If you’re searching for that perfect souvenir to remind you of your Maine vacation, find something truly unique at Maine’s arts and crafts galleries and colonies. The state’s is dotted with arts and crafts guilds, galleries, schools and collectives, selling everything from handcrafted jewelry to fine wooden furniture, beach glass to quilts.
And if you’re an artist yourself, Maine’s arts and crafts centers and schools offer a range of instruction, workshops, retreats and residencies to help you hone your craft.
A Long History
In fact, the state is known for its long artisanal tradition. In the late 1800s, an art colony was established on Monhegan Island that drew renown artists from around New England over the next century, such as William Henry Singer, Martin Borgord, Edward Hopper, and modern arts like Frances Kornnbluth and Jamie Wyeth.
Today, the non-profit Monhegan Artists Residency Corporation program brings Maine’s visual artists to the island in the summer. Past fellows include Mercedes Gilbert, Nathanial Udell and Terry Hilt.
Another historical artists’ colony, Ogunquit, was founded by Charles Woodbury in the late 1800s. Artists were housed in fishermen’s shacks until the population grew so large that proper housing was constructed. The Ogunquit artists, known as the Virginial Wayfarers, favored the postimpressionist style until 1902, when young protégé Robert Laurent arrived at the colony, and the era of Modernism began.
Over the years, resident artists included Henry Strater — who founded the Ogunquit Museum of Modern Art and the Ogunquit Art Association — Walt Kuhn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Alfred Bellows and Peggy Bacon. Today, artists still flock to Ogunquit; many of them exhibit their work in the award-winning, artist-run Barn Gallery.
Centers and Schools
Maine’s many arts and crafts schools and centers attract working artists from around the country and the globe. Among the most renown, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle has offered studio-based workshops, symposia and conferences, all in a residential setting. Internationally acclaimed instructors lead in the school’s intensive craft workshops, focused on subjects such as woodworking, blacksmithing, glass, clay, metals, as well as performing arts, from dance to poetry.
Another residential program, the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, welcomes clay artists to its location in Newcastle. The center offers residencies and retreats for established artists, as well as clay workshops for youth and adults.
Since 1946, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture has offered summer residencies to emerging visual artists. Past participants in this intensive, nine-week program include Fulbright Grant recipients Brenda Zlamany and Abraham Storer.
Located in rural Rockport, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship offers workshops, 12-week residencies and nine-month courses of study in turning, carving, finishing and marquetry. Here, Maine’s woodworking tradition – long facilitated by an abundance of local wood resources — is continued by instructors and students from across the U.S. and abroad.
For the best selection of Maine’s many arts and crafts, from pottery to tourmaline, wool blankets to fine and folk art, go directly to the source at one of the state’s many galleries and artists’ guilds.
One of the largest, the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner, houses the works of up to 300 Maine artists under one roof. The center offers a range of handcrafted goods as well as demonstrations, exhibitions and cultural and tourist information.
For a selection of items that represents the diversity of Maine’s island communities and heritage, Archipelago – part of the Island Institute in Rockland – houses the works of artists that reside in Maine’s island and coastal communities.
In Kennebunkport, Mast Cove Galleries is Maine’s largest privately-owned gallery. It represents more than 80 artists and offers paintings, photography and sculpture.
Maine FiberArts in Topsham features exhibitions from Maine’s many talented fiber artists. The center also offers workshops and a research library.
Festivals and Shows
Art lovers can find craft festivals and shows year-round. For several decades, the Maine Crafts Guild has sponsored several shows each year between July and November in locations including Augusta, Bar Harbor and Damariscotta. Shows feature the work of multiple Maine artists and craftsmen, offering everything from hand-crafted shoes to pottery and fiber arts.
The United Maine Craftsmen also sponsors a series of events around the state. Most shows take place between July and December, including the Bangor Summer Arts and Crafts Festival and the Fall Festival of Arts and Crafts at Smiling Hill Farm. The largest show in the state is the annual Cumberland Arts and Crafts Show, held each August since 1969 at the Cumberland State Fairgrounds.
For more than 30 years, the Camden Harbor Arts and Crafts Show has taken place in July and October. This juried show features more than 100 New England artists and artisans, all set in the lovely seaside venue of Camden Harbor.