Nettie Kent Ruel & Colin Ruel

Nettie and Colin at their studio-shack, Photo by Michael Cummo

Their arts play off each other nicely.


If you Google “famous artist couples” the first result you’ll get is “The 20 Coolest Artist Couples” — a heading possibly as well-suited to longtime Vineyarders Colin Ruel, a painter, and Nettie Kent Ruel, a jeweler, as it is to other famous couples on the list: Kahlo and Rivera, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, and Rauschenberg and Johns.

Nettie, 36, the daughter of painter Doug Kent, was born in the living room of her mother’s home in West Tisbury (no electricity or phone), and Colin, 31, can trace his family’s Island roots back many generations. The two were married on Ruel’s family property in Menemsha last October, live in Brooklyn, and make their way back to the Island each June. For both artists, returning to the Island in the summer is necessary for their mental health and their art. “When you grow up here, it’s hard not to be here in the summer. It’s like an injustice,” says Nettie.

While they didn’t grow up here together, the two met on the Island when Kent returned from her first attempt at living in New York for a summer and decided she didn’t want to go back. At the time, Colin was focused on making music and starting his painting career (though not really consciously) making posters for the beloved Che’s Lounge (a coffee shop/music venue in the space that is now Nat’s Nook). Kent reminds him that people then began to collect those posters, and that eventually someone asked Ruel if he’d be willing to show them. “Right,” says Ruel, “I can’t remember the woman’s name, but she asked me if I’d show them, and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess it’s kinda like art.’”

After moving to New York, where Colin worked for an artist, he began painting more seriously. He paints in two very distinct styles — one very abstract, using bright monochromatic colors that at times look like textile design. More recently, he’s begun to paint landscapes that almost feel like the antithesis — unlike the sharp lines of his other work, here the lines are blurry and instead of the bright colors, the palette is muted and often dark. The styles, Colin says, play off each other nicely. “The landscapes are very free, and the others are very hard-lined and the colors are separated. It’s really nice, because the landscapes allow me to sort of loosen up, and then I can take some of that looseness back to the abstract paintings. Similarly, the abstract paintings really help my landscape composition.”

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After working with a jeweler and taking classes in the city, Nettie came back to the Island and continued to play around with making one-of-a-kind pieces and selling them on her Etsy store. It was Colin who convinced her to move back to New York, and Nettie says she agreed, if not a little reluctantly. However, she says, “When we moved back, I decided this time I was just going to go for it.” Since then, her line of jewelry has taken off. The signature brass necklaces, bracelets, and necklaces have been worn and featured in layouts in Nylon magazine and Women’s Wear Daily. She’s also made a name for herself in the sustainable jewelry community, choosing metals and stones that are sustainably sourced. Every summer she comes to the Island to create a new collection of jewelry that she then goes back to New York to show. The Island’s influence can be felt in the colors she chooses. “The metals I use, such as brass — and I’m starting to use gold — are the color of sand and the sun, and I’m using some stones like lapis — so the colors of the beach are in there.”

This summer, they are living in a yurt on Nettie’s mother’s property with their two new kittens and spotty Wi-Fi. There’s also a little shack on the property that has been their home during previous summers, and which this summer functions as their shared studio. In New York, they share studio space that is walking distance from their apartment. For some, the idea of that much proximity would seem undoable — from perspectives as both couples and artists — but this doesn’t seem to faze them. The two say they find that their work doesn’t influence each other as much as it did previously, but “Colin helps me focus,” says Nettie. “He gets to the studio and just starts painting, whereas I have to spin around for a while, but then I’m conscious of him working, and that helps me get started.” Colin isn’t too distracted by her spinning, but admits that sometimes she asks too many questions. It is, in Nettie’s words, “pretty magical” except, she adds, when Colin listens to too much Howard Stern.

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For both artists, being on Martha’s Vineyard means they get more space. For Nettie, this space is figurative: “When I’m here, I have more head space.” For Colin, the space is literal — he’s already got three or four pieces he’s working on spread out in the yard around the shack/studio — one a ten-foot diptych landscape he’s just started. He is both joyous and nervous about “going really big” for the very first time.

Like any couple, they talk over each other, finish each other’s sentences, and laugh at each other’s jokes and quirks. They say they find the rush of their success both exhilarating and exhausting, and seek solace in the other and their mutual love for the Island. “It helps that we are both from here,” says Nettie. “It means we both want and need to get back here, and since both our families are here, it means we can.”

Ruel’s work was on show at the Field Gallery from July
19 to August 1, and Kent’s work is available at the Green Room
in Vineyard Haven and Driftwood in Oak Bluffs. Both artists
are available for private showings of their work, and can be
contacted via their websites,,

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