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The New New England Heirlooms

Prized heirlooms: “A few pieces from the old house in the Adirondacks where I grew up, and an original painting that we bought when we first moved to Maine by J. R. Braugh, an artist and ship’s captain who runs a schooner out of Camden Harbor.”

Favorite Swans Island blankets: “Our ‘Rare Wool’ blankets. They’re made from beautiful brown wool that comes right from the sheep–it’s not dyed. There aren’t many sheep with that kind of wool, and they keep the color for only a few years, so it’s a lot of work to find enough fleeces to spin up. But the color is so rich and inviting.”

Famous fans: Michelle Obama, Norah Jones

Swans Island, Northport, Maine. 888-526-9526, 207-338-9691;


Allen Whiting, who lives and works on the same generations-old family sheep farm where he grew up, has been painting landscapes for a long time. At age 64, it’s what he wants to keep doing: “Mostly I really want to do what I do, better. I’m starting to eliminate stuff from my life that’s unnecessary so that I can spend more time painting, with more focus. There’s no sense in changing horses at this point.”

That means he’ll keep painting on Martha’s Vineyard, his primary muse since he first picked up a paintbrush. His collectors, who pay upwards of $20,000 for his larger works (small paintings start in the $1,200 range), wouldn’t have it any other way. “There are lots of beautiful places,” Whiting says. “I’ve painted in Utah, where my wife is from, and in Maine, and in the Caribbean. But there’s something about the Vineyard for me–it must be a sense of familiarity and security.”

Whiting paints directly from nature, starting and finishing every small sketch outside, then turning favorite studies into larger works in his studio. The particular island subjects he chooses to paint come up arbitrarily. “What gets painted is that which catches my imagination at the right time and the right place,” he says. “When it’s really beautiful here, especially in the fall and spring, there’s stuff everywhere. I almost start to levitate.”

Prized heirlooms: “Mostly paintings. There’s artwork that’s come down through the family that I think is fascinating. I still have paintings by my mother’s father, a wonderful painter, that inspired me over the years, and I’ve acquired some paintings by local artists, like Doug Kent and Ben Shattuck.”

Favorite Allen Whiting painting: “There’s one called The Raft. It hearkens back to painters whom I so admire–it’s more of an illustrated painting than my usual landscape. It’s a painting of an ancestor of mine, a made-up thing.”

Famous fans: Carly Simon, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Larry David, Jim Belushi

Allen Whiting, West Tisbury, Massachusetts. 508-693-4691;


“The rawness of a piece of wood is what really attracts me,” says master furniture maker Timothy Clark, who was first drawn to woodworking when he visited Williamsburg, Virginia, and watched Colonial-era instrument making in progress: “A musical instrument, or a chair, in its raw state is very attractive. The process is what captivates me. While something is still raw, I’m very attached, but when it’s finished, I can let it go.”

The raw wood from which Clark crafts his minimalist yet elegant Windsor chairs and Shaker-inspired benches and cases is all native–maple, ash, and cherry are favorites–and all from managed forests. In Vermont, he says, sustainably harvested wood is easy to find. “Whether they’re certified or not, people here are focused on sustainability,” he observes. It was in Vermont, while attending Middlebury College, that he became interested in furniture design. “I wanted to go to Europe to study design, but I also wanted to make furniture. I didn’t want to separate the two,” he says. “So I found a guy in Vermont to work with and did both designing and building, and loved it.”

Updated Thursday, February 17th, 2011
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