Whether she’s weaving baskets of pine needles together, pressing botanical specimens into panes of glass or soldering a stained glass mushroom, much of what Mackensie Bennett creates is inspired by the natural world.
Bennett, who recently moved to Coupeville, started Gypsy Gems during her three years of living off the grid in Idaho with her two dogs and two cats in an RV powered by solar panels. A wifi connection was nonexistent, but the peace and quiet – and lack of distractions – was abundant.
“My business was why I decided to take the dive into having a smartphone,” Bennett said.
Now Instagram users have a front row view of her creative process, and for those who can’t make it to the various fairs and markets, Bennett’s stock can be viewed by visiting her online store, gypsyygemss.bigcartel.com.
A great-aunt’s passion for stained glass introduced Bennett to the skill at a young age. She started small with earrings before moving onto suncatchers and propagation stations for plants. She creates her own designs, rather than using patterns from a book or someone else.
Working with sheets of glass in all colors of the rainbow – the iridescent ones are her favorite – Bennett cuts and assembles the shapes, a process she likened to creating her own puzzle out of glass. Copper foil tape snugly lines the edges of the pieces. Heated solder – which jumps around like little beads of mercury when hot – joins everything together with a neat silver outline.
Her latest glass designs consist of seaweed and bubbles, which she believes complement each other well. But there’s also morel mushrooms, purple flowers and various eyeballs, including a yellow-green piece that reminds some people of the Eye of Sauron from “Lord of the Rings,” and others of an alligator.
“I think art should be hands-on,” Bennett said. “I always encourage people to touch my art.”
Other things often get incorporated into glass, such as various plants, flowers, an agate and even a pair of dragonfly wings.
A surprising amount of stained glass has been gifted to her by strangers. She also has found it at specialty stores around Seattle and Portland.
“My favorite stores are usually the mom and pop stores, where there’s people who are my great-aunt’s age who have been doing it all of this time, and they have a wider selection of glass, or just more variety of glass,” she said.
She looks forward to creating even bigger glass pieces with her new, large studio space on Central Whidbey.
But glass isn’t her only medium. Bennett also spends hours weaving together pine needles she collected from the ground in Idaho where she lived. The result is a sturdy basket that is held together by thread. It’s become her project for the evening, or outside during a day with fair weather.
“I like to do it at markets because people kind of glaze over my baskets until they see me working on one,” she said. “They connect the dots, ‘Oh, she made those baskets.’”
Bennett is excited to be part of such an art-oriented community. Growing up, she often visited her grandfather in Langley, and has fond memories of painting pieces of pottery with him in Freeland.
“I believe that you can do anything you want,” she said. “So if you want to be good at art, you can just practice and practice and practice.”