Who Knew? // Unexpected Handiwork From the Rock

By Susan Brandzel

What is it about Bainbridge that fosters so much creativity? Do the tall emerald evergreens, gentle splashing waves and soaring bald eagles compel residents to imagine and innovate? Or is it the tranquility and fresh air that simply inspire artists to put down roots among the roots?

Regardless the explanation, creativity practically percolates from one shore of the island to the other. Meet apparel designer Jerry Gunderson, who first started dabbling with a sewing machine at the age of 15.

His mother recognized his interest as more than just a passing hobby and helped channel him toward what is now a flourishing career in innovative clothing. Owner and creative lead for his local company, Jstitch (j-stitch.com), Gunderson developed the first prototype for his best selling item, the Quinn Backpack Vest, over 20 years ago.

The garment a children’s fleece vest with built-in, zippered backpack like compartments was first brainstormed when his oldest son, Quinn, was still in diapers. In fact, it was those very diapers that contributed to the inspiration.

Displeased with the design and appearance of diaper bags available at the time, and wanting his son to develop some early independence by carrying his own gear, Gunderson melded fashion and function into the cute yet utilitarian little vests.

Available in colorful fleece patterns, J-stitch vests are manufactured just across the Puget Sound in a warehouse in Seattle. Currently sold online, they will soon be offered for sale at Lynwood Center’s newest retail installation, outdoor outfitter BIO+D.

A whole different kind of innovator, Joan Campbell lives by the Dilbert quote, “Creativity is learning to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Founder and owner of Joan of Cards (joanofcards.com), Campbell combines her myriad artistic skills which include sewing, collaging, photography and graphic design into playful cards, mobiles, banners and throw pillows.

Her goods can be found at island shops such as Sash in Lynwood Center and Dana’s Show house in Winslow. She is an aficionado of found objects and a lifetime environmentalist. Campbell translates her passions into tangible objects, many of which have rich stories behind them: mobiles that are printed on paper with the handwriting from letters that her grandfather wrote to her grandmother; or deconstructed, reconstructed and embellished security envelopes rescued from old mail or recycling bins.

Campbell was first inspired to become an artist by her now-grown daughters when they were encouraged to make art in the island’s elementary schools. And not to be pigeonholed simply as a dentist, Dr. Andrew Fiscus (who has been practicing dentistry on the island for about one-and-a-half years) spends his Fridays while the office is closed creating a line of handmade knives, dubbed Oak Knives.

Fiscus trained with a knife-making master while living in Colorado and now crafts his own knives using a kiln, drills, grinder and buffer in a workshop behind his house. Made freehand and with extreme precision and detail (that of a dentist!), his gardening, oyster shucking and drop point knives each feature a unique, exotic-wood handle, as well as a blade carefully crafted to flex and remain rigid where needed.

And for a spot of humor, Fiscus uses a dental drill to engrave the brand name “Oak” at the base of the blade. Growing up on an Indiana farm, Fiscus developed an appreciation for what a good knife can do. Now, he is able to meld his design talents with his compunction for high-quality, functional household and outdoor tools.

They are works of art and yet made to last. These one-of-a-kind creations are sold at Wildernest in Winslow and BIO+D in Lynwood Center. All three of these artist-inventors—though world’s apart in their creations insist on keeping their supplies and their work local, using as much homegrown material as possible and working from out-buildings on their own properties.

And indeed, their work reflects the island’s culture of originality, nature and fortitude, as well as their own deep connections to the island. Know other islanders involved in interesting and unusual endeavors?