Family Traditions from America’s Eclectic Eastern Shores to the Palatial Pacific Northwest Coast Inspire This Designer’s Creations


story by Lexi Smilow

Tiffany Vanderhoop

Here, Tiffany models a pair of her earrings

Aquinnah is a magical slice of heaven known for its stunning views of the ocean, the colorful clay cliffs, and the infamous Aquinnah lighthouse. This area of unimaginable beauty is rich in culture and has inspired countless artists, painters and photographers over the years.

Tiffany Vanderhoop was born and raised on the island and lives in the town of Aquinnah. She is part of the Wampanoag tribe, whose ancestors have lived on the island for at least 10,000 years at Aquinnah (Gay Head). She creates beautifully handcrafted jewelry, mostly earrings, and exquisite weavings which are sold in select stores on Martha’s Vineyard.

White beaded earringsHer father, also Wampanoag, has always lived on Aquinnah land, which was passed on to him by Tiffany’s great-grandfather. He has a family lineage that can be traced back for several hundred years. Tiffany’s mother hails from the Haida tribe which is located on the Pacific Northwest Coast, more specifically, the islands near the coast of South East Alaska and North West British Columbia. It’s these two influences, the east and west coast tribes along with the allure of Aquinnah that inspires many of her designs today.

Tiffany discovered her love and talent for weaving at the young age of seven, when she was living with her mother on the west coast. It’s here, where she wove her first basket using red and yellow cedar bark with help from her aunt. In fact, all of the women on her mother’s side are weavers. With many years of practice and under the guidance of talented family members, it’s no wonder Tiffany’s designs and creations are so unique and elegant. Fast forward to the now twenty-something year old Tiffany – a time when she started creating an almost lost style of textile weaving called Ravenstail, which she learned from her sister.

Ravenstail weaving is an ancient style of twining and surface braiding by native peoples along the Pacific Northwest coast. Ravenstail is mainly used for robes (adorned with bold geometric patterns, predominantly in black and white), dance aprons, and other ceremonial regalia. By 1980, only fifteen examples of Ravenstail survived as robes and fabric scraps in museum collections across the world.

Earring 2Continuing to learn under her mother’s guidance, Tiffany practiced and sold her weavings until she moved back to Aquinnah. However, she soon found out that the textile weavings were not as sellable on the island, so she decided to take up beading.

“I instantly fell in love with beading,” she said with a graceful smile.

Inspiration and ideas for her current beaded designs come from many different places. Aquinnah for its colorful cliffs, incredible landscape and the love of the ocean. The North-West coast for their bold, black and white geometric patterns and the patterns and colors of the southwest seen in Navaho blankets and weavings.

“I gather inspiration from other indigenous beaders; there’s such amazing work out there in the indigenous fashion world. When I first started, a lot of my ideas came from powwow and indigenous regalia, but the bright colors weren’t always popular– so I started using more seasonal colors. I came across some brass components during my research and thought they would be a cool addition to incorporate into my beaded designs.”

Circular EarringsThe brass components add a more contemporary feel to her pieces and she loves how this complex yet simple look appeals to a wider audience.

“I’ve always been obsessed with earrings. Each pair I make takes a lot of time. You have to have plenty of patience and focus to make these earrings, because the bead are extremely small and the needles are so tiny that the thread barely fits through the eye. At times, the thread will get twisted and tangled.”

Brown and gold earringsEach and every one of Tiffany’s beaded creations are all unique and one-of-akind. You won’t find any sketches or mood boards hanging around. Instead, she likes to pick out her colors first by spreading out all of her beads on a table. After lots of thought and rearranging in her head, she sees a certain pattern and gets to work. It’s not always easy, “I have to count each bead and keep track of my patterns in my head,” she then adds “I like using delicate beads because they are high in quality and consistent in size and shape. Plus, they come in so many beautiful colors- I even have 24k gold finished beads.”

When asked if any of her pieces have a personal meaning to her, she replied, “all of them do because it’s a way that keeps me connected to my culture by incorporating both my mother and father’s tribes into my work. And because it’s where I’ve lived, years of learning from my family – they’re part of me and this is what makes them hard to let go.”

You can find Tiffany’s work at the Aquinnah cliffs in the gift shop Wayward Wampum, Citrine boutique in Vineyard Haven, and on her Etsy page: TiffanyVanderhoop. You can follow her on Instagram at tiffanyavanderhoop.