It surprises people who meet Katie and Allen Schaffer that they have only been together for about nine years.
“People think we’ve been together forever,” said Katie.
Perhaps that’s because they both seem to have endless reserves of energy when it comes to creative endeavors, and they both love to share those endeavors with lots of friends.
Neither Allen nor Katie has had much in the way of formal artistic training, but everything about them sings creativity. It’s not just their huge old downtown Bangor home, which they have renovated into a hybrid combination of art gallery, welcoming home space and multigenre school of craft. It’s also the way they each cultivate their own art form and invite friends in to teach them how to take it up for themselves.
Allen’s particular art form takes place in his basement. He and his protegees have come to refer to themselves as the Bangor Bacon Club.
It was a startling venue for me, the first time I joined my husband at one of his Bacon Club sessions. We descended into the basement where Allen coached his friends through the preparation and seasoning of vast slabs of meat on stainless-steel tables.
In a cold hanging closet were multiple salamis and other large meats somewhere along in their curing process. I tried a taste of pancetta that was all cured and ready to eat.
When I suggested that curing all these meats in one’s basement was a bit strange, Allen corrected me.
“It actually isn’t weird at all,” he said. “In Italian kitchens, especially, almost everyone had a basement kitchen where they made sausages. That way they moved the mess downstairs.”
Allen feels sure that the basement spaces in his old Bangor house were designed for hanging meats. It was a very common household practice. In fact, the basement space was one of the things that attracted him and Katie to the house when they moved here in 2009.
Allen had been intrigued by home-cured meats for years and was thrilled to set up his own basement kitchen. He and Katie also reconfigured the interior of most of their house and attached barn, opening up spaces and flow.
“We transformed the way the house breathes and moves,” Allen said.
Both avid foodies as well as home design fans, Katie and Allen soon got to know many local food and wine vendors, caterers and restaurateurs. A few years ago, they offered to host a dinner and tasting party for Bangor Wine and Cheese in their newly renovated barn. In between courses that evening, they gave tours of the house, including the basement space. Their guests found Allen’s enthusiasm for home-cured meats contagious.
“Can you teach us?” they asked.
So Allen had a few people over to join him the next time he was working in his downstairs kitchen. Then more friends wanted to come. They have made hams, sausage, kielbasa, pancetta, prosciutto and, of course, lots and lots of bacon.
“Sometimes we’ve had informal wine and beer tastings in the basement during Bacon Club,” said Allen.
“I hear the laughter downstairs, the wonderful sounds of people enjoying themselves down there,” said Katie. “It’s just a blast.”
Katie, like me, enjoys eating rather than producing the bacon. Her artistic output is varied and generous, including her whimsically painted furniture for Maine Discovery Museum fundraisers. As for shared art at home, hers takes place upstairs, and it doesn’t involve bacon, but eggs.
Growing up, Katie was surrounded by music, literature, photography and museums. In the 1960s, Katie’s mother came home one day with a kit for making decorated Ukrainian eggs. It’s an art form that Katie revisited when she moved to Bangor, and now she teaches the art informally to friends.
“It’s been very organic. It took shape kind of the same way as the Bacon Club,” she said.
She began by making the eggs for a friend, then others asked if she’d teach them.
“I’d say I’d be working on eggs on Tuesday from two to four, then they’d come and do it with me. Two or three people came, now I sometimes get six to eight people.”
Uncooked eggs are used to create these delicately beautiful works of art, made by an elaborate dyeing and waxing process. Traditionally, eggs remained whole. After drying, the yolk would rattle around inside the shell. Today people usually blow the eggs after dyeing.
One almost forgets that Allen is a physician by trade and Katie has an extensive background in retail. Their home, with its unique repurposed design, its wide open spaces, its bacon club and its egg art, and Allen’s basement workshop where he has built a lot of their furniture, feels like a full-time occupation and entertainment center. They fill the house regularly.
I wondered if they might run out of new projects now that their house is almost fully redone.
“Well, there’s this one attic room that I’m itching to redo,” said Katie.
“I want to build a mud oven outdoors for bread and pizza,” said Allen.
Katie laughed. “We both will always want to change things, but our goal is to stop.”
I laughed too, and couldn’t help thinking, “Good luck with that.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.