Christian Becksvoort of New Gloucester, Maine is a career furniture maker, long time member of the Maine Crafts Association and 2009 recipient of the MCA’s Master Craft Artist award. Chris has been honored to do restoration work for the last remaining Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake since the late 70’s. He wrote the The Shaker Legacy — Perspectives on an Enduring Furniture Style and dozens and dozens of articles as a contributing editor since 1989 to the magazine, Fine Woodworking.

What Maine Craft Means to Me

by Christian Becksvoort

For over 50 years I’ve been working with wood: furniture, sculpture, sleighs, hammered dulcimers, lamps, music stands, built-ins, signs, as well as restoration work for the last Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake.

My woodworking started with my dad.  He was a German trained cabinet maker, and early on I was enlisted.  It was not a formal apprenticeship, and I worked as a gopher, sweeper and holder.  Eventually I got to sand, saw and actually help in the shop. It didn’t go all that well when a teenager works with a perfectionist.

However, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, and  I had four years of woodshop in high school. At the University of Maine in Orono I started out in forestry, then switched to wildlife management.  I chose diverse electives such as drafting, architectural appreciation, and eventually a semester of wood technology. That was probably the most eye opening and valuable course for my eventual career choice.

Working for the government for a year, I decided to return to Maine and to woodworking.  After a gig in a furniture factory and an architectural millwork shop, I opened my own studio in 1986.

I joined the MCA shortly after it was founded by Carolyn Hecker.  She and Ron Pearson were forces to be reckoned with.  They had connections throughout the craft world.  Carolyn got the organization up and running, and I jumped on the bandwagon.  One of the first successful craft shows I attended was MCA sponsored.

As I remember, Carolyn pulled out all stops for the MCA’s tenth anniversary.  She arranged for a juried exhibit of MCA members at the Portland Museum of Art.  In conjunction, the weekend that the exhibit opened there was one of the best MCA craft shows at the Holiday Inn, just around the corner from the museum.  I had a 12-arm chandelier in the exhibit and a booth at the Inn.  On opening night, Tabitha King came through with her secretary (carrying a clipboard) and started pointing to items she wanted to purchase.  She bought one of my first Snow Gliders.

After Carolyn retired as director, there were a few lean years for the organization.  It wasn’t until Tracy Stutzman was appointed as director, that the organization regained its prominence.  She was instrumental in the construction of the first Center For Maine Crafts, a major step for the MCA.  In 2009, the MCA started the Master Craft Artist Awards.  My neighbor, Paul Heroux and I were among the first to be so honored.  Fred Woell made the award pins, and Carolyn Hecker made the official presentation at Haystack.  It was one of the high points of my craft career.

When Tracy left and Sadie took over, the organization took yet another upward turn.  The web presence was updated, MCA members had a chance to participate in Craft Boston, the Maine Craft Portland opened, and The Guild became a part of the MCA.

The Maine Crafts Association has meant so much to me.  It has always been more than just the benefits of membership: the Center for Maine Craft, Maine Craft Portland, the shows and exhibits, the representation on the state level, Master Craft Artist Award, the apprentice program, Maine Craft Weekend, Haystack, co-op ads and  business workshops.  For me one of the biggest assets is s sense community.  Most of us work alone, and we enjoy connecting and networking with fellow crafts people.  Some we only see once or twice a year at a show or exhibit, or at a regional meeting.  The MCA gives us all a sense of belonging to a like-minded community of artists.

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.