This is a guest blog post for Visit Martha's Vineyard submitted on behalf of Jane Drebeen
One of the great pleasures of Martha’s Vineyard is the way the arts are naturally integrated into every day life. For many generations, the island has been peopled with gifted souls who have enriched the community with their music, art and work with local materials. There is a great variety of artistic and interesting people - painters, writers, musicians, dancers, actors, poets, directors. There are many here who work in other media - in clay, wampum, stone, metal and textiles. The creative urge is in action all around us, in traditional and innovative ways. And we can see that urge to be creative expressed even more broadly - in landscapers, carpenters, hairstylists, letter press printers, and leaders.
Inspired by the richness and diversity of the Vineyard’s creative community, I wrote the book The Urge To Create: Vineyard Portraits. It is a collection of photographic and written profiles of 50 varied, creative island people, whose work you will see everywhere on the island. I interviewed each artist, and wrote a profile in their own words. This written profile is paired with a photographic portrait taken by Vineyard photographer. The book weaves together many threads of the Vineyard community - and can be found at www.janedreeben.com. It is also available at Featherstone Center for the Arts, and a portion of the sale of each book is being donated to Featherstone.
Some island artists are well known through the local press. John Hoy may be best known as leader of local favorite band Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, but he is truly a Renaissance Man, a renowned stone mason, a fisherman, and who knew - a whittler. Watch the papers and area posters, or check Johnny Joy and the Bluefish on Facebook to catch the band.
In John’s own words: "I’m pretty much self-taught at everything. I guess it must have been old guys that I saw here and there that I thought looked cool. I was always the kid that was looking at the musicians on stage. I always had a fascination with the old guys who could do everything. I had a few really good mentors that knew some stuff, some old-world stuff, some secret stuff. They could catch more fish than anybody, or make a better net, or fix a machine with baling wire and castaway junk. Half the thing about creativity is having the juice to run that idea to the ground. Get it on the paper, make the song, bring it to the people."
Speaking of song, make sure you catch Jim Thomas, Founder and Conductor of the Martha’s Vineyard Spirituals Choir, and Founder and Director of the U.S. Slave Songs Project. The choir sings songs sung by slaves in the United States, and performs throughout the summer. For more information, visit usslavesongproject.com.
Jim describes the beginning of the Spirituals Choir: “I collected singers here, and we started to talk about the history of slave songs and how they were started. To my knowledge nobody in the country has done that. Everybody likes singing them, and everybody that I know knows at least three or four from youth. But no one can tell you how they were started. I was intrigued by that. That to me was phenomenal. A group of young people with a tradition of singing was brought here from Africa, where all information is sung.”
While Johnny Hoy and Jim Thomas are celebrating the musical soundscape, Liz Taft is a plein air painter who captures the magic of the Vineyard landscape. In additional to painting herself, she is teacher to the next generation of island plein air painters. See her work at liztaft.com, arrange to visit her in her studio, or commission a painting, your own personal image of Vineyard heaven.
Liz describes her connection to painting landscape: “It began with this intimate connection with nature…I just wanted to capture that thing that I had seen outside. I wanted to share that connection that I feel. I want to be truthful to the thing, to the scene, to the spot.”
If you are in search of something to “hit the spot,” Juli Vanderhoop's baked goods are renowned island wide. She runs the Orange Peel Bakery and Orange Peel Bakery Cafe, both in Aquinnah. Her Wednesday night pizza nights have been an island tradition. Visit orangepeelbakery.net for information.
Juli talks about her upbringing: “ I was raised in Aquinnah, the land of my people, which are historically known as the Wampanoag people. This is home to me, and it’s been the land where I’ve come from forever, since the beginning of written history. I was taught baking by my stepfather, Luther Madison, as well as my mother, Ann Vanderhoop. It was something we did every day. It was something that our lives were structured around, and that was always a great thing. We had to hunt here, so having food on our table, which wasn’t always easy, was a blessing. Really learning what food meant was important.”
If you are looking for something original and inspiring, visit sculptor and glass artist Barney Zeitz in his Vineyard Haven studio. Barney is a versatile artist who works in metal and stained glass - see his work at bzeitz.com.
Barney reflects on his life on the Vineyard: “I feel good about being on the Vineyard. I did the Baptist Church, three Episcopal churches, two Methodist churches, and then I did my art in the Hebrew Center. I can walk around here and feel I have helped to restore some old things, paying tribute to the past, and doing my own thing.”
Johnny Hoy, Jim Thomas, Liz Taft, Juli Vanderhoop and Barney Zeitz are your introduction. The Urge to Create: Vineyard Portraits offers you a window into the beauty, vitality and diversity of Vineyard life.
It's my job to love this place, and it's no work at all.