Susie Middleton

Here we are at the top of the summer, staring down into the season of memory-making, wondering what it will be this year—which unforgettable Vineyard moment will be the one we wish we could bottle up and sip in February. Would that we could wrap our arms around a Menemsha sunset or an early morning swim in Ice House pond and never let it go.

That might not be possible, but we can still hold on to a little piece of the Vineyard. It’s not just a sweet idea, but an imperative. Collecting a part of this place, whether it’s sea glass or driftwood, paintings or old postcards, fishing lures or farm tools, is insurance against forgetting, forgetting how lucky we are to have this place. This place. A place that is still well defined by its topography, its people, its history.

On the Vineyard, every little thing has a story to tell, a tale that stretches back maybe 20 years, maybe 200,000. By reaching inside these stories, you get out of yourself for a while. Then, without realizing it, you become part of the story. It is your island, your memories. You, and everything you’ve collected, are part of the puzzle.

If this is the summer you start a Vineyard collection, take inspiration from three veterans who’ve followed (yes, rather obsessively) their love of art and history and this Island to discover a pastime that is both relaxing and fulfilling.

The sea glass cure

Paul Doherty arranges his sea glass in vases Albert O. Fischer

After two traumatic brain surgeries five years ago, Paul Doherty could not get rid of ongoing migraines and debilitating vertigo, despite all kinds of prescribed treatments. He headed to the Vineyard to recover and found himself walking the beach every day, hoping the sea air might help. Looking down, what first caught his eye were beach stones, polished sleek by the frothy remnants of receding waves. Then he began to notice pearly bits of blue and vibrant slivers of green among all that brown and tan. It was sea glass, and soon Doherty’s pockets were so weighed down that he realized he had to bring a bag—and a camera—with him on every walk.

One day he realized something else: His migraines and vertigo were gone.

“I was focusing so hard one morning,” Doherty said, “that I literally bumped into another beachcomber.”

The oldest and rarest finds are the most worn down Albert O. Fischer

The almost meditative state of focusing soothed Doherty’s brain then, and continues to be a way for him to shut out distractions. “It’s my yoga,” Doherty says of collecting sea glass. “At some point in every day, I have to be walking on the beach.”

Collecting sea glass isn’t just Doherty’s meditation; it inspires and fuels the artistic part of his brain that switched on when Doherty’s 27-year career as an actor in Manhattan was interrupted by a life-threatening condition called hydrocephalus.

On the right, marble coasters made with Doherty's sea glass photos Albert O. Fischer

“Coming to the Vineyard has allowed me to reinvent myself,” says the high-energy fine art photographer, singer, artist, and gallery-owner (Behnke-Doherty, on Main Street in Vineyard Haven). At home, Doherty curates his sea glass collection by separating it into sizes and filling glass vases, which he picks up in thrift and antique stores, or even Home Goods. “The little ones make perfect gifts for friends to take home from the Vineyard.” And he has turned his beach glass collection into a money-making venture by printing photos of it on marble coasters and note cards.

But friends only want to know one thing: What are Doherty’s tricks for finding sea glass? He laughs and admits that he probably gives away too much information:

  1.  Always search near a harbor, where boats (and people dumping off the side of boats) have been for years. Forget looking on the south shore.

  2.  Hunt frequently; the more you do it, the more you see. When hunting, walk in one direction, turn, and retrace your steps. The light will be  different and you’ll notice more.

  3.  Search at low tide, especially after a storm.

  4.  Look at the top of a debris field, where waves deposit their goods on the sand.

  5.  Throw back pieces that aren’t “cooked” yet—ones with edges that are still a bit sharp. And hold tight to pieces that look like candy, covered with “powdered sugar.” They’re the oldest.

Even if you don’t find a lot, keep this in mind: “On a foggy day, there’s nothing better than smelling the salt air, hearing the waves crashing, and discovering these nature’s jewels. That’s really what they are.”

All in the family

David Seward with a Stanley Murphy portrait Albert O. Fischer

For Vineyard native David Seward it wasn’t a medical condition, but a brother’s loss (and a family’s history) that ignited his serious passion for collecting—especially of Vineyard art and books, Americana, and family mementos.

When David’s twin brother Doug Seward lost his wife Barbara in 2000, David wanted to cheer him up. So he started spending more time with him again. The two brothers, 16th generation Islanders, had grown up in Menemsha and spent every waking minute together as kids—playing baseball, roaming the beach, bouncing from one relative’s house to the next and back to their parents’ business, the Menemsha store. But life and families happen, and brothers see less of each other as adults.

"Bill's Seagoing Grocery--Menemsha" by Lester M. Peterson Albert O. Fischer

After Barbara’s death, David and Doug started collecting as a diversion for Doug. Doug wanted a ’56 Thunderbird, and then he found a ’63 Lincoln Continental Convertible for David. They built a garage to hold both, added bays and shelves, and soon were filling the space with collections.

“Our mother saved everything,” David explains. “So at first our collections were childhood toys, baseball cards, and family treasures. We have a letter box that belonged to our great, great, great uncle William Henry Seward (U.S. Secretary of State during the Civil War). And we started our medallion collection with the one we got while attending J.F.K.’s inauguration as the guests of a summer Vineyard resident.”

They settled on a “red, white, and blue” theme and went from there.

David’s collections at home—paintings and rare books especially—also grew directly out of his unique experience as a small-town Island kid exposed to famous writers and artists who came to the Island every summer. “They were just like regular people,” David remembers. “They came into the store (barefoot), because it was a community meeting place. We got to know them, and I learned a lot about art and literature. At the time we didn’t think about how lucky we were. But it sort of rounded us out.”

Among David’s favorite paintings today are watercolors of Vineyard scenes given to his mother by painters who came into the store every summer. To those he’s added ones he’s procured himself all over the Island. His family also became friendly with artist Thomas Hart Benton, and one of David’s treasures is a signed first edition of Benton’s An Artist in America (1937). Benton was a founder of the Regionalist movement, known best for his murals and depictions of ordinary working people. “I liked him,” David says, “He spoke his mind, but he was very down to earth.”

Three whalebone pieces crafted by Seward's great, great grandfather Albert O. Fischer

David has other family treasures in his home, like the whalebone pieces—a letter opener, a fid, and a yarn shuttle—crafted by his great, great grandfather Franklin B. Hammett, Jr., who began his whaling career at the age of 15. Above David’s mantel hangs a portrait of his first mother-in-law, Betty McKee Hydeman, painted by renowned Island artist Stanley Murphy. But he gets just as excited about things he has found himself—a Jules Feiffer doodle from the sixties that was in the trash, a Reginald Marsh drawing he spotted at a flea market (“My brother missed that one,” he says with glee), a signed copy of Capt George Fred Tilton’s memoir.

In David’s home, every piece of art or history has a perfect spot to rest…but maybe not for long. He and Doug are still at it, and they like to change things up.

“It’s fun. It’s something we can do together. And you know, as you get older, it’s even more satisfying, because you can still do it!”

Lucy Cox has 1000 vintage Vineyard postcards Jeanna Shepard

The deltiologist, and her ephemera

For someone as outgoing and friendly as West Tisbury’s Lucy Patterson Cox, you’d never know she is a deltiologist. And that she has a fascination with ephemera. Sounds like a nerdy professor who spends hours in a dark laboratory studying specimens, right? Wrong. A deltiologist is just a name for someone who collects postcards. And ephemera is any type of written or paper collectible that was originally intended for a short-term use, like a ticket or a menu—or a postcard. (You can attend ephemera sales and auctions, both in person and online.)

Cox began collecting old Vineyard postcards more than 30 years ago.

Now she has 1,000 cards—no joke.

And they are carefully organized (and catalogued) in 3-ring binders. Cox claims she is just one of many postcard collectors on the Island, but it would be hard to find one as passionate.

Cox and her three siblings all grew up loving history; their father hauled them around to battlefield sites every vacation, but they didn’t mind. Their great grandfather was a collector of rare Manhattan maps, so there is something in Cox’s DNA that loves paper history. And summers in an old family home on the Vineyard (Cox and her husband Peter now live here year-round) rooted a fascination with the Island.

Cox began her collection by concentrating on Oak Bluffs, because those were the most available cards. (Well-known artist and photographer J.N. Chamberlain sold his high-quality postcards, some printed in Germany, from a studio he opened in Oak Bluffs during the turn of the century.) Some of Cox’s cards are dated as early as 1906, but at least one—a black and white photo of a water spout that occurred off Oak Bluffs in 1896—is older than that. Some cards are painted or colored, some are even leather. But while Cox loves the scenes on the front side of the cards, the handwriting on the back (or even sometimes on the front) is captivating.

Cox stores her postcards in three-ring binders arranged by town Jeanna Shepard

“Postcard writing was the social media of its day,” she explains. “Often they’re flirty. And sometimes sassy.” Sending a postcard was sometimes the quickest and cheapest way to express your feelings or to send word of your whereabouts. Hard to imagine that now.

Cox loves to imagine the card writers' lives. “I get lost in the story, and I start to think about where they were walking, what they were doing, what they were thinking. I loved fairy tales when I was a child.”

And she loves a hunt. “I call it urban archaeology. When I go to an estate sale, I’m always looking for paper.” And Cox says that while Ebay has made collecting Vineyard postcards a lot easier, you can still find them on the Island if you hunt around.

Happy hunting.


On Island Sources For Treasure Hunting 


Jeanna Shepard

Chilmark Flea Market, 142 North Road, Wednesdays and Saturdays, June -September

Creekville Art and Antiques, Basin Road, Menemsha  


MV Boys and Girls Club Second Hand Store, 10 N. Summer Street (508) 627 -5683

Past & Presents, 37 Main Street  (508) 627-3992

Rush and Fisher Estate Sales, TK contact

Oak Bluffs

Featherstone Flea and Fine Arts Market, Featherstone Lane, Tuesdays, June - August

Oak Bluffs Open Market, Washington Park, Sundays, May - October (508) 939-1076

New Moon Magick Chocolates & Antiques, 4 Chapman Avenue (508) 693-8331

Tuckernuck Antiques, 79 Tuckernuck Avenue  (508) 299-3150, opening mid-June

Vineyard Haven

Able to Cane Antiques, 96 State Road  (508) 560 - 2321

Found It…On the Vineyard, 4 Main Street  (508) 693-2653

Pyewacket’s, 135 Beach Road  (508) 696-7766

The Thrift Shop on Chicken Alley (Martha’s Vineyard Community Services), 38 Lagoon Pond Road (508) 693-2278

West Tisbury

MV Antique Association Weekly Antique Sale (multiple vendors), Grange Hall, Fridays, June -August

The Granary Gallery, 636 Old County Road  (508) 693-0455 

M M Stone Fine Art, Antiques & Design, 671 State Road, 508-693-0396

Nearby Off-Island