The village of North Tisbury has long stood as a sleepy, rustic outpost at this Island’s midpoint. Beneath its tranquil exterior this summer are stirrings of a quiet revival in the neighborhood, as commercial, culinary and artistic endeavors are bringing new life to this State Road streetscape.
A stroll through the neighborhood can be the perfect antidote to noise and traffic congestion in the downtown areas. The walk draws visitors into the unrushed tempo of northern New England towns you find in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Begin at the far end, where the street is bookended by the stolid Great Oak of Tisbury, a centuries-old tree whose branches droop down to the earth. The site of the iconic Humphrey’s bakery is now a private residence nearing the final stages of construction with elaborate landscaping and gardening replacing scrub brush and thickets across the road.
A stop in Bananas gallery reveals a women and children’s clothing and accessories boutique in a converted home. Manager Marla Blakey, a choreographer for film, stage and television who has worked with Bette Midler, Donna Summer and Cab Calloway, greets visitors with a warm smile and shows them through the distinctive selection of clothes, gifts, pottery, jewelry, hats, bags, soaps, candles and other items. Owners Judy Hartford and Ellen Wolfe have opened the walls up to fine artists, including painter Ann Tanksley and photographer Alan Klug.
Moving down the street, walk past the singed husk of Deon’s, a cafe that was partially destroyed in a fire. There is talk on the street of rezoning the site to hasten the return of a dining establishment; the application by Slice of Life owners Jackson and Mary Kenworth to make the place their own was the subject of a public hearing this week. The zoning board has yet to make its decision.
A visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks reveals a dual-purpose gallery and workshop where visitors can watch the glassworkers remove the molten glass from the furnaces and mold it into vivid creations. Co-owner and master gaffer Mark Weiner works with glassworkers Robert Phillips and Michiko Maekawa in deliberate, dance-like movements to shape the fiery liquid into cups, bowls, vases, plates and other pieces. On a brief pause from the action, Mr. Phillips says merging the workshop with the gallery allows visitors to understand the steps that go into creating the glassware on the gallery shelves.
“It works as a great educational experience for the people,” he says. “Glass blowing isn’t something you see very often.”
“Everything in the gallery is made here,” says Kristin Hoffman, an employee in the gallery. “People are able to watch a product come to life.”
The upper level, benefitting from a winter renovation, features new shelving, skylights and flooring. Dazzling high-end glass art and intricate goblets by Davide Fuin of Morano, Italy bring the room to life. This summer the room will host exhibitions by glassworkers Ed Branson (opening with a reception on Sunday, July 6, from 5 to 7 p.m.), Gary Genetti, Robert Phillips and Pablo Soto.
A stop across the street reveals a richness of horticultural treasures. Landscape designers John and Heather Hoff opened their own nursery on May 1, reviving a location that has lain dormant in recent years. Middletown Nursery is the exclusive distributor of White Flower Farm plants on Martha’s Vineyard and features a full line of American Beauties native plants. The garden shop features a full line of horticultural products, from wheelbarrows and pruners to fertilizers. The greenhouse contains annuals, vegetables and herbs. Donald Brown, a friend of the Hoffs who has helped launch the nursery, says “We balance practical native plants and showy ornamentals. It’s a place to come, wander through, and relax.”
Nearby, Mickey Stone of M.M. Stone Antiques runs an art program behind the gallery. Children come on a drop-in basis between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and learn to create in various media under the tutelage of Mr. Stone, an art teacher in New Haven at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, a prestigious magnet school. His family has run the antiques business in the neighborhood since 1971, and he took over the business in 1993. He’s seen the street go through business cycles and believes the current vitality is a natural consequence of its inherent assets.
“Given the great center location, it was inevitable the neighborhood would come back,” he says, citing improvements such as the pedestrian-friendly bicycle and walking path as steps along the way.
“It’s nothing but positive now,” he says.
Across the street, the farm stand at Fiddlehead Farm beckons for those wishing to get a cold drink, nibble on fresh fruit, or pick up ingredients for the night’s cooking. Owners Bob Skydell and Rosemary Willett revived the empty building last year, turning it into a lively, bustling shop.
“We wanted to rejuvenate the farm stand and bring a selection of local foods,” Mr. Skydell says. “We’re provisioners. We source food, looking for quality and freshness.”
The 600-foot building features produce grown from the field in back, including 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, squash, peas, cucumbers and herbs. The farm stand purchases from growers around the Island and imports unique products like organic, non-homogenized milk from the Amish country. Mr. Skydell and Ms. Willett bring an old-world style to the farm stand, forming relationships with customers and recommending produce and ingredients that meet their needs.
“We want to provide people with the most exciting, flavorful foods we can,” says Mr. Skydell.
The street ends with Takemmy Farm, where cows and horses mill about the paddocks and flowers are sold from an honor-system stand. Strolling down the street produces a calming effect; you can feel your pulse rate lower as time slows down to the agrarian rhythms that have been buried by the rush and bustle of the modern era.
As summer crowds swell, traffic snarls, and decibel levels rise in the downtown regions, North Tisbury is an oasis of tranquility to retreat to, a reminder of the rich New England heritage alive and well in heart of the Island.