If you’ve ever admired a colorful branch of seaweed floating in the ocean, only to find an amorphous tangle of slime once you removed it from its natural habitat, you may realize how hard it would be to maintain the ocean vegetation’s delicate beauty once plucked from the sea.
Luckily Corinna Kaufman of Aquinnah has found a way to preserve the look of these intricately beautiful plants for display on land. Kaufman has spent years developing methods for drying and displaying clusters of seaweed to create one-of-a-kind works of abstract art, featuring plants from the sea in all of their myriad colors and formations.
For the past 10 years, Kaufman has been selling her seaweed art at her home gallery during the summer months. Now, for the first time, she has opened her doors for a holiday exhibit and sale. From Dec. 10 to 16 and Dec. 20 to 24, from 11 am to 5 pm, visitors can stop by Kaufman’s historic home to purchase prints and original works in a range of price points — from $5.95 for a card to $2,000 for a 23- by 30-inch framed original piece.
Each piece, mounted on handmade paper, features either a single sample or a small cluster of various plant types, with all of the intricate branches skillfully laid out to mimic the appearance of the seaweed floating in the ocean. The abstract images often bring to mind free-floating flower arrangements or botanical illustrations.
All of Kaufman’s samples were collected from Island waters. Most came from the beach directly in front of her home. There is a lot of variety in both hue and form. Colors range from a vivid rose to olive green, to a pinkish brown. Formations range from wide, rippled leaf specimens to delicate branches whose tendrils open out like arteries that twist and curl across the surface. It seems almost impossible that someone could have so carefully arranged every tiny tendril of these intricate plants.
For Kaufman’s more recent “Winter Series,” she has limited her seaweed branch palette to black to mimic the silhouette of trees with their bare branches spread out, reaching toward the sky.
Also available are prints of images made by arranging clusters of seaweed into various shapes and then photographing them while still wet. This process allows for more variety and vividness in color. Designs include a heart, the Island outline, and a holiday-appropriate wreath.
Kaufman is a former Vineyard summer kid whose family rented Charlie Vanderhoop’s chicken coop before purchasing the home that previously housed the Gay Head Inn, where Kaufman and her husband Ken still live half the year. As an aspiring artist, she first started selling her seaweed creations at the Aquinnah Cliffs at age 13. Among her fans was famed photographer Alfred Eisenstadt.
Kaufman’s love of the sea is what inspired her to start collecting and arranging ocean plants. She now shares her passion with children by offering classes in seaweed art during the summer. “We spend time on the beach together exploring and collecting,” explains the artist. “I have them look at the beautiful seaweed floating on the water. Then we go up to the house and make a seaweed card.”
As well as providing a craft class, Kaufman aims to encourage appreciation for ocean ecology. “The ocean really is changing,” she says. “There is more of an urgency to have the children realize what a fabulous, beautiful resource it is. They really need to protect it.” On each beach the kids are requested to pick up and dispose of one piece of trash each.
“The ocean has always been my home, my family, my church, my best friend, my first love,” says Kaufman. “When I create art from pieces that have come from the ocean, all of that is transmitted in the work. People tell me that they find my art to be healing. That they can see my work in hospitals as a healing modality.”
Currently, examples of Kaufman’s seaweed art are hanging in the Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and the M.V. Museum, as well as in private homes and businesses across the country. Her cards are available at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury and at Stefanie Wolf Designs in Oak Bluffs.
Seaweed Fine Art, located at 2 Mariner’s View Lane, Aquinnah (off Lighthouse Road), open Dec. 10 to 16 and Dec. 20 to 24 from 11 am to 5 pm. There will be a Christmas Seaweed artist reception on Sunday, Dec. 11, with a free holiday card for every visitor.