Frank M. Rapoza started working with wampum after seeing Manny Sarmento’s mosaics hung at the Cuttyhunk Church. Manny, caretaker on Nashawena for many years, worked primarily with realistic designs based on religious and patriotic images. He would cut the shells with snips, then hand-grind the tiles square, and grind the finished surface flat. Frank wanted to do his own version of a wampum mosaic, using abstract themes and developing sophisticated processing and finishing techniques.
He purchased the necessary equipment and materials and began producing mosaics.
The first piece Frank completed was designed to resemble a wampum belt. He then started creating his own designs, some abstract, some trying to represent a wave or an animal. The mosaics are framed with ebony and inlaid with swordfish bill, wampum, and/or stained glass. Frank’s wampum mosaics evolve every year, and many designs now include ground wampum–Frank calls this “wampum-ite”©, ground jingle shells, crushed colored glass, as well as stained glass. Several designs feature well-known land and sea-scape scenes of Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands.
Frank’s fabrication process: The mosaic tiles are cut from the quahog shell and ground on a diamond wheel. They are polished, then arranged in a pattern drawn from nature or his own imagination. The wampum tiles are then epoxied to the panel, and often have jingle shells and stained glass included in the design. Once the design is complete, the piece is framed with ebony off the schooner Dolphin from Santo Domingo which was shipwrecked on the south side of Cuttyhunk in 1854 while carrying a cargo of ebony logs (Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal Dec. 1854). The process for creating the mosaics and frames is very labor intensive – over 50 hours. The materials and fabrication methods are of the highest quality ensuring generations of enjoyment. Each piece is unique and one-of-a-kind.
Frank moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1976. He is a shipwright and ships caulker, and has worked on projects across the United States, including the restoration of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, and the building of the Amistad. Frank spends his summers on his boat on Cuttyhunk, where he draws his inspiration from the natural environment.