There was audible squealing.
Our first stop was the Windsor House, right on Route 13. A big proud white Victorian house, wrap-around porch and what looked to be antiques neatly arranged. Upon closer inspection the pieces all had a similar design: what we would learn is the “Windsor” chair aesthetic. Multi-teared spindly pieces that are both delicate and functional, with details such as hand carved claws as the finials on the arm rests. Each of these antique-looking pieces are actually hand made by Kurt Lewin and weather painted by his wife, Sally.
Kurt is originally from Long Island. His family were farmers and many years ago they relocated to the Eastern Shore to seek greener pastures (literally). On a whim he took one class in chair making, thinking it would be a fun hobby, and became deeply obsessed, specifically with the American Windsor design, which has its roots in peasant culture of England. His studio is covered with antiquated hand tools–no electric drill or circular saw–only hand planers and hand saws.
Each element is humbly and carefully crafted and assembled into exquisite pieces ranging from stools, school chairs, high back pieces and benches. What really struck me was how intensely they had chosen to focus on a single style of furniture design and to perfect the painting in such a way that suggested they were period pieces.
When we stopped he was in the process of gluing together a big dining room table commission–so we took a moment to wander the grounds and practice the art of camouflage:
In the adorable town of Cape Charles–that boasts about 1,000 residents–there was a jammed-packed art opening with a red velvet rope out front for the line of people. I was stunned at the cosmopolitan nature of this rural event. This was the grand opening of At Altitude Gallery and Moonrise Jewelry in a restored historic building on the corner of the main drag. One half of the large brick walled space exhibited glossy aerial landscape photographs that are printed on metal.
As Gordon zooms out going macro… in the adjacent space jewelry designs by Meredith Resteins zooms into the micro and focus on the finite detail of the region. Employing fish scales and real orchids, her beach jewelry line is extremely popular. Meredith is a true entrepreneur; she was hiring a woman to help her on the spot as we introduced ourselves to her.
From and outsiders view almost everyone at the event knew each other, but that did not stop them from being inquisitive about new faces. Later that night we were enjoying a meal a few doors down from the opening, relishing in the small town sounds coming our way from the pub. A woman approached us and held up her phone to Jesse, displaying an image of himself. She declared, you are Jesse Scaccia, which means you must be Charlotte Potter.
Meet Sarah Baldwin. She’s quick, smart and a terrifyingly good business person. I have long followed her mosaic tile company New Revena. She is a art school graduate who found the perfect balance in the market between good design, the hand made and niche consumer interest. These custom works are some of the best in the field and she has created a small empire with many dedicated employees who make New Revena revered. We did not have time to visit her studio on our weekend getaway, but it is deserving of a whole other voyage. And yes, she is on the Artisan Trail.
Fiber of all delicious kinds is the specialty of Ten Good Sheep, run by Karyn Anne Belknap. We pulled up on a dreary, cold and rainy day to what we soon realized is her and her husband’s home on a narrow lane that dead ends at the water. Karyn immediately rushed us into her cozy sun room, offering us a warm welcome. One of the more remarkable facets of the Artisans Trail is these kind and resourceful makers are welcoming you into the intimacy of their private studios to have a personal experience of their art practice. I found myself fawning over the textures, colors and tactile nature of her materials.
Here are the basic steps: she “paints” on different colors of wool, silk and bamboo to a drum filled with comb like teeth, then lays out these rich panels of color and felts it onto soap, (a process we tried with her, of running the wool under warm water in her kitchen and adding dish soap and kneading it together.) The bars are laid out to dry, filling her home with the smells of lavender, spearmint and general cleanliness.
When you walk out back of their home you are met by chickens, ducks and the two most adorable and friendly Southdown Babydoll sheep. They have another off-site farm with more livestock, primarily sheep to keep Karyn’s insatiable love for textiles at bay.
Out back in a TEENEY TINY shed you find Karyn’s husband, Mark Belknap and Red Dog Decoys. Here he is patiently whittling a block of wood on an old metal stool. Mark explained to us that he began making duck decoys as a hobby because he wanted something more realistic when bird hunting.
The simple pursuit has grown into a little cottage industry. Mark has three jobs, but it seems like he truly gets joy out of the meditative task of sculpting indigenous birds. He took time to explain to us the different colors and patterns in the bird feathers when they are moulting.
We would later learn that this bird carving thing is a bit of a phenomena on the Eastern Shore. At the oyster roast benefit auction we attended on Saturday, I counted at least eight different carved wooden birds of various varieties–some fetching astonishing prices. Apparently there’s quite a nuance to this sport inspired art, and one that folks are very discerning about. [One person we met boasted his 3rd generation family’s decoys have been purchased for over 1 million American dollars!] What I enjoyed about visiting Mark’s little workshop was knowing that this was someone who is not necessarily striving to perfect or be competitive about this pursuit, more he just really loves doing it.
Elizabeth Hunt Pottery is located in old high school in the town of Onancock. You are welcomed by her energetic black-and-white dog and enter into an old classroom complete with a blackboard and small chairs.
There are many parallels with ceramics and glass making, and we mused about them together. Jesse inquired about a particular crackle technique made with slip, and Elizabeth was quick to offer to do a demo and explain how this remarkable texture is achieved.
1. She throws a cylinder on the wheel.
2. The cylinder is coated with a white porcelain slip bass (originally developed by one of the quintessential ceramicists at Penland School of crafts)
3. It is coated with a silica-based liquids and lightly fired on with propane. The surface is now hard–but the clay is still moist.
4. Elizabeth opens up the cylinder from the inside without touching outside which expands and crackles the service.
Here is a video of the artist at work:
There is much to discover on the Eastern Shore. It is one of the few waterfront areas that I have had the pleasure of experiencing which is remarkably untouched by tourism and sky high real-estate. The people are approachable and genuinely caring. It is this hard working way of life that brings this community together; many artists will refer you to their friends and neighbors. People will stop you in the street to say hello, offer suggestions of food or libations. This is a very special place just north of us, worthy of the journey. Get off Route 13 and explore!