WALDO COUNTY HAS A VIBRANT COMMUNITY OF ARTISTS. COME SEE THEIR WORK AND WATCH THE CREATIVE PROCESS IN ACTION.
From the moment fiber artist Alice Seeger stepped foot in Belfast, she felt right at home. She was excited to see so many people wearing colorful hand-knit sweaters, hats, and scarves, and she loved perusing the enclave of galleries and studios, and the funky shops that sold locally made jewelry and hung paintings and photos of local artists on their walls.
"I immediately felt like these are my people," Seeger recalls. "It was clear that people here value working with their hands, creating beautiful things and sharing them."
That warm creative vibe kept drawing Seeger back to Belfast to visit, and ultimately compelled her to move here from the Hudson Valley region of New York. In 2019, she opened Belfast Fiberarts, where she offers classes and studio space for weavers, spinners, sewers, and others, and showcases the work of 20 local fiber makers, from woven baskets and printed silk scarves to painstakingly embroidered hangings.
Seeger is among dozens of potters, jewelers, painters, printmakers, furniture makers, blacksmiths, metalsmiths, and artisans of all stripes who call Waldo County home and relish the opportunity to share their local passions with visitors and locals.
"The diversity of art is the signature of Waldo County," says Larraine Brown, director of the Belfast Creative Coalition, which promotes the region's creative economy. "There's this sense of neighborliness. Strolling through downtown Belfast, to these little studios down dirt roads and in the hills, you can find world-class art, get to know the artists, and find out what inspires them."
You can meet the makers at events like Common Ground Country Fair, Friday Night Art Walks, Arts in the Park, and weekly farmers' markets. Organizations like Waterfall Arts offer classes, camps, and open studios, where artists of all ages and evels of ability can hone their skills. Businesses like Heavenly Yarns and Fiddlehead Artisan Supply stock art and craft supplies, and offer a covivial atmosphere where makers can collaborate and ask questions. The annual Fiber College of Maine at Searsport Shores Ocean Campground attracts artisans from all over the country to celebrate weaving, spinning, woodworking, and metalworking and connect with others who share their passions.
Scores of individual makers invite the public into their workspaces and watch the creative process in action. In Swanville, you can go into potter Jody Johnstone's studio and showroom to see her making pots, vases, and other stoneware, which are finished in her giant wood-fired kiln. It's a center of gravity for area potters. Each May and October, dozens of potters gather at her property to take part in five-day community firings.
In downtown Belfast, you can wander over to the studio of acrylic painter and teacher Susan Tobey White on High Street to see her at work, or tuck in to Front Street Pottery to browse through the hand-built and wheel-thrown tableware and sculpture made by Gail Savitz and watch her work. At Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville, you can come right into the workshop to see Shaker-style furniture come to life.
"We love people coming in and experienceing what we do." owner Mike Timchak says. "Watching the light in customers' faces when they watch something that they'll use every day being made by hand is a huge plus for us. And knowing they're going to treasure what you made, I don't think there's any bigger positive for anybody that creates."
Many of these artists came to the area on the heels of the back-to-the-land movement, drawn by Waldo County's bucolic setting, affordable land, and the long tradition of art established by institutions like the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, which started in Montville in 1950, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, which started in 1946.
"Creative people are drawn to beautiful places for inspiration," says White, who moved to Palermo in 1971 from Connecticut, and helped launch the Belfast Art Walk back in 2004. "And Maine just has endless beauty."
Robrt Esposito, who opened Unity Pottery with his wife, Wendy, in 1986, loves that the area continues to be a destination for passionate makers who continue to flock to the area, attracted by the same dynamics that were at work back in the 1970s, as well as the thriving community of makers and institutions that support the arts here.
"Im so encouraged that there are younger artists and craftsmen moving to the area," he says. "They're still coming here seeking a simpler way of life, where you have time to reflect," he says. "It happened in the 1970s, and two generations later, it's still happening."