Joy Staniforth is a “Guardian Angel” of the arts in Cambridge. Not only does she have decades of growing the arts around Cambridge, she also continues to add to the arts through her ukulele group and through the offerings of her eclectic art interests.
Staniforth came to Cambridge as executive director at the Pauline F. and W. David Robbins Family YMCA in Cambridge. When she retired from there, she looked forward to spending more time with her husband, but she used to be very active and on the go, she says, “I got bored.
“Wanting to keep some flexibility with her time commitments, she decided to open an art gallery, Joie de Vivre, in Cambridge in 2000. Her thought was that, even though Cambridge had few takers for empty storefronts, the arts could and would bring a new vibrancy to the town. When Adelaide (Addie) Eckardt, a state representative for Cambridge, approached her around 2002 to take on the considerable task of submitting Cambridge for an Art and Entertainment designation, Staniforth was happy to take it on, and, with the help of Heather Rosato, in 2003, Cambridge won its designation.
According to their website, “The goal of the A&E Districts program is to develop, promote, and support diverse artistic and cultural centers in communities across Maryland that preserve a sense of place, provide unique local experiences, attract tourism, and spur economic revitalization and neighborhood pride.”
Staniforth notes, “I thought: five years and we’ll be really rolling.” While it did not happen in five years, in the 20 or so years following, Cambridge’s main street has indeed grown, especially in the arts and entertainment area. To name only a few businesses, in only a small, three-block area of the A&E district, one can find art at The Dorchester Center for the Arts, the Main Street (Co-op) Gallery, and 3Ten Creative Design & Gift Gallery.
There is RAR Brewing and their newest eatery, The Dive Club – an immersion experience of “nautical escapism and delectable food and drink: shareable plates and classic tiki cocktails,” Vintage 414, a wine/beer/specialty foods retail space and bar, and Black Water Bakery, past years’ winner of Best Bakery on the Eastern Shore and a gathering place for breakfast and lunch. Thomas’s Fine Jewelry offers sterling silver and gold handcrafted and inspired by Shore life [Thomas’s has restored, repaired, and reset at least 4 of this writer’s own rings and bracelets], Choptank Tattoo who did a beautiful script on this writer’s arm to commemorate her late husband, and The Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center.
The closing of Joie de Vivre in 2015 was not the end of Staniforth’s engagement with the arts community in Cambridge.
Not one to sit too still for too long, Staniforth took up the ukulele. Her training is in classical mandolin, and she played with the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra for many years. When traveling to Baltimore every week, requiring an overnight stay, and making it back to Cambridge in time to open her Gallery the next day became too arduous, Staniforth continued to practice by herself. Then a friend, Tom Keating, made her a ukulele from a cigar box, and Stanforth went to Mike Elzey’s music studio to learn how to play, where she was told if she really wanted to learn how to play, she needed a real ukulele. Staniforth bought a real ukelele and began taking lessons from Glen Wong, Honolulu native, ukelele master and local Cambridge teacher.
Missing the company of other musicians, Staniforth started the Cambridge Ukulele Group, which meets every Thursday at Dorchester Center for the Arts from 4 to 6 pm. “The purpose of the group is to have fun,” says Staniforth. “Everyone is welcome, no experience is necessary. Learn five chords and you know all you need to participate, and we have extra ukes to lend out for a few weeks of getting acquainted with the instrument.” An extra added attraction is that Wong comes to help newcomers and experienced players alike.
Staniforth notes that playing the ukulele is very different from the mandolin. “The strings are different, the ukulele tends toward pop music while the mandolin is classical, and you play reading ‘tabs’ as opposed to musical notation.” Her current musical quest is to teach herself to play the ukulele in a classical fashion. She is a fan of YouTube for teaching herself anything that catches her fancy and she says “I gather my IPAD and phone and watch YouTube and take pictures of the tabs to help myself understand and make the transition .”
This is not as far-fetched as it may sound to some. For instance, “On Tuesday 18th August 2009, with every seat and all standing room occupied, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played to a sold-out Royal Albert Hall in London, with over 6000 audience members, and well over 1000 of them bringing ukuleles to join in with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. “
And Staniforth’s interests don’t stop there. She creates beautiful quilling pieces, looping and rolling pieces of narrow paper into decorative designs and tumbles rocks she finds or that are given to her into shiny stones that she wraps with metal and makes into focal pieces to use with her viking knit necklaces. This is a chain-making technique using a rod and fine wire – not actually knitting but it looks like it when finished. The name comes from chains found in Viking digs in Scandinavia that were made from coins melted into fine wire. Today’s “knitters” use craft wire.
You can find Staniforth’s work in the retail shop in the front of the Dorchester Center for the Arts, 321 High Street in Cambridge, Md.
Tammy Vitale has spent many years of her life regularly visiting the Eastern Shore and moved to Cambridge in early 2023. An artist herself, she has fallen in love with all the facets of art available in Cambridge/Dorchester County and wants the rest of the world to get to know and love the arts and artists of this area as much as she does.