Carl Little is a freelance art writer and poet based on Mount Desert Island. He has written about Maine craft artists for Ornament, Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, and Art New England. He edited Discovery: 50 Years of Craft Experience at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (University of Maine Press, 2004). In 2009 the Maine Crafts Association presented him with the first individual award for contributions to the field of craft in Maine. In 2014 Little juried “Inspired Hand VI: Maine Crafts Association Members Exhibition” at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

What Maine Craft Means to Me

by Carl Little, freelance arts writer and 2009 recipient of the MCA Master Craft Supporter award

Since writing a profile of Sam Shaw for Ornament magazine in the late 1990s, I have had the privilege of visiting the homes, shops, and studios of a number of jewelry artists across Maine. I’ve found my way to Deer Isle, Ellsworth, Falmouth, Rockport, and Vienna (the Maine one), among other places, and ridden the elevator in the State Street Building in Portland on a number of occasions.

Many moments come up in the memory bank: joining Tim McCreight to study a mini-retrospective of his work spread out on a table; discussing collaboration with Patricia Daunis-Dunning and her husband William Dunning; having Fred Woell recount how precious metal clay took off; and, most recently, watching Tom Ferrero carefully remove his masterwork “Mace” from a special case designed to hold it.

Each visit I’m amazed by the dedication to the work, through thick and thin. Many of the artists squeak by, holding several jobs in order to make ends meet: teaching, retail sales, administrating, etc. Each has a life story as individual as the work they create.

The hands always fascinate me, the maker’s primary tools, that hold the soldering iron, torch, saw and handmade instruments, that shape the wire or pick out and place the bead or gem. Writing about these artists has helped put to rest for good that perennial craft vs. art question. My god, look at a set of earrings by Stephani Briggs or one of Lisa Hall’s sea glass pendants or a Peggy Johnson beetle pin or an Ellen Wieske tin brooch—these are works of art, brilliantly crafted.

So, thank you to the artists mentioned above and the following who carefully explained their techniques, designs and visions for beauty to this awed visitor: Ann Jenkins, Devta Doolan, Robin Cust, Stephanie Sersich, Donna D’Aquino, Cara Romano, Sharon Portelance, J. E. Paterak, Michael Good, Robin Cust, Elizabeth Prior, Jayne Redman (apologies to anyone I missed).

“Jewelers are fortunate to get invited into people’s lives,” McCreight told me way back when. People put jewelry on, they wear it out, they pass it along to each other—“It’s a fertile, verdant place to operate,” he noted. Fortunate am I to share a bit of that bountiful world.

Coda:

This past Sunday I learned that Carolyn Benesh, co-founder and co-editor of Ornament, passed away on September 30th. This “raconteur singing the ballads of contemporary wearable art” brought a great deal of beauty to the world through the magazine. It was an honor to write for her. Love and condolences to Carolyn’s husband Bob and their son Patrick. I will miss her.

What Maine Craft Means to Me Essay Series invites you to explore the many intersections and layers of craft, people and time in Maine through the words of those with deep connections to our state and our field.

The Maine Crafts Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization supporting craft artists by providing educational, marketing and retail opportunities. Our ability to accomplish our mission and help artists thrive is reliant on individual contributions.

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