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Special Report: Waldo County, Maine

ART TIMES Aug, 2003

Travel writers from as far as California, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and the NY region were invited by Geiger & Associates of Florida, a PR firm that primarily focuses on destination marketing, to visit Waldo County Maine (www.waldocountymaine.com). Our itinerary covered B&B's, restaurants, museums, craft shops businesses, and parks that helped give a sense of the region, its history and culture. We stayed in Belfast (largest city in the county with 6,500 population) & Searsport. The consortium of businesses included were B&B's where we stayed, restaurants where we ate. I stayed at the Yardarm (www.searsportmaine.com) a motel more than B&B, and had breakfast at the Wildflower Inn (www.wildflowerinn.net), a B&B run by Kate and John Nelson — a great team with Kate preparing scrumptious breakfasts (the homemade blueberry jam was fabulous as was the rest of the breakfasts) and John serving and clearing. Ann, the writer who stayed at the Inn, told me the beds were so comfy she found it hard to get going in the morning. Most of the owners of businesses we visited were transplants from other parts of the East. Some of the exceptions included Stephanie Clapp who is 11th generation Waldo County and runs, along with her sculptor husband John Clapp, Cellardoor Winery (www.mainewine.com). We had a delightful visit to the winery that has a beautiful view of the vineyards — I could have been in Tuscany. There were many handcrafted items in the shop where we enjoyed tastes of their delicious wines. Jeff and Suzi Marger, originally from Westchester County, NY, bought the Bluejacket Shipcrafters, a manufacturer of ship model kits, custom-built models, fittings & supplies and accessories, est. 1905 (www.bluejacketinc.com). We had the farewell gathering of hosts and writers at their facility and got quite an education about ship models.

A visit to the Penobscot Museum (www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org) gave me a good sense of the 19th century world of seagoing families from coastal Maine, specifically Penobscot Bay. There are 12 or so buildings that comprise the museum. The Douglas & Margaret Carver Memorial Art Gallery houses special exhibitions and often shows their Butterworth Collection (both Thomas & son James) of ships at sea. In the other buildings of the complex there are old crafts, models of ships, examples of captain's homes and furnishings, an excellent scrimshaw collection, needlepoint samples, photographs and oil portraits of captains & their wives (some done in Hong Kong with artist unknown). I was particularly moved by the exhibit "The Childhood Sea Adventures of Lincoln and Joanna Colcord" which showed the life at sea as detailed through the letters, memorabilia, photographs, and writings of two sea-going children in the late 19th century. An exhibition about pirates is open now and one will get quite an education about who the pirates were, where they came from, and what they did.

I met with Charles Courant and Nancy Hauswald for a private conversation about the arts in Waldo County. Like most every county there is an Arts Council that tries to coordinate programs at different public venues. I learned that music and art is very strong in the schools and the Superintendent is very supportive even with a tight budget. I believe that part of the rich offerings of music, theater, dance, and art festivals is due to MBNA Corporation (a credit card company) that wants their employees — which is a good portion of the population and those that relocated with them in 1996-97 — to have a rich cultural life, good schools, and a clean environment. They bought up the waterfront property, cleaned it up and sold it back to the City for $1. This reclaimed an area that had once been shoe factories and chicken processing plants and today is a delightful waterfront with restaurants and city dock. I couldn't get a figure but they contribute a lot of money to the schools and the community programs. But this community would still have dance classes & performances, galleries, arts centers, music concerts and recitals, though perhaps not as many. For the past 4 years there has been a Bear Festival. Artists are invited to paint bears and then they are auctioned off with monies going to charities. Nancy seems to be coordinating the Waldo County Arts Discovery Project which is a community based, grassroots efforts to identify and inventory the county's cultural resources. She said that they will publish the Arts and Heritage Guide to Waldo County and produce a web site that will promote the unique arts and cultural assets www.waldoarts.org

While walking around town I met several artists, many from the group that arrived in the 70's when land was cheap and "Back to Nature" was in vogue. I spent some time speaking with them. Basically they do what they have to in order to support their art: some teach, others have more commercial gallery spaces, some co-op with other artists and crafters to make it easier to show their work. There are good brochures that identify where the arts can be found: Pottery Tours, Artist & Artisan Guide & Tour.

I ate more lobster in 4 days than I had in 6 months, saw some wonderful crafts and art, met delightful people and enjoyed my time. Oh I forgot to mention the Penobscot Books on the Fine Arts in Searsport. He has one of the largest collections of art books that I've seen in a store — rooms and rooms filled with old and new fine art books. If you're looking for something, call Howard la Rue at 207-548-6490. He hasn't a website or a catalogue, but will know what he has when you ask him.

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