Janette Vanderhoop says she cannot function without caffeine. Her addiction is recent, but, she admits, chai tea in hand, she is worried. Halfway between Aquinnah and the Gazette office in Edgartown, she realized she had not had her morning cup and found herself veering to the other side of the road. She makes a beeline for the coffee shop.
It may be the caffeine, or simply 100 mile-per-hour curiosity, but Ms. Vanderhoop packs her days so full she has to remind herself to eat. She has squeezed into her 25 years enough to exhaust many other people; just thinking about it could foster a caffeine addiction.
In the world of Ms. Vanderhoop, winters are not adequately prepared for without a full stock of puzzles (she admits with a blush that she is the volunteer puzzle do-er for the thrift shop and can complete a 1,000 piece puzzle in an hour). A summer day is not complete without getting her toes in the ocean. Making art keeps her awake into the early morning hours and from there, her days fill quickly — coffee, yoga, writing really good bad poetry, coffee, gardening, teaching, pouring herself into her part-time job at the Aquinnah Cultural Center at the Vanderhoop homestead at the Cliffs, and maybe a tea, because by late afternoon, another cup of coffee is redundant. She bounces from town to town, from experience to experience, with grace, a bright smile and a buzz.
Ms. Vanderhoop was born and raised on the Vineyard. A member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, her family moved into tribal housing in Aquinnah when she was 14. After two years at the regional high school, Ms. Vanderhoop entered a Massachusetts boarding school. “At 16, I knew exactly who I was,” she said, reflecting on the transition. “I got there and I realized I had so much more to learn. I had only begun to discover myself.” After graduation, Ms. Vanderhoop headed to California where she studied environmental science and art at Pitzer College. “Truly my soul is an environmentalist visual learner,” she said.
In 2004, Ms. Vanderhoop was shocked to find herself with a college degree in hand. She never expected to complete high school and college successfully in eight years. “It’s a challenge to say, I’m going to be more than what people expect of me,” she said. She moved back to the Island and continued to defy expectations.
“When I graduated, I was ready to just live for awhile,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. But just living is not something she does lightly. By the time she returned to the Island, Ms. Vanderhoop had written and illustrated a book, Cranberry Day. She also had taught herself the Wampanoag ancestral skill of crafting wampum jewelry and was regularly making pieces to give to friends. So she took a glance at the ever-growing list she keeps of life goals: read her really good bad poetry at an open mike night, visit the Louvre, become a professional artist.
“It takes a lot of guts to be a professional artist, period,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “Some people have talent, some have skills, but if you don’t have guts, you’ll be a lawyer or a doctor, which is fine. But, you won’t be an artist.” Her first year back, Ms. Vanderhoop holed up in a makeshift studio and drilled so much wampum her fingers began to go numb. The following year, she applied for her own booth at the Artisan’s Festivals at the Grange Hall and was accepted. “I wanted to be a professional artist,” she said. “This was the way to give it a shot and see if I could make a living.”
Always practical — one of her mantras is ‘balance and practicality’ — and wary of boredom, Ms. Vanderhoop did not rely on jewelry alone. She took a job as a gardener and another as a part-time teacher in the Martha’s Vineyard National Environmental Education Development Program, run through the Vineyard Energy Project. She volunteered at the thrift shop completing puzzles. And then, after a lifetime involvement with tribal education programs, she became the program coordinator of the newly opened Aquinnah Cultural Center.
“I applied for scholarships from the tribe to pay for college,” she said. “I have gotten so much from them. It was just time to give back.”
Ms. Vanderhoop hates the thought of living in the moment. “People always say, ‘Just live in the moment.’ But it’s hard,” she said. “As a member of the tribe, I’m a part of the past and I want to be part of the future. The moment is loaded.”
Her position at the cultural center allows her to learn from the past, be a part of the present and influence the future. She spent her summer drafting grants, creating historical exhibits for the four-room living museum and coordinating daily program offerings, which vary from beading workshops to pinch pottery demonstrations. And she did it all in an office where the only luxury was a telephone. “My friends would say, ‘Have you checked your e-mail yet?’” she laughed. “I was like, I don’t even have a stapler!”
Over the summer, Ms. Vanderhoop left her imprint on the future of the young center and on the minds of the tourists and tribal people alike who passed through. “We have done a lot of groundbreaking work,” she said. “I would love to keep the momentum going.”
The position at the center was technically 20 hours per week. Ms. Vanderhoop said she sometimes logged 20 hours a day. “I put myself into it heart and soul, and we had a really successful season,” she said. Ms. Vanderhoop kept selling her wampum and hemp jewelry at the Artisan’s Festival two days a week, along with her books (she is up to three).
Now she is shifting gears. The center has closed for the season and the Artisan’s Festival is wrapping up. This week, she began gardening again. Come Christmas time, she will jet to Europe to scratch a few more items off her life goals list — the Louvre in Paris, the Salvador Dali Museum in Barcelona, the Catacombs back in Paris. “I watch the Travel Channel all the time and just realize [I have] all of these life goals. I realized that I’ll have to start doing more than just one a year if I want to get to them all,” she said.
February will find her back on the Island preparing her application for a third year at the Artisan’s Festival and putting her taxes in order. By the time the first crocuses poke through the ground, she will return to the classroom and, she hopes, to the cultural center. “I do so many things, it gets tedious,” she said. “But I would get bored otherwise.”
A growing list of goals, a deep appreciation of the world around her and a nearly constant caffeine rush keep Ms. Vanderhoop on the go. Travel she will, but her roots are deep in the Vineyard soil. She tosses her tea cup in the trash, fingers the buds of a chrysanthemum plant and says she will always, always return. “I keep asking myself why I’m here. My family’s here, my tribe is here, my business is here,” she said. “I can only live my life the way that I do because I live here.”