Shells, Bells

Island Wampum's Phoenix Russell wowed in purple and white.

No one was surprised that Phoenix Russell’s wedding featured wampum. In fact, it wouldn’t have felt like her wedding at all were the scene not decorated with the purple-and-white jewelry made from quahaug shells. When the twenty-eight-year-old owner of Island Wampum married Joseph Rogers at the Martha's Vineyard Rod & Gun Club in June, the wedding dripped with her creations: seven tie clips, ten bracelets, and twenty hand-carved leaves to decorate the cake.

Phoenix made all of the wampum pieces herself in the two weeks before her wedding (ruining her nails in the process, she says). But only because she was so busy. She’s no stranger to batch orders of wampum work for brides.

Three years ago she made the cake decorations for her sister’s wedding: more than fifty carved flowers that were turned into necklace charms after the "I do’s." Three days before her own wedding, she made a large number of necklaces for a fellow Vineyarder’s nuptials.

When Phoenix first started making wampum pieces several years ago, the orders weren’t quite so large. She was able to walk the beach, collecting shells to meet demand. Now she and her husband go quahauging, digging 150 pounds of clams at a time. The shells become jewelry, and the meat – that which isn't immediately eaten – is frozen to use as ice-fishing bait. (She and Joe are avid anglers; they started dating during the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby, and have since traveled the world fishing together.)

Though Phoenix’s style is normally outdoorsy-meets-girly – she favors stacking wampum necklaces, bracelets, and earrings every day, even while on a boat – she wanted an understated look when she walked down the aisle. After much consideration, she opted for a three-strand pearl bracelet with a heart-shaped wampum clasp. She made a two-strand version for her mother, stepmother, and mother-in-law, and a one-strand version for her bridesmaids.

For the groomsmen she made tie clips, which complemented their gray and sea
foam ensembles. “The softer the turquoise, the prettier it looks with wampum," Phoenix says. She also recommends pairing wampum with  rose, ivory, and lavender.

Not a wampum artist yourself? Not a problem; the Island's many professionals can add a splash of purple to your big day, or craft unique gifts for your wedding party attendants. “It’s a sweet way to add some of the Vineyard into your wedding,” says Phoenix. “Even if you don’t get married here on the Vineyard, but wampum is special to you, it can be nice to have that touch in your wedding.” 

For more information or to place a custom order, go to