Stepping into Bowen’s Arrow, it’s nearly impossible not to get something — or a number of things — for yourself. Located at the top of the Gay Head Cliffs, the gift shop, owned by Wampanoag tribal elder Kristina Hook and her daughter Jennifer Staples, is a treasure trove of choice.
A stone’s throw away from the Aquinnah Cultural Center, lighthouse, and Philbin Beach parking lot, Bowen’s Arrow is nestled among the other Wampanoag-owned businesses. Staples explained what’s behind the store’s name.
“Bowen is my mother’s youngest brother’s middle name, and my oldest son’s middle name, and goes back even farther in the family,” she said. “I also tried to make a play on bow and arrow, but still have it be connected to our family.”
This connection to her heritage — not just the Wampanoag tribe, but grandparents hailing from America, Germany, Russia, Wales, and Scotland — shines through in our conversation. “I like to use the catchphrase, ‘Our shop is rooted in family history,’” Staples said. Walking through, you can feel this special distinction.
Staples’ creativity abounds in the items she selects and those she makes herself. She carries clothing for adults and kids, emboldened by her block prints of native images, including one of a young woman standing proudly in traditional Wampanoag dress, hand on hip, looking out into the distance. The image was inspired by a photo of her grandmother on a vintage postcard that was sold in Aquinnah in the 1950s.
Another one of Staples’ designs is the Aquinnah Lighthouse, surrounded by an antique nautical map of the area. The image was inspired by a photo Staples took. Particularly unique are the pristine upcycled clothes onto which Staples imprints an array of designs. You’ll also find her beautiful four-colored pottery from the Gay Head Cliffs. She lets her work dry naturally in the sun, and burnishes the pieces to an alluring sheen. Staples said she finds it remarkable that the vessels are always cool to touch. “It’s incredible,” she said. And the pottery is rare, as only tribal members are permitted to take the clay from Gay Head Cliffs. Staples is the first Wampanoag potter in more than 25 years to fashion such work.
Nestled beneath an array of super-soft baby clothes is a basket of Bill Helin’s immensely endearing Culture Crew Finger Puppets, representing spirit bears, eagles, frogs, and native princes and princesses with an accompanying plush canoe and traditional longhouse.
Staples, who also carries a wonderful array of illustrated children’s books, says, “They offer a great opportunity to open up conversations with kids about native culture.”
Bowen’s Arrow also sells breathtaking traditional wampum jewelry by Donald Widdiss, and gemstone and found wampum pieces by Wampanoag artist Jannette Vanderhoop. Delicate, beaded earrings fashioned by Vanderhoop’s daughter, Oceana, are also for sale.
Staples clearly has art in her blood. Black-and-white photographs taken by her maternal grandfather after he returned from World War II are also available at the shop. Staples sells them not just as prints, but also on mugs and coasters.
“He didn’t share them when he was alive; we found them after he passed,” Staples said of the photographs. “They give you a sense of life in Gay Head in 1945. I created the collection to share how special they are.” Luscious watercolors created by Staples’s step-grandfather are also available at the shop.
Staples, who lives in Los Angeles during the winter, opened her first venture on the Vineyard as a pop-up shop six years ago, when she came to spend the summer with her mom after her stepfather passed away. After receiving positive feedback, she secured her shop in 2018.
“This is always what I wanted to do,” Staples said. “My mom, son, and I really try to educate people about the tribe. All the shops up here are the front face to the public for the tribe. It’s important to tell our story and make people know the truth. It’s a mission every day. People are really interested. It’s a place to ask questions and get answers.”
On her website, Staples, who also carries wonderful items from nonnative artisans, calls Bowen’s Arrow “your destination for gifts and collectibles that have deep meaning and a visual history.”
Bowen’s Arrow is located at 29 Aquinnah Circle. Open 10 am – 6 pm Monday through Saturday, and 10 am – 4 pm on Sunday. For more information, visit bowensarrow.com.