The Ruel Gallery Opens Up in Menemsha


Nettie Kent places some of her jewelry in a case at the Ruel gallery just before opening in June. Colin holds Wyld, 1, and Razmus, 3, helps out. —Lynn Christoffers

I first met Nettie Kent in New York City about twenty years ago. My friend, Simon Etherington, son of then Vineyard gallerist Mary Etherington, told me I should go find her — she was working at a shop near my apartment. “She’s from the Vineyard. You’ll like her,” he said. So I stopped by jeweler Jill Platner’s Crosby Street studio one day and introduced myself. Nettie was standing behind the studio’s large jewelry case, tying knots of red cord for some of Jill’s signature bracelets. The first thing most notice about Nettie is her incredible head of hair — like a lion’s mane (turns out she is a Leo). Fortunately, the wildness of her mane is tamed by a supremely warm and almost gentle demeanor. We became friends. And then as people either do or don’t in New York City, she became part of the larger circle of friends I’d see around town. Occasionally, we’d run into each other and chat over a cup of zippy chai from Hampton Chutney down the street from Jill’s studio and my apartment. Nettie, who was in her early twenties, was not just working for Jill as a job, she wanted to design and make jewelry. This was an apprenticeship.

Colin Ruel and his grandmother, Roberta Morgan, in front of the Ruel Gallery in Menemsha. Morgan once ran the Harbor Crafts Shop in the same spot. —Lynn Christoffers

Maybe five or six years later, Nettie and I were both back living on the Island and I ran into her in the parking lot at Alley’s. She pulled me aside and whispered, “I want you to meet someone. He’s a musician. I think he’s the one.” I turned to meet Colin Ruel, who was sitting in a wheelchair (he’d just found it at the Dumptique and thought he’d take it for a ride) and was wearing a purple cape and a top hat (also Dumptique finds) that was sitting on a shorter version of Nettie’s hair —crazy, messy, blonde. We chatted for a bit. He was funny, smart, and clearly smitten.

For whatever reason on that day, I felt like I was witness to the beginning of something — not just a relationship, but the idea that these two individuals were going to bring something new to the world. What would their imaginations and hands create?

Now, thirteen years later, the three of us are on the phone while they sit in their Chilmark backyard (Clarissa Allen’s mother’s old house) with their two kids — Razmus, 3, and Wyld, just 1 —  talking about the Ruel Gallery that they will open, in one way or another, this summer.

The Ruel Gallery is housed in Colin’s grandmother Roberta Morgan’s former Harbor Craft’s Shop in Menemsha. “Berta [who is 90] was finally tired of running the shop. She asked if we would want to use the shop for something. In the last couple of years, we’ve occasionally used it to show our work or have a pop up and it has been great. So we said yes,” Colin explains.

“It is so exciting to think that now we can do whatever we want. Show whatever we want,” Nettie adds.

Colin continues, “The Field and Granary are great (Colin has had shows at both). But I love the freedom that having our own gallery gives us. We can work how we want to work, show the work we want, work with others. And honestly, it’s great to be flexible right now. I think it’s good. For now and in the long run. I mean, how do you open and run a gallery in the midst of a pandemic?”

“We had this vision of our opening. I could see it in my mind,” Nettie says. “A celebration with all our friends, our community, feeling so proud and happy.”

Birds chirp in the background as if to underline this sentiment. Wyld cries out for something. Razmus has a few questions for his folks. “It’s naptime,” Nettie says. “But today, right now, we’re not napping so …”

Colin painted this portrait of his grandfather, Jimmy Morgan, a beloved Chilmarker. —Colin Ruel

As they get Wyld and Razmus sorted, they co-tell the story of why and how they moved back to the Island. “We were doing it,” Nettie says. “We were living in New York — Brooklyn — and able to support ourselves as living, working artists. We had serious rent to pay and we could pay it with the money we were making as artists.”

After working for Jill Platner, Nettie went on to apprentice with Philip Crangi and Pamela Love before launching her own line, which uses reclaimed brass, gold, and sterling silver. Her sculptural pieces, which use texture and negative space, have been featured in Women’s Wear Daily, the New York Times, Vogue Latin America, Nylon, Interview, Huffington Post, the Zoe Report, Refinery29, and Allure, among others.

Nettie continues, “Colin was making a living as a painter. I had no idea I was getting involved with a painter (her father is Doug Kent). It’s strange how life works out. It was this amazing time — we just could not believe we were realizing this dream. And then we got pregnant, also amazing, but we needed more space.”

Initially, they thought they’d move upstate. “We could even afford to buy something upstate! But,” Nettie laughs, “we learned that we both hate the mountains.” “It would get so dark so early,” Colin adds. Nettie continues, “And then we thought about it and realized that it was crazy to move somewhere completely new with no support system and then have a baby. No one to help versus somewhere with family.”

“We also missed the ocean,” Colin says.

I’m not surprised to hear this from him, as it feels like the ocean feels, like it informs every one of Colin’s paintings, no matter the subject — the energy, the extraordinary watery quality, and the light.

So they came home.  And, though they had to move four times before Razmus was even three months old, they felt completely supported by their Vineyard community. Nettie continued to design and craft her jewelry and Colin was able to make paintings.

Colin says, “I’m now working on some portraits. I think the gallery’s walls will be heavy on portraits of Island people I care about.” Colin has taken photos (using film) of people he loves and admires and paints from that. “He did this amazing portrait of his grandfather, Jimmy. We all cried when we saw it,” Nettie says. He gave this portrait to his grandmother, Berta.

Colin Ruel says he loves having the freedom of running his own gallery. —Lynn Christoffers

As for her jewelry in the gallery, Nettie says, “I’m not sure how much jewelry people will want to buy right now. And my Brooklyn caster is closed because of the coronavirus. But, now — with the gallery and the time I can find, I can finally make one-of-a-kind pieces. When they sell that is it. That’s what is exciting to me. I also want to branch out and do some mobiles and sculptures — push where my jewelry can go. As for how it will be selling jewelry in the gallery; we will figure it out.  I’ll wipe all the jewelry down every time.” She sighs, “In some way this whole thing is a relief. We had no idea how we were going to be open seven days a week with two small children. I didn’t want to take so much time away from the boys. They are still so young. So the fact that we are going to operate, at least for now, by appointment only, works well for us. It is a gift … even though we will be making much less.”

“I’m a total germaphobe,” Colin says. “My first goal is safety. When this whole thing started, we went into total lockdown mode. So we’re trying to figure out how to do this safely. We have streamlined our websites. As Nettie said, we’ll see people one at a time by appointment. The gallery is going to be crazy clean. We will wear masks, gloves, and use the porch where there is open air.”

Nettie agrees. “The good news is that the gallery is ours. This is not the only season. We’re here. People can call. They can come talk to us. We’re not going anywhere.”

To make an appointment to see Colin and Nettie’s work, go to and

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