Review: “Handcrafted Maine” profiles makers, artists and creatives

Photographs © 2017 Greta Rybus from Handcrafted Maine: Art, Life, Harvest & Home, published by Princeton Architectural Press, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

I appreciate a fine Maine-made product, be it a rug or a loaf of bread, as much as the next person, but it wasn’t until I opened “Handcrafted Maine, Art, Life, Harvest & Home” that I gained a deeper appreciation—and awe—of the products and those who made them.

And deeper is the operative word. Buxton author Katy Kelleher and Portland photojournalist Greta Rybus (both of whom have been previously featured in Maine Women Magazine) go deep into the lives and work of 22 Mainers who are part of the handmade culture of the state. Diverse in their work, those profiled represent traditional artists and also outdoor adventure guides, bakers, farmers, brewers and more. They live in 19 towns and cities throughout the state.

It is a beautiful book, more than worthy of display on any coffee table. Rybus’ sharp photos capture the minute details that Kelleher puts into words. But it is the book’s intriguing take on “handcrafting” that sets it apart.

Rug weaver Sara Hotchkiss of Waldoboro.

Kelleher took a broad approach in her three years of research and writing. She sought out people with skills rooted in Maine tradition, so therefore not just “craftsmen” as we may usually think of them. When the Stonington lobsterman she approached said he didn’t think he’d be right for the book because he didn’t think of himself as “creative,” she was ready to convince him otherwise. “Creativity isn’t just about painting or building or writing. For me, creativity is forging new pathways. It’s coming at a problem from a new direction. It’s building bridges where you see chasms,” she explains in the introduction to the book. “A creative is someone who conceives of a new solution. A maker is someone who turns that solution into a physical reality.”

And her profiles prove that point. Tim Semler and Lydia Moffett, who own Tinder Hearth Bakery and Restaurant in Brooksville, on Penobscot Bay, for example, have worked long and hard to create a community around the bread and pastries they bake and their special pizza nights they hold in their farmhouse gardens. The couple have grown and adapted their business over the course of 10 years, with no small amount of personal sacrifice, to realize their goals of creating a “local hub, a place where people could come together and share common ground.”

Potter Ayumi Hori of Portland.

“The importance of grit and sacrifice” for the end result was one of the “commonalities” that Kelleher says she found among her subjects. Other common traits, she writes, were “influence of the natural world on the creation of a product, the impact of a supportive creative community, the physical nature of this type of work and Maine’s rich traditions.”

These thoughtfully selected makers, artists and creatives—all of them, from the Portland restaurateur who raises his own pork, to the Waldoboro painter, the wooden surfboard maker in York, the Indian Island basketmaker and Northport blanket producers—are living their passion. And that, we learn from this important piece of Maine writing and photography, is achieved in a unique way because they live in Maine.

Amy Canfield is a writer, editor and bibliophile who lives in South Portland.

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