Quaint coastal communities have a way of inspiring creativity, and if there’s a surge of new artists emerging from Block Island in the next few years, it’s safe to assume that Felicia Grace Cinquegrana of Felicia Grace Designs will have played a hand in it. A 17-year island resident, Felicia sees her home as the “last bit of the American Dream” - where artists can work in blissful solitude all winter and then reveal their work to the world when the summer crowds storm the shores.
Felicia was born in a hippie commune in Hawaii, a background that informs her sense of fashion more than her work, but also equips her with the carefree ability to spend her summers living on a small boat with her boyfriend, John, and her dog, Mira (during the winter, they rent a house, taking advantage of the offseason rates).
A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she focused on sculpture, and with a masters in art education from the Rhode Island School of Design, Felicia spent many years teaching and advocating for the arts rather than pursuing her own artistic muse. She worked at a nonprofit in Baltimore fighting to preserve art education funding, taught art to inner-city kids in Richmond, CA, and served as the educational director of CityArts, which offers free, professional art-based education and training to Providence youth.
The death of her father prompted Felicia to reset her life on Block Island, transforming an interest in metalworking and ceramics into a jewelry-design business utilizing raw, uncut gems and locally sourced sea glass. The natural beauty of this “last great place” provides constant inspiration for her collection of bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings.
“I wanted to do something nobody else was doing, using natural materials all found on Block Island,” she explains. She gathers the sea glass from several secret locations on the island; the glass from bottles discarded by past generations of boaters and beachgoers is slowly milled by the waves and sand, making it a small memento of the island’s history. Her commissioned work sometimes includes sea glass brought to her by customers themselves.
Even the silver she works with incorporates native elements: the molten metal is poured over Block Island beach sand to create a uniquely granual look. The one aspect of her work that stands apart is her use of tree imagery: that’s a bit of an anomaly on famously denuded Block Island,although she does use a nautical carving technique similar to scrimshaw to create her arboreal designs.
Felicia sells her work at the island’s weekly farmer’s markets, where the challenge hasn’t been finding buyers but rather producing enough pieces to meet demand. At the same time, she is keeping her hand in education by developing an overnight camp for for at-risk kids in Maine that will include immersive instruction in everything from art to organic farming, and she’s also a part-time program director at the Block Island Conservancy.
An organic and intuitive artist, Felicia laughingly admits that she sometimes gets bored when she has to duplicate a second earring for a set. “I think of my work as little sculptures,” she says, hearkening back to her earliest artistic training. “Every piece is completely original, and each involves some basic engineering and ergonomics, so it is sculptural in that sense.”