Simon. A famous name in arts and literature. Consider Neil Simon, simple Simon, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Simon le Bon of Duran Duran, or the late and unlamented Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Now two Island Simons, Ronni and Peter, have splashed the national scene with their very different talents: Peter’s latest book, The Reggae Scrapbook, cowritten with Roger Steffans, got a rave review last month by the New York Times. Models in Sports Illustrated’s next swimsuit issue and the actress Blake Lively on the hot teen television soap opera Gossip Girl will be wearing Ronni Simon jewelry designs.
Ronni’s unique new jewelry line and Peter’s 40 years of images of music, the Sixties and Island landscapes now have their own Island showcase, at The Simon Gallery, 54 Main street, Vineyard Haven.
On Tuesday morning, the couple used partnership skills learned over 32 years of marriage to set up his-and-hers displays of their very different work in advance of a grand opening this weekend.
Open house is scheduled for Saturday evening from 5 to 8 p.m. with finger food, libations and possibly music — “if someone comes by with a guitar,” Mr. Simon said.
“We think our work is complementary,” he said. “Although combining photography and jewelry is unusual, we’re hoping visitors get a sense of discovery here. Certainly people interested in jewelry will come in to look at Ronni’s pieces and also get to see a Vineyard landscape or a book on Bob Marley, and vice versa.”
Mr. Simon is a longtime Island presence as an author and photographer (including his well-known work for the Gazette), but Ronni’s career as jewelry designer has been a meteoric ride over just two years.
“It’s been so fast and unexpected, it’s almost like I’m observing myself. It’s definitely not an ego thing — I can’t take credit for this,” Mrs. Simon said of her idea, while crocheting one winter, to use silver and gold wire to crochet pieces embellished with semi-precious stones.
The former potter, photographer and screenwriter put some cuffs, bracelets and lariat necklaces together and went to New York. Her work caught the eye of editors at Women’s Wear Daily, then the general press including the Boston Globe, New York Times and InStyle magazine. Retailers responded quickly, and now Mrs. Simon’s work is at retail stores from the Vineyard to Houston and her accessories are featured on television and in national magazines.
Fresh looks sell in the fashion business and few designers are hand crocheting jewelry. While the unique custom look is an attraction, so are the practical aspects of her work.
“I’m a pragmatic person. I noticed that bracelets always turn around so the clasp is showing, generally the least attractive aspect. So I wove the clasp into the design so it is part of the piece,” she said.
“It’s been trial and error, believe me,” she said.
More than 500 Ronni Simon pieces have sold and she is hard at work creating more on a daily basis, producing about 800 pieces a year.
Retail prices range from $100 to $800.
Passion for the cultural changes of the Sixties drove Peter Simon to capture photos of Bobby Kennedy, family friend Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr. and rock icons such as The Beatles, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, for whom he worked briefly as a photographer.
He also photographed the next generation of music makers, with emphasis on reggae star Bob Marley and the lives of the Sixties generation — “communes, hippies, anti-war rallies and nude beaches,” he laughed. In all, Mr. Simon’s archives totals more than 1,500 images.
The diffuse work hangs in the gallery, from stark black and white photos in simple frames to a smiling Jerry Garcia framed in a Peter Max-like kaleidoscope of color. Mr. Simon’s work in the gallery ranges from two dollar note cards to $1,200 limited silver gelatin prints.
Mr. Simon said, “You know, I’ve wanted a gallery for years and the support from other galleries has been terrific. We’ve been encouraged to do this by friends like Louisa Gould, Mary Etherington and Alison Shaw,” he said.
“The whole thing is serendipitous,” he said.
The opening reception and celebration for the Simon Gallery is free from 5 to 8 p.m. at 54 Main Street in Vineyard Haven. For details, call 508-325-2242.