Sallie Bell: Monkey Puzzle Moves On

— by Margie Doyle —

Sallie Bell at her shop, the Monkey Puzzle in Eastsound Square

Sallie Bell at her shop, the Monkey Puzzle in Eastsound Square

Sallie Bell’s moved! In fact, she keeps on moving, it’s the story of her life.

Her most recent move was just one door closer to North Beach Road, when her shop, Monkey Puzzle moved into the south sidewalk slot on Eastsound Square on November 1.

Now the distinctive jewelry that launched her and that Sallie’s made for years, along with the clothes she’s designed to set off her jewelry, is on display front and center in downtown Eastsound.

Full-size photographs of island models DD Glaze, Lila Richardson, Annette Mazzarella and Diane Jordan adorn the shop where hats, scarves, elegant yoga/exercise wear, swizzles (scarf-like skirts that swirl around a woman’s body as she moves, skirpas (combination pants and skirts), and other clothing, along with design patterns and yardage entice shoppers in search of beautiful items.

The “new” Monkey Puzzle, also has room for home furnishings, and classes. Sallie’s own silversmithing workshop takes up nearly half of the shop. There, her degrees and certificates in Bachelor of Science (Columbia) silversmithing (Revere Academy), high-performance driving, and artificial insemination(!) attest to her varied interests and abilities.

She’s hoping to share her own and others’ avocations through classes at Monkey Puzzle. Already she’s lined up a Feng Shui workshop in January, and is pursuing classes offered by others in polymer clay, knitting, quilting, make-up, and bead embroidering. She welcomes suggestions on classes, either one-time workshops or series of classes.

Where did this local legend begin? Born in MInnesota, raised on a ranch in Arizona, educated in Latin and pre-med at Columbia University in New York City, Sallie “jumped” the medical research ship at the University of California San Francisco to open an eclectic store in San Francisco, much like her original Monkey Puzzle store, further up North Beach Road on Orcas. She began painting in oils, continuing for about five years.

In 1979 she went trekking to Nepal and became fascinated with the artifacts there. She put together a show of her collection in Hong Kong, when, she claims, she knew “nothing about design.” The popularity of her show was astounding.

Her first account in the U.S. was at Saks 5th Avenue, after a buyer had seen one of her Nepal shows. But “after a year, everybody began to look like me,” she said. “So I thought ‘Okay what do I do next?’.

On a  visit to a master silversmith in California seeking repair of one of her pieces, Sally found her answer: “to watch a sheet of metal be transformed….” Her eyes still widen in awe and amazement.

Her own first signature design called on her Christian, Episcopal background, combining a cross and a bear and evoking the maxim, “We all have our cross to bear.” Her later signature pieces —  double vagras or dorjes — reflect her experience as a practicing Zen Buddhist.

Over 50 years ago, traveling around the world, she was moved by the serenity of Japanese Buddhists. Then in 1990, she met her Buddhist teacher when she was asked to host a dinner party for a Tibetan Lama. Six months later, she went to Brazil to begin her preliminary studies with him.

Sallie Bell with an early trademark design, "Cross to Bear"

Sallie Bell with an early trademark design, “Cross to Bear”

During that time Sallie came to Orcas Island with Phil Burbo for 48 hours, “and we left with 36 acres. It was a foggy, miserable day, and I couldn’t even tell I had a view until we came back!”

Her Tibetan shrine room was the first structure she built, then she created her home near Orcas Landing. She has hosted Buddhist teachers and classes for many years at her home on Orcas.

Her latest signature creation is “multiple lariats” that can be worn around the neck, pulled through like a scarf. They are a smashing success at national shows, such as a recent one in San Francisco.

The secret to Sallie’s success? She thinks it’s the personal attention she gives Monkey Puzzle patrons, working with people designing what they want. If the needed size or desired color isn’t at the shop, Sallie has a corner where the design, measurements, color or fabric choice can be made to order.

She’ll “match” the person to jewelry and clothing, “to see what a person wants and connect them to what will make them happy.

“Let’s try, tune in and make that person feel great,” is Sallie’s business model.

Whether a piece of jewelry, stylish pants, scarves, or versatile exercise wear, Sallie tends to the whole vision her patrons want to create. And that extends to the eclectic home furnishings, hostess gifts and artifacts she displays at her shop.  Also on display are framed notes of appreciation from her customers, including a favorite, written by Kyle Dvorak:

“Personalities braided together created a whole necklace of thoughts
Puzzled together the most beautiful knot.”

Just last month, she and Martin Lund brought up a trailer full of home furnishings from San Francisco back to Orcas, hearkening back to the old Monkey Puzzle, that closed in 2002. Since that closing, Sallie has had shops at Orcas Landing and Crow Valley Pottery, before moving to Eastsound Square last year.

She says simply, “We’re getting there.”

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Sallie Bell: Monkey Puzzle Moves On — 2 Comments

  1. Sallie:

    So delighted with your success – and the progression to your new ‘store’.

    Margie is so right – when I go into your store you always make me ‘feel great’ – and I’m not your mainstream client!

    All the best for continued success in the New Year.

    Joseph J Cohen

  2. Dear Sallie,
    I was sitting on my lanai this evening and you and your warm and encompassing personality came to my mind to apparently remind me of happy times in San Francisco. I am delighted to see that you are still making beautiful things and giving joy to everyone that comes into your realm. The world is fortunate that you did not become a brain surgeon!
    I will see you soon as I am coming to Seattle in June and will plan a trip to see the great design experience that you offer on Orcas. I hope to have the opportunity to give you a hug when I am there.
    Sue Tabor