were created over 10 years. Each one references a different epoch in the history of humanity. For example, “Turtle Egg” represents the very beginning of life on the plant. “Canoe” references, among other things, Vanderhoop’s Native American ancestry. Other pieces reflect on the consequences of the quest for world domination by Europeans, and man’s destruction of the planet.

There are numerous ways in which the artist has used her talent to inspire and educate. A graduate of Pitzer College in Southern California with a major in environmental studies and a minor in art, Vanderhoop has been making and selling her Island Naturals line of jewelry and gift items since 2006. As she writes on her Etsy site, “Her modus operandi is to educate people to respect nature through art and so, she produces her work as a form of environmental expression.”

Vanderhoop has also written and/or illustrated four books. She was instrumental in getting the Aquinnah Cultural Center up and running, and she remains active with that organization. She has taught in schools, museums, and other institutions for many years. “I have dedicated my life to revitalizing my heritage,” she says. “I have run children’s programs for my tribe, and got our museum, the Aquinnah Cultural Center, up and going.” Recently she got a three-year grant to teach entrepreneurial art classes.

Brown University’s anthropology museum has invited Vanderhoop to give a virtual talk about her work in March. The museum will be hosting a treasure box workshop with the artist on Jan. 31. Last year Vanderhoop received recognition off-Island as a featured artist in Boston for both Creative Commons and for cultural survival bazaars.

Despite all her many accomplishments and projects, Vanderhoop is still open to finding new ways to educate and inspire people. “I’ve always been looking for something noble to do with my life,” she says. She hopes that the treasure box series will continue to travel around as an educational exhibit. The next stop may be as part of a gallery exhibit associated with the new Wampanoag Gallery and Trading Post at Mashpee Commons on the Cape.

“Jannette Vanderhoop: Treasure Boxes” will be on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Adele H. Waggaman Community Gallery through March 4. A Treasure Box workshop with Jannette Vanerhoop will take place on Jan. 31 through Zoom. Check the museum’s website for more details at mvmuseum.org/exhibitions/current. You can find the artist’s work at islandnaturalsmv.com, on her Etsy site Island Naturals, and also on Facebook and Instagram.