With 400 miles of coastline, hundreds of bucolic acres, and extraordinary nooks and crannies tucked within our postage stamp-sized but postcard-worthy paradise, there’s no wonder Rhode Island is a hotbed of artistic talent. Shops, studio galleries, working spaces, and artists’ co-ops with commercial storefronts throughout the state make not only local art, but local artisans, accessible. Here we’ve put the spotlight on regional makers, all of whom share some creative commonalities yet vastly different mediums. We hope this holiday season inspires you to share the handiwork of our talented friends and neighbors.
Like many New Englanders, Jeanette Vertentes finds inspiration watching the sun take its final dramatic bow no matter what time of year. For her, it’s often from Napatree Point, where the state’s southernmost and westernmost spit of mainland juts out from the village of Watch Hill. The only difference between her and others who drink in the day’s last light is that Vertentes immortalizes the moment on canvas for others to take in from near and far.
“Painting is just kind of something I’ve always done my whole life,” says Vertentes, who grew up in Ashaway and studied fine art and painting at Rhode Island College, adding, “I’ve always been a Rhode Island girl.” And thanks to Vertentes, folks from across the country and beyond can enjoy a little bit of the Ocean State wherever they call home as the artist’s paintings, typically dominated by whimsical hues of blue and green, capture scenic local landscapes, florals, and bucolic milieus. “I have a big following of people down south, in the Carolinas, Alabama, Florida. I’m actually working on a big commission piece right now for someone who lives in Charleston, South Carolina. They want me to paint a local marsh up here in Jamestown. They used to live there…and it’ll be shipped down there for them for a little reminder of Rhode Island.”
Close-ups of seashells are another genre of which Vertentes has become well known. The artist appreciates the natural simplicity of clam, scallop, and nautilus shells, and finds capturing them on canvas in a visually interesting way challenging. “I love the strength of the shells and that subtle beauty,” she explains. In a new series of works, Vertentes captures the impression left on the inside of an oyster shell from where its meat originally attached. “I’ve kind of played with that and made it sort of look like a heart at times, and people really love that, and I just think I’m spreading some love, spreading some joy in people’s homes,” she says. “I try to create artwork that really has a positive impact when you look at it. I want people to love the pieces in their homes and have a positive relationship with it.”
At her eponymous studio and gallery in the heart of Watch Hill, travelers from around the world (many of whom make their way down the hill from the tony historic Ocean House hotel) often bring her work home. But you don’t need a Platinum Card to hang a Jeanette Vertentes in your home. In fact, you might find one of her pieces on your next shopping trip to “Tar-Jay,” as her work is licensed to many retailers. “Sometimes my artwork pops up in places like HomeGoods, Target, TJ Maxx, and Neiman Marcus, so a lot of the big box stores and then of course online as well,” says Vertentes. “I just saw a piece and Target last week and it’s kind of cool. I do a double take sometimes.” Westerly, JVertentes.net
Andy Warhol famously said, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it,” and artist Mary Chatowsky Jameson sees beauty in what many Rhode Islanders consider a pesky nuisance: seaweed. “I was taking my son over to Third Beach and I’m just like everybody else, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so much seaweed. Let’s go swim over there instead!’ I never paid much attention to it,” says Chatowsky Jameson. It wasn’t until she came across an exhibit at the Newport Historical Society that she began to see the ubiquitous marine algae differently. A collection of personal scrapbooks from families who lived or summered in Newport during the Gilded Age was donated to the society containing photographs, mementos,
watercolors, and artistic pressings of flowers, ferns, and spoils from the sea. In an artist’s statement, Chatowsky Jameson wrote about the experience, “I was transformed by the beauty of marine algae, having never observed it so closely before.”
She started experimenting, discovering a world of organic colors, shapes, and curiosity that combine to create extraordinary imprints. She begins by studying the shape, texture and color of individual species of seaweed, then engages in a process of symbiotic layering to create new forms that will ultimately become a captivating work of art. “As these forms develop, the known and unknown intersect in a dynamic way to challenge thought patterns,” she has observed through experience. Brenton Point in Newport, Sandy Point in Portsmouth, Fogland Beach in Tiverton, and Hull Cove in Jamestown have become some of her key collection spots.
Chatowsky Jameson’s work has been exhibited at Newport Art Museum, Blink Gallery, the Green Space at TF Green Airport, DeBlois Gallery, and more. She has a line of seaweed-inspired jewelry, and she’s partnered with Craig Crawford from Wanderlust Ceramics in East Greenwich to create a line of ceramic seaweed-print tiles and dinnerware.
With a desire to share this passion and show others how to make their own ocean-infused works, Chatowsky Jameson opened an appropriately named space, Saltwater Studio, in 2019, in a century-old trolley barn in Newport. Here she both creates and hosts workshops where anyone can create works of art, but she also goes on site to places including the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mystic Museum of Art, the IYRS School of Technology & Trades, and other art- or marine-centric locales to lead workshops on seaweed pressing, eco printing and cyanotype, privately to groups large and small.
“We have gorgeous seaweed here in New England,” adds Chatowsky Jameson emphatically. “It’s just a medium that works for me and who I am.” Newport, SaltwaterStudio.com
Stephanie Hawkins and Cécilia Ithurburu Alexander are Rhode Island’s dried flower dynamic duo. Specializing in sustainable floristry using dried flowers, the two longtime friends planted roots in Pawtuxet Village this spring, opening a storefront for the first time. But their business, Eden Botanical Arts, was already well established by way of pop-up events, including at the Providence Flea, flower markets and festivals, and a busy roster of clients for custom installations, weddings, and events. You may have enjoyed a cocktail or two under their seasonal stellar installations at The Eddy or Marcelino’s Boutique Bar in Providence – and likely Instagrammed it – or have seen their head-turning creations in the lobby of the Aloft hotel downtown.
“We both just really love everything that’s vintage and retro,” says Ithurburu Alexander. “Stephanie is very cutesy, kind of like the diner-style, 1950s-type stuff, and then I like turn-of-the-century, art deco, art nouveau.”
The brick and mortar is a creative curiosity, with all kinds of objects, many reclaimed, adorned in preserved blooms, while the flower bar invites customers to design dried bouquets a la carte, but Hawkins and Ithurburu Alexander are happy to help for intimidated first-timers.
Though their flowers are dried, they are surprisingly vibrant with the help of spray paint that allows the artists to create arrangements ranging from tame and textured to all-out technicolor. They use diverse and repurposed textiles and objets d’art to create layers of dimensional interest. “It’s almost like a sculpture instead of a floral arrangement,” explains Ithurburu Alexander.
Sustainability is a key tenant of their creations, which are foam free and, as the flowers are dried, require zero water. “We reuse as much as we can. We even give people two price points even if they want to return their flowers to us; we can take everything apart and use it again for other jobs or commissions.”
“Florist” is really a misnomer when it comes to what Eden Botanical Arts really does. “We’re more designers, interior decorating. It’s more about creating a vibe in a space than the actual flowers,” adds Ithurburu Alexander. “We even mix things that aren’t botanical a lot of the time. We use paper cutouts. We can paint things. We have a whole collection of these little hanging orbs that have vintage figurines in them. It’s not all about the flowers. It’s mostly just about sustainable and unique design.” And they’re having a blast doing it. Cranston, EdenBotanicalArts.com
Make shopping fun by zig-zagging across the state to discover new shops offering handmade gifts by local artists. Here are 31 to get you started, one for each day of December.
Beach Barn Art & Gifts
Fayerweather Craft Guild
Four Corners Gallery
Fuller Art and Frame Gallery
Green River Silver Co.
Wickford & Providence
Harbor View Artisans
The Hen House
Heritage Gifts & Glass Studio
Low Tide Jewelry
Mills Creek Natural Market
OMO Jewels & Gifts
Peter Pots Pottery
Purple Cow Co.
Studio by the Sea
Three Wheel Studio
The Woven Path
Tiffany Peay Jewelry & Healing Arts
Wink Gift Store
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