‘Voices of Land and Sea’ with Linsey Lee

Vineyard Voices return to M.V. Museum in an evening of conversations.


If you love the Island and like a good story, you are in for a treat on Tuesday, May 14, at 5:30 pm, when Linsey Lee, oral history curator at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, shares selections from her treasure trove of interviews at her program, “Vineyard Voices of Land and Sea.”

Whether you are an old-timer or a relative newcomer, our relationship with nature is essential to why we call the Island home, and Lee’s oral histories reflect this strong connection.

Lee has culled the evening’s selection from among her some 1,500 oral histories. We see snippets taken from the longer interviews she does with each subject. Lee noted that no matter their background or interests, “something that virtually always comes through is their love of the Vineyard, the land, and the ocean around us.”

She will briefly share a bit about each person and the emotion of the piece. “But,” Lee says, “not much, because people will experience it themselves.”

Some of the video segments address conservation. In a 2010 excerpt, Brendan O’Neill discusses his perspective on the environmental challenges facing the Island as the then–executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society. Gus Ben David, former director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, talks in 2014 about the changes he has seen on the Island, appreciating nature, and finding one’s voice.

We hear about change, too, with Eric Cottle (1918–2010), who speaks about his fishing career, beginning as a teenager on schooners, when swordfish were harpooned individually by the “striker” from the ship’s pulpit. Yet, Cottle explains, he was glad he stopped when longlining became prevalent in the ’60s and ’70s, decimating the population.

Similarly, farmer and caretaker Ham Luce (1905–98) talks of how hunting with friends for ducks and rabbits was always a part of his life, until he found himself reassessing his thinking, wondering if it might not have been better to have photographed the animals instead.

Many of the interviews capture people’s strong spiritual connection with the Vineyard. Patsy Malonson (1931–2000) and Donald Malonson (1917–2003), both prominent members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal council, discuss their view of the common ground between her deeply held Baptist faith and his search for spiritual meaning in the natural world.

We also hear from Nat Benjamin, co-founder of Gannon and Benjamin and master wooden boatbuilder, about the almost sentient, alive feeling one gets from sailing a wooden boat on the water.

Helen Manning (1900–88), a Wampanoag tribal elder, educator, writer, and historian, shares the creation story from the Wampanoag oral tradition of Moshup, who created Martha’s Vineyard (Noepe) by dragging his toe through the land and water separating the Island from the mainland, and creating the Gay Head Cliffs.

Gladys Widdiss (1914–2012), Wampanoag tribal elder, historian, and teacher, talks about making decorative pots from the multicolored clay of the Gay Head Cliffs, and her reverence for the clay.

Caroline Hunter is a civil rights educator, antiapartheid activist, and chemist. In her interview, she speaks inspiringly about the comradery and healing that comes to those who go in the water with the Polar Bears, a group meeting at 7:30 am at the Oak Bluffs’ Inkwell Beach from the Fourth of July until Labor Day.

There are also many amusing moments, such as the segment with Craig Kingsbury (1912–2002) about whether he was the one who brought the skunks to the Island. The black-and-white creatures come up again with Alberta Costa (1913–2001), the head housekeeper at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for 34 years, who shares about some of her visiting animal friends.

Other interviews include renowned surfcaster Paul Schultz, discussing some of his thoughts on fishing. Elmer Silva describes the endless but satisfying demands of working on Tea Lane Farm. Fred Fisher (1924–98), owner of Nip ’n’ Tuck Farm, talks about folklore and facts surrounding the start of spring preparations.

Lee began conducting oral history interviews here in the late 1970s. She recalls, “After hearing countless people tell me sometimes crazy, sometimes quixotic, totally contradictory stories that brought the Vineyard alive to me, I put together a project to start collecting them. These stories helped me understand the Island more.

“I hope, with all my oral histories, that what they do is remind us about what’s so special about the Vineyard. I think these are powerful, because you can hear people’s emotions about nature in so many different forms … and the videos are just fun to watch.”

“Vineyard Voices of Land and Sea” with Linsey Lee, from 5:30 to 7 pm on Tuesday, May 14, at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. For tickets, visit bit.ly/mvvoices.