With dozens of individual artists and artisans offering their wares, the Vineyard Artisans Festival is the destination for those seeking unique, Island-made gifts for the holidays. The Artisans Festival will wrap up its year with two final events (one on Thanksgiving weekend at the Agricultural Hall, and one on Dec. 18 at the Grange Hall). Both will feature vendors selling art, ceramics, jewelry, bags, woodwork, handmade clothing, linens, paper goods, and much more.
Cynthia Pareja sells handbound blank books under the name Hypatia Book Arts, using the catchphrase “Like setting the finest table for your muse.” She likes the term rustic when referring to her one-of-a-kind creations, since she uses all-natural materials that have not been overprocessed or mass-produced. Pareja uses leather that comes from animals used for meat — not just slaughtered for their hides — and only tree-free paper. The papers come variously from Italy, Nepal, and Japan, and are made from papyrus, hemp, mulberry, banana leaf, upcycled cotton rags, and even recycled coffee.
The books come bound either in heavier paper or in soft leather. Pareja favors a special kind of stitching for the binding process. She sews her books together using a Coptic stitch, which involves two needles for a sort of weaving action, and dates back to the earliest days of paper and bookmaking in Ethiopia.
If anyone knows paper and bookbinding, it’s Pareja, and she loves talking to customers and helping them find the perfect item for journaling, for a guest book or wedding book, or for whatever purpose the customer has in mind: “I use these rustic materials because to me they really inspire people to just show up. The materials I use are not only beautiful but they inspire you to bring your story, make your mark. They’re vehicles to do your own thing. Everybody has a voice.”
(Hypatia, by the way, was a female philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, who lived in Egypt during the fourth century — so much for the theory that women are not genetically adapted for math and science.)
Lawrence Wheeler was inspired by Nantucket’s lightship baskets when he launched his line of handmade artisan baskets. The tradition began in the 19th century when crewmen of lightship vessels would make handwoven baskets as a way to pass the time at sea. Like the seamen of old, Wheeler weaves cane around rattan staves with wooden bases. He also includes monofilament nylon (fishing line) in some vase and urn shapes, to provide an interaction with light.
Although the craft may date back 100 years, Wheeler has taken off from there to design his own creations, as well as working in more traditional styles. Some of his work is inspired by pottery shapes and Japanese and Native American baskets. All of Wheeler’s baskets, handbags, urns, and vases are unique works of art that blend traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design.
Wheeler’s designs, under the name MV Basketworks, have won multiple awards and been featured at prestigious juried crafts fairs at museums and other venues around the U.S.
For a really unique gift, check out the offerings by Michelle Fokos. The artist makes one-of-a-kind wind chimes, small shadow boxes, and mixed-media assemblages. Her wind chime elements include all types of beads, bells, hand-carved feathers, antique keys, and more hanging from a driftwood or found wood base. Shadow box designs feature interesting print backdrops with little charms hanging freely from the top. Fokos is always adding new designs to her line of charming little gifts for someone special.
If you want to treat someone on your holiday shopping list to something truly Vineyard, stop by the booth of Carol and Richard Tripp. The couple raise Border Leicester sheep in Vineyard Haven and Lakeville. They spin, dye, and weave wool from their own flock into clothing and blankets and also weave rugs, shawls, ponchos, and scarves in other natural fibers like cotton, silk, linen, and bamboo.
The colors are exquisite, often mimicking the hues of the Vineyard — blues and greens, clamshell purples — blended into subtle patterns, with a nice nubby texture for added interest. The lightweight shawls, scarves, and ponchos are perfect for any season, and the pieces are priced very affordably considering that they are all handmade from start to finish.
Cecilia Minnehan has been designing and selling fine jewelry under the name Cecilia Designs for almost 30 years. Her line includes sterling silver designs as well as stones, clamshell creations, and other items set in sterling silver. More recently, Minnehan has started incorporating Martha’s Vineyard beach stones into her work. Unlike other jewelers who use rocks, Minnehan has them carved into calibrated shapes, and sets them into sterling bezels.
The beach stone items feature a surprisingly diverse array of colors and patterns. As she writes on her Etsy page, “Martha’s Vineyard has such a diverse selection of stones as the Island was formed from a glacial deposit 2.5 million years ago. When the glacier began to melt, the giant boulders of rock debris and glacial till left behind settled to form Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod.” Minnehan collects the beach stones and sends them off to a professional stonecutter to be cut to her specified sizes and shapes. Some are polished, while some are in their original rough state. A gift from Cecilia Designs is truly something (very) old and something new.
Cynthia McGrath of Original Cyn jewelry also recently launched a new line, and her latest choice of material comes from a couple of very unusual sources. She has started using Surfite and Fordite to make rings, earrings, and pendants. Surfite is the resin waste left over during the surfboard glassing process, while Fordite (also called Detroit Agate or Motor Agate) is the remains of old car paint from automobile plants. Both materials are waste products that normally get dumped into landfills. However, McGrath has found a way to upcycle the materials to make beautifully intricate “gems” featuring swirls of different colors and a glossy finish. The designer also repurposes old circuit boards and watch parts to make fun statement pieces.
Whatever you’re looking for this holiday season, you will find it at the Artisans Festival.