‘Vineyard Folk’ celebrates the human landscape of the Island


There should be a warning on the cover of Tamara Weiss, Amanda Benchley, and Elizabeth Cecil’s new book, “Vineyard Folk: Creative People and Places of Martha’s Vineyard,” that reads, “Not just a gorgeous coffee table book.” It is testimony and a treatise for why we should all be working not just to preserve the land, but also to preserve the human landscape of Martha’s Vineyard.

The book started because writer Amanda Benchley was, in her words, “dazzled by the artistic community on Martha’s Vineyard. I started coming to the Island in 2018. Tamara introduced me to this incredible world of artists, writers, musicians, thinkers here. I was bowled over by the community. As a journalist, I wanted to document today’s artists and the incredible artistic legacy here. I wanted to explore why this land, why these cliffs, why this ocean has been so important, and is so important, to so many artists.”

Weiss explains more: “We started talking about doing a book on Island artists, and it just morphed into this other, incredible story, with Elizabeth Cecil’s amazing images about the role that art plays in our lives here. My parents will be celebrating their 69th year coming to the Island this summer. I have been coming since I was in the womb. This place is all about community, and our relationship with the land. The sunsets, ocean, the full moon tonight — they all play a role in the process of the writers, artists, musicians who live and come here. I moved here 28 years ago to be a part of this. I wanted to celebrate the tradition and community of artists here. There are so many! The hardest part about doing this project was not including everyone, but that book would be 1,000 pages.”

“I have been a part of this community for some time, and it was amazing to discover and meet artists I didn’t know,” photographer Elizabeth Cecil says.

“But many of these artists might not be able to stay here. Sure, some of the people we have in the book are established, and can afford to stay, but not everyone can. The average home price on Martha’s Vineyard is $2.1 million,” Weiss points out, referring to the January 2023 published numbers. “Most of the younger artists are doing the Vineyard shuffle. How can we ensure that they can stay here? The Island community will be jeopardized if we do not make space for them.”

“The threat that some people might not be able to be here anymore — that to me was the takeaway from the experience. This creative place is at risk of not existing anymore.” Cecil adds.

Woodworker and founder of the Chappaquiddick Wood Co. Zachary Pinerio, who is one of the artists profiled, says, “When I first moved here, I rented from Dick Knight, a builder on Chappy. He and his wife, Daryl, let me rent their place for an unbelievably fair price. Especially by today’s standard. They also let me put a shipping container on the property, which was my first woodshop here. Without them, I would not be here. I was extended a great kindness. In 2018, I was able to purchase Whale Jaw Farm. Again, I had help. The farm was a bigger piece of property, but the Land Bank worked with me, and I was able to buy 1½ acres of the farm, preserving the house. The Land Bank got approximately 16 acres. It is likely that my generation will be the last people to be here without major help.”

Painter Colin Ruel and his wife, jeweler Nettie Kent, who are also in the book, are still renting with their two children. “Growing up here, we wanted to come back here to raise our kids. But we have been met with this insurmountable housing crisis. We have been in our first year-round rental for three years. Before this, we lived in a yurt at my mom’s, and in an uninsulated house in Menemsha.”

Ruel mentions a trap-fishing video from 1930, which is at the M.V. Museum. It shows his great-, great-grandfather, William Tilton, Zeb Tilton’s brother, coming back on his fishing boat, passing Dogfish Bar: “This land matters to me as a person. I feel very connected here. I have gone the long route around, returning to painting what I know. But it is the most honest thing,” Ruel shares.

Kent agrees, “It wasn’t until I was working in New York that I realized how much this place influenced me. Unintentionally, the shapes in my jewelry were informed by the things I find and see here. A walk on the beach can trigger inspiration. Sometimes, months later, I will find shark’s teeth or a rock in my pocket.”

Pinerio uses only wood from Island trees to make his bowls. “I kiln-dry all my wood. When sugar maple goes in, it smells like a candy shop,” he says.

In one section of “Vineyard Folk,” the authors asked the artists to take them where they go to “tune in … or out.”

Shooting that section of the book was my favorite part of the process,” Cecil says. “Most of the time I was alone with the artist. They were sharing their favorite space or place on the Island. It led to really special conversations and photographs.”

As does anyone who has a relationship with the Island or lives here, we all know about these special conversations, the inspiration and connection that fly in on a walk on a Vineyard beach with a friend.

Artist, breadmaker, community leader, mother, and another featured artist in the book, Juli Vanderhoop, explains why she started her bakery, and maybe why we all feel this inspiration: “For me it was to have something wonderful for the community. I mean, of course, I wanted to adjust for the food shortage up-Island, offering something fresh and warm after people have been blown around on the beaches at whatever time of year. But I also wanted to create a place for celebration in and around a natural setting. That is what brings us to the Island in the first place. People have forgotten this. We need to bring ourselves outside more. In a natural setting. Not a groomed setting. Really natural setting, which allows us to listen, our bodies to listen. If you listen here, it brings you to someplace that I cannot describe. It is some kind of funky magic. Take it or leave it, that is the way it is.”

When asked about this magic, Weiss says, “And just like magic, it could all disappear in a second. Our climate and housing crisis affects everyone, and the true beauty of Martha’s Vineyard lies not just in the land and surrounding sea, but the community who gleans inspiration from living here. There is so much at stake right here, right now. These artists give us the pleasure to see through their eyes. We are grateful. I hope their stories will inspire people to look a little deeper and see this Island with a new, creative lens.”

Tamara Weiss, Amanda Benchley, and Elizabeth Cecil will be signing copies of their book “Vineyard Folk” at Bunch of Grapes on June 12, from 7 to 8 pm, and at Edgartown Books on July 7, from 2 to 4 pm.



  1. Island friends in NYC: The Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue at E93rd is hosting a book signing today, Tuesday, June 6th from 6:30-7:30.

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