Strolling the Chilmark Flea Market during its last week of summer, I became mesmerized by the craftsmanship and delicate work of jeweler Maríe Vídal, who makes bracelets with contrasting colors of stones set together. After consulting my two sons, I decided to buy myself a bracelet for my birthday, albeit a few weeks early. I don’t buy jewelry very often, having had quite a bit handed down to me when I was in high school. By the time I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, I pretty much had stopped wearing any. The last bracelet I bought cost $1.99 and was at the Multnomah Falls gift shop outside Portland, Ore., because it had Our Lady of Guadalupe on it. At the Chilmark Flea, it turned out mine was the first bracelet Marie made two years ago, after learning how to set precious stones into sterling silver. I wanted to learn more about Marie, who moved here four years ago.
I visited her at her studio and home in Vineyard Haven in early September. She is French, grew up in Marseille and spent most of her adult life in France, teaching French to foreigners. And that’s how she ended up here: Filling in as a substitute teacher at home in Marseille for two weeks, she taught the man who would become her boyfriend. When they met, she already had tickets and plans to return to China, where she made her first trip in 1991. Maríe and her student continued rendezvousing in different places in the world, including both their home turfs, between 2009 and 2011, which is when Maríe got a visa and moved to Martha’s Vineyard.
She arrived in the summer of 2011, and wondered what she wanted to do here. They spent the winter in Boston, and Maríe took her first class at Metalwerx in Waltham. She said, “You start with copper or brass because you do not want to waste precious metal. So I was learning the basics of soldering, the basics of how to set a stone, the basics.” I asked to see any of her first pieces, but she told me they had all sold. She began doing the Chilmark Flea Market three years ago, and added Featherstone Flea Market two years ago, then the Open Market on Sundays in Oak Bluffs. Maríe started with a small table selling “crappy stuff.” Then she went to San Francisco for a workshop on setting stones, and continued her studies at Metalwerx and other workshops with a master goldsmith. By then, Maríe was comfortable experimenting on her own and figuring out what she liked.
When Maríe was a child, she spent a good deal of time in the basement of her Marseille family home working with her dad, learning to use tools to make small decorative wooden boxes. “I always enjoyed playing with tools and working with my hands,” she said. “I wanted to be an artist, a painter. I did that all of my childhood, but unfortunately I couldn’t get into a school that was preparing for the arts; it was a question of geography.” Maríe continued, “Actually I am not upset, as I discovered Chinese and languages, and took another path to teach French as a second language.”
Maríe has gone full circle, and relishes working with her hands now. “It is great,” she said. “The first piece of jewelry I owned was made by my dad. I think it was copper wire with hammering style like Greek symbols.” I said I thought she was quite brave to begin selling her work the first summer after she started making jewelry. She said, “I didn’t have any idea how to set up a stand or make a business. It was very interesting to have the feedback from other people and see what’s going on around [the markets], figuring it out.”
I asked Maríe whether she finds she is attracted to different stones or styles now than when she started. She replied, “I think it evolves. At the beginning, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can solder, I can do anything.’ I can go in many different directions — which I learned that even in design you have to focus more. Most of the pieces I really like — [she snaps her fingers] ping — the image just comes to me. It doesn’t work for me to sit and draw for hours.”
Maríe plans to talk to some of our local jewelry stores before she heads abroad in October to visit with her family. One client from the Flea lives in Dallas, and brought Maríe’s work to a store there, which wants to represent her work. She said, “You know, you put your soul into the pieces. I like being at the bench. These are like my babies. It is very physical, and I like the relationship with my customers.”