One is a wampum jewelry designer. The other is a fiber artist. They share many things — friends, a love of Martha’s Vineyard, a penchant for creating — and this week, they will add one more to the list.
This evening, artists Joan LeLacheur and Heather Hall will host an opening for an art show which combines their two crafts. “I work alone all the time in my studio,” said Ms. Hall, the fiber artist. “I like the inspiration that someone else brings. It’s kind of exciting and keeps the work fresh. Especially when you find someone that you really admire and love their work.”
It was that admiration that brought the two together in the first place, though neither can remember the exact details. “We probably met through mutual friends,” Ms. Hall guessed. “Well, we’ve just been friends for forever,” mused Ms. LeLacheur. Pressed further, the wampum jewelry maker admitted they met over hats.
Some 20-something years ago, Ms. Hall was making felt hats which she sold at the Main street, Vineyard Haven, store Bramhall and Dunn. Ms. LeLacheur wandered in and the hats caught her eye. “I just had a lust for her work,” she said. “I have about 12 of her hats now. I got one and then I would have to get a new hat every winter. I just became obsessed with them. She was the same with my jewelry.”
“I easily have 20 pieces of her jewelry,” said Ms. Hall. “My daughter has it, my friends do, I give it as gifts.”
Ms. LeLacheur began making wampum jewelry on Martha’s Vineyard when no one else was. She moved to the Island in 1971 to start a juice bar at the end of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs. The juice bar folded, but Ms. LeLacheur had made fast friends on the Vineyard and enjoyed the long hours she spent walking Island beaches. “I was exploring the beaches and I kept seeing these purple shells that I recognized from the Peabody Museum [of Archeology and Ethnology],” she said last Sunday from her Aquinnah home.
Ms. LeLacheur had on an apron, and a felt garment designed and sewn by Ms. Hall. She had quietly escaped to her downstairs studio, scattered with beads-in-the-making and wampum tiles, while a dozen or so late-afternoon guests lounged upstairs. It was only a matter of time before her friends would notice she had gone missing. But for the moment, she preened over the finished bracelets and earrings, necklaces and pins which will be on display in the upcoming show. With a blush, she showed off her studio. “All these little parts,” she said of the beads and shells strewn about, “just screaming to be made.”
When Ms. LeLacheur first began designing wampum jewelry, it took an entire day for her to make one bead. In business with Kate Taylor and the late Charles Witham, her pieces then were basic. Over the years, the popularity of wampum jewelry has exploded on Island and the ranks of wampum jewelry makers have swelled. But today the jewelry of Ms. LeLacheur stands out. In business alone now, she blends materials to create necklaces of wampum, conch shell and abalone. She fuses wampum with resin for mosaic tiles and designs pins of wampum and moon snail spirals. She plays with silk cord and toggle clasps.
The craft has taken her many years to perfect and still takes hours to execute, but it is a labor she does with love. “When you find your calling, it’s your calling. It’s what you do,” she said. “I love the material, I love the sense of home. It really is about place and home, the spirit of the work.”
Ms. Hall’s work has similarly evolved. When she first moved to the Vineyard, she traded a garden plot for a piece of land to pitch a tent on, and it was her landlord who introduced her to felt. She began to make hats, which she billed as Heather’s Hats, and then rugs. “It’s so elemental, so basic,” she said. “It’s the oldest fabric known to humans. It predates weaving as a craft.”
Ms. Hall has since left the Vineyard, and when she left, she began felting less. Then, two years ago, she went to a show and saw on display a type of felting she had never seen before. She signed up to take a workshop in the art form, called Nuno felt, and began felting anew. “I was just completely taken with it,” she said. The process involves fusing thin, loosely woven silk with wool. “It’s kind of like painting yarn into fabric,” Ms. Hall said. The artist now uses the method to make pieces which can be worn as clothing, draped as curtains or hung from the wall like tapestries.
Two years ago, Ms. Hall asked Ms. LeLacheur to design a wampum button for one of her pieces. The request inspired the collaborative effort for their art show at the bank, called Jewelry for the Home.
“I love the two combinations,” Ms. Hall said. “We’re taking these things that are so basically elemental — what’s more basic than shells? And wool? People use wool for all sorts of things — and we’re sort of raising them to this new level.”
Fifteen of Ms. Hall’s pieces will be on display at the show, which opens tonight at five. Ms. LeLacheur said she will show 10 frames of tiles, many, many earrings small and large, a few pendants, and six to seven bracelets. Prices for Ms. Hall’s works range from $175 to $650 and prices for Ms. LeLacheur’s run from special Mother’s Day deals of $25, to $400. The work will hang at the bank for three weeks.
“We do make a beautiful environment together,” Ms. LeLacheur said before sneaking back upstairs to her guests, who were none the wiser. “We’re sharing the beauty, sharing the material, sharing the work.”
An opening reception for Jewelry for the Home by Joan LeLacheur and Heather Hall is free tonight, May 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Bank of Martha’s Vineyard at Beetlebung Corner in Chilmark.