BUXTON, Maine — Lobstermen are typically left out of the artisan, do-it-yourself conversation coursing through Maine. In the new book “Handcrafted Maine,” these skilled laborers get top billing. The same can be said for basketweavers, wilderness guides, bakers and dogsled makers.
“When you say ‘handcrafted’ one thinks of arts and crafts, not surf boards, or organic farming,” said the book’s creative editor Jan Hartman of Brooksville, who conceived of a coffee table book capturing the resilience, grit and perseverance of Maine’s makers.
Hoping to inspire others, and keep Maine’s “high quality domestic economy” humming, Hartman shopped the idea to Princeton Architectural Press four years ago.
Moving to Maine from Washington D.C., editor and historian Hartman saw a need for under-the-radar stories to be told of year-round Mainers like Ray Murphy, a chainsaw artist in Hancock.
Buxton writer Katy Kelleher and Portland photographer Greta Rybus spent a good three years turning the concept into a reality.
Kelleher, a former managing editor at Maine Magazine, and globe-trotting lensmith Rybus plunged into the task full force. One January they froze on the ocean to track Stonington lobsterman John Williams at work. They stayed in an off-the-grid cabin to cull seaweed with harvester Micah Woodcock, two of the 22 Mainers they profiled.
The result is a lavishly photographed book with in-depth reporting that delivers genuine senses of place. Coming out Tuesday, “Handcrafted Maine” elevates art, life, harvest and home while showcasing the many different Maines these artisans inhabit.
“I love sitting next to somebody as they talk about their passions,” said Kelleher, who traveled the state for a year with Rybus to capture Brunswick sculptor John Bisbee turn nails into works of art and chronicle Tinder Hearth bakery in Brooksville turn organic grains into epic loaves.
“All these things people are making with their hands. I see all of them as acts of art,” said Kelleher.
Not wishing to gloss over hard truths, such as the heroin epidemic tearing through the lobster industry, or artists struggling with depression and paying bills, Kelleher didn’t hold back in her reportage.
“If you base everything about Maine on lighthouses, beauty, boats and lobster rolls, you forget there is actually a lot of interesting stuff here that is not picturesque,” said the author, who kept asking herself “how is this book going to reflect Maine and be good for Maine?”
On a whole, “Handcrafted Maine” is a beautiful book about hardy, creative souls making it in a state built on locavorism.
“This fulfills the vision more than the original dream,” said Hartman of the finished product.
The hardest part, editor and writer agree, was whittling down the subjects to a mere 22.
“We couldn’t include them all,” said Hartman. “We had to be super selective.”
Kelleher and Rybus celebrate the launch of “Handcrafted Maine” at Blue Hill Books on Wednesday at 5 p.m. and the Portland Museum of Art on Friday at 6 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.