Maine Crafts Association: Ten Years of Master Craft Artists
by: Sadie Bliss, Maine Crafts Association Director
Since our founding in 1983, the Maine Crafts Association (MCA) has supported craft artists by providing educational, marketing, and retail opportunities. In 2009, the MCA established the Master Craft Artist Award to annually honor individual Maine craft artists. Recipients are selected for demonstrating excellence in craftsmanship, inspired design, an exceptional body of work, a singular voice or style, and a career of service to the field.
To me, the Master Craft Artist Awards are a critical opportunity to recognize and share in the accomplishments of the Masters among us, of which there are many in Maine. These artists are deeply embedded in their communities. They establish national and international affiliations while supporting their neighbors and peers in craft. What’s more, they inspire through their skills, aesthetics, and dedication. They have mastered not only a material, but how to use their practice as a vehicle for connectivity.
In ten years the Maine Crafts Association recognized 16 artists, and one new awardee in 2019; these individuals are not only visible in local, national, and international exhibitions and collections, they are a “who’s who” in the rich and expanding story of Maine craft. Awardees are founders, leaders, and guides with deep connections to our craft schools, non-profit organizations, residencies, university art departments, international craft symposiums, community studios and so many other creative and collaborative ventures. They weave together and intersect with one another, as well as with Maine’s significant institutions and cultural accomplishments.
Master Craft Artist Awardees 2009 – 2019
2009 Christian Becksvoort
2009 Paul Heroux
2009 Lissa Hunter
2009 J. Fred Woell
2010 Katharine Cobey
2011 Jacques Vesery
2012 Lynn Duryea
2013 Theresa Secord
2014 Sharon Townshend
2015 Rebecca Goodale
2015 Sam Shaw
2016 Elizabeth Busch
2017 Anna Hepler
2018 Steve Cayard
2018 Patricia Daunis-Dunning
2018 David Wolfe
2019 Tom Ferrero
Lynn Duryea and Theresa Secord not only master technique and form, but they also succeed in parlaying their craft into support of a targeted community. Duryea, a founder of Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, ME, created a ceramics program for those with HIV and AIDS, improving the lives of hundreds of people though arts programming. Secord set out to re-integrate basket making into her Native American community – the Penobscot nation – by founding the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance. In doing so, she successfully nurtured a new generation of artists in her community who are now masters in their own rights.
In 1988 Lynn Duryea, Sharon Townshend a ceramic artist deeply connected to form and nature, and Paul Heroux, a ceramic artist known for surface design, founded Sawyer Street Studios, a community of working ceramic artists sharing equipment and ideas, located in the Ferry Village neighborhood of South Portland. Sawyer Street continues to support artists at all stages in their careers with studios, equipment and community.
Patricia Daunis-Dunning and David Wolfe both nurture Maine’s emerging artists by opening their studios to makers in need of mentorship. Daunis-Dunning’s designs have been worn nationally for decades, and her studio is a place of growth for many up-and-coming jewelers. Wolfe is a leader in the Portland printmaking community; Wolfe Editions serves as hub and resource and places Portland on the national printmaking map.
Steve Cayard was a catalyst in the renaissance of birch bark canoe-making with David Moses Bridges (deceased in 2017). His work is included in the 2018 Portland Museum of Art Biennial. Nominated for the Master Craft Artist award by Kathleen Mundell, she writes, “For Steve, building canoes is a creative way to renew and reinvigorate an ancient tradition. By working with tribal members he has not only reintroduced specific cultural knowledge and techniques, but also helped restore an endangered Native American practice.”
Jacques Vesery is a master woodworker known for his exquisite wood sculpture. While Jacques’s work captivates and inspires through its inclusion in significant collections, books, and exhibitions, he represents the United States and promotes woodturning on an international scale through World Wood Day. This work brings him to a new country each year, where he uses his craft to connect with the local community and an international circle of artists dedicated to promoting sustainable artistic and utilitarian wood practices.
Anna Hepler uses a diverse range of materials to explore form, purpose, and design through experimentation. As was stated by Nat May, the 2018 award juror, “[Anna]has a unique way of using intuition and experience to guide her work, engaging in series of improvisations that allow the material itself to have collaborative agency. Hepler’s embracing of uncertainty demonstrates an openness to evolution, as she continually builds upon her expertise with new learning and understanding of what a given material will abide or even prefer.“
Sam Shaw’s jewelry and sculpture reflect his inspirations and life experience. His degree in geology, a year-long trip around the globe, nomadic winter residencies in America’s largest cities, and time spent at Burning Man are just some of the adventures that inspire his practice. Sam’s forms are always impeccably designed and executed. The artist’s career of service to the craft community reflects both his leadership and rebellious qualities. His interest in progress has inspired him to serve as president of the Maine Crafts Association in the 1980s and the Society of North American Goldsmiths in the 1990s.
Lissa Hunter’s media has evolved over the years to include basketry, paper, ceramics, and combinations thereof. Like many of her fellow awardees, she has a history of supporting, guiding, and teaching at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Maine Crafts Association. Her decades-long presence and continuous threads of support cannot be underestimated as they contribute to the value of the craft community.
Rebecca Goodale has been creating innovative and sublime artist’s books for many years and frequently does collaborative work as well as public art installations. In addition to her own practice, she is the program coordinator for the Kate Cheney Chappell ‘83 Center for Book Arts at the University of Southern Maine, where she inspires makers at all levels.
Katharine Cobey and her inspired work are legendary in Maine and beyond. A sought-after fiber artist full of warmth and innovation, Cobey has pushed the boundaries of fiber and form throughout her decades-long career. Among other pursuits, she has been a longtime supporter of Maine Fiberarts, another important institution in Maine craft.
Elizabeth Busch is a multi-talented quilt maker, painter, and sculptor whose body of work showcases a keen eye for color relationships and a sophisticated sense of composition. Busch is well known for her public art works in Maine and throughout the United States. Her large-scale expressions incorporate themes of science and architecture, defining and enlivening their spaces while sparking conversation and connection.
Christian Becksvoort is known throughout Maine and far beyond for his meticulous craftsmanship and significant contributions to the field, most notably in the Shaker aesthetic. Becksvoort is also an engaged MCA member and long-time supporter of our programs. And I am certain Christian would grant us this support with or without the much-deserved title of Master Craft Artist.
J. Fred Woell, influential artist and friend to MCA and other established Maine craft organizations, passed away in 2010. Known for his found-object assemblages, Woell created thought-provoking jewelry that incorporated the artist’s unique take on political and social satire. Woell’s work is included in many collections of significance, including the Fuller Craft Museum.
Gratitude and Looking Ahead
In 2009, as Special Projects Consultant to the MCA, Lynn Thompson developed this important program, and I thank her for her vision. I further acknowledge Fuller Craft Museum Chief Curator Beth McLaughlin and her team for partnering with the MCA, curating this excellent exhibition, and a special thank you to Beth for serving as juror for this year’s award. Congratulations to Tom Ferrero, our 2019 Awardee; it is an honor to recognize intense skill and contributions to metal arts in Maine. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Master Craft Artist Award, Maine Crafts Association renews our commitment to honoring exceptional craft artists. We look forward to celebrating craft in Maine, and welcoming future awardees into the community of the Master Craft Artist Award.