Amazingly it's been 20 years that I've been a full time glass artisan! How did that happen? Well I'll tell you. I moved to Maine 21 years ago, from the Alaskan Bush. We had lived on an Island in Prince William Sound, through what would have been my high school years. My dad managed an oyster farm and my mother and I took turns working with him and trading off running the house and home schooling with my three younger sisters.
When we had lived there a year, I was invited to visit family in New England and San Francisco. While visiting my Aunt in California, she trained me to knot pearl necklaces. We went to China Town and I bought a lot of pearls. When I made it home to the Island, I began making pearl necklaces. After six months, when we next made our twice a year trip to town for supplies, my mother took me around and we found an upscale clothing boutique and a jewelry store that would buy all that I could make. So I sent money down to my Aunt and she went and bought me pearls and I had a jewelry making business.
When you live in the bush, there isn't much to spend your money on. You'll think of something you'd like to get on the next town trip and then two months later it's not that important. Much of my money was saved. It wasn't a large amount but later when we moved to Maine it was enough to take a bunch of classes at a fine craft school, buy equipment and renovate my studio. A year into living here, I had a job as a waitress at a fine dinning restaurant. I was working on designing my own beginning line of work and I had started to have a modest trickle of orders. The restaurant I worked at decided to change to a tavern and it was not a place I enjoyed working any more. This was back when smoking was still allowed in restaurants and it was like working in a chimney.
So being twenty years old, with a summer worth of savings as a fine dinning waitress and not having the full roster of adult bills yet, I quit my job. I've managed to work for myself ever since! In the beginning I did visits by appointment to my hot studio and demos for kids. This was pretty lucrative as I'm just down the road from the Hiram Blake camp, which rents out cottages to families, I filled up my schedule every day through the summer. I also put up a table and umbrella at the local farmers markets. Once I added the winter market in Bangor, I was doing 54 farmers markets a year. Early on I was excepted into the selection of works sold at Island Artisans in Bar Harbor and that was a very good account. Within five years I had seventeen galleries around the country selling my work. I was doing 5 to 7 big fine craft shows a year and still doing all those farmers markets.
I began to get very run down. Remember I am making everything I sell, spending as many hours as I can in the studio, I'm packing up work, displays and a booth and traveling to multiple places a week to sell my wears. It's expensive to run the studio, so in addition to making enough to live on, there is also the factor of the studio always coming first.
I lightened my load where I could and tried to find a formula as an artisan that would meet my needs, with out asking too much from me. At 25 I took up an opportunity to take over one of my favorite galleries. It was a fun time. I got to continue with some of the previous galleries accounts with artists. So right away it was a cool mix. We sold lots of pottery, jewelry, and blown glass. I was selling everything from a wide selection of artisan made silver, to platinum and diamonds from Alex Sepkus. I had a great response to my own work.
I stopped traveling all the time and got to create a body of work that was designed for the store and on display all the time. The gallery was on Main street in Deer Isle village with the side walk out front and a porch over the water out the back. With the two screen doors open, a lovely sea breeze would flow through the shop.
After three years the building in Deer Isle sold, I decided to downsize a bit. I had trimmed out travel by switching to having a store. But then I had ended up working 90 hours a week nearly all of the time. I was exhausted.
I opened a studio gallery in the town of Brooklin. People thought I was crazy for moving to such an out of the way spot. But the formula there really worked for me. One, it was moderate enough for me to run it by myself. No more pay roll to cover and my rent was lower. Right away it was ok to gross a third less. I could afford to shorten my hours a bit. The first summer I was quite unwell and I was open just noon to 5 and that was ok in a town like Brooklin. Also it made me a destination location, with advertising and my loyal following, customers would drive over, about a 20 minute drive for most. Then they would have some skin in the game and would usually think ahead about upcoming birthdays and shop early for holidays. They would think, I won't be back for awhile and so give themselves permission to really shop.
Unfortunately I have to report that though I loved Brooklin, I suffered terrible back and joint pain for much of the time I was there. I had run away inflammatory response as well and so any tiny bit of extra anything could make me even worse for a ridiculous amount of time. Six years passed and I finally began to improve. I felt comparatively better and I decided to branch out with the gallery and carry something new. I moved into a larger space in the same building and began carrying handmade clothing, all made by studio designers in Maine.
It was beautiful and customers loved it. The first summer I was swamped all the time and again was working too much. The second year Blue Hill, twenty minutes down the road, put in a rotary on the hub intersection for much of the peninsula. The road work was done in July and August and created atrocious lines of vehicles waiting sometimes 45 minutes to get through. It also happened to be a beautiful summer and most people decided to spend more time on the water and in their gardens. I put directions to the gallery by other rotes in my ads and posted charming pictorial directions on Facebook and in my monthly email. Nothing worked and I brought in a third of what I normally did. Thats a big problem as July and August make up 70% of my yearly gross. Its very hard to make it up in the rest of the year as we are a very seasonal area. There is not much support here in the off season.
The pain began to flare up again and I started to suffer from Vertigo. I endeavored to make the fall and holiday season as amazing as I could but there was no bounce back. I became so dizzy that I couldn't drive myself half of the time and it just kept getting worse. I got to the end of the year and I couldn't function. I needed to bring in some money and so was backed into a corner and started a going out of business sale.
I was finally closed in March and I thought with a few months of rest I would be able to open again in a new spot. My sister Kipp and I shared an apartment in Blue Hill and as spring progressed it became obvious I wouldn't be better any time soon. Since I was not able to live with out an income for all that long, we started to do an open house each Saturday. Kipp was an angel to help me do this. Especially as she had upped her work week to six days to bring in more money, and then spent her only day off making cucumber sandwiches and helping me chat up customers. Several times she had to take over entirely as I was too unwell when Saturday arrived.
We removed a bunch of our home things from the living room and set up the gallery jewelry displays. We sent out a weekly email with pictures of the tea and treats we had made the week before and pics of the new items I had managed to make. I posted all the work I had on my Etsy shop online, so that anyone who didn't want to come to our open house or who was out of town, could shop online.
All of that was a fraction of the work I would have been doing with the gallery. But it was a struggle to manage it. I had to be driven down to the hot studio at least twice in the week to make the new work needed. I couldn't drive myself as my vertigo made it unsafe. Working on a torch with vertigo is also not a good idea and we had to try and pace my daily effort so that I would be more likely to be well enough. Most days I wedged myself into the corner of the sofa and tried to hold still all day. In the windows of time that I felt better, I'd work on photographing, editing, and posting items online, in ten to twenty minute intervals. The computer work was the hardest to get done as it triggered my vertigo. But it was the only way I had to reach out to customers. So all week long I'd push myself to do fifteen minutes out of each hour of work. I was also having to sleep propped up into a sitting position with pillows. It is very surreal to go from working full time, to hardly working and to feel so very unrested.
I am very grateful to the people who made the effort to come to our open houses. They have the status of angels in my mind. We managed to see out our lease and I can't imagine having to move our home during that time. Kipp and I decided we had better not take the apartment for another year. We moved down to our mother's farm on Cape Rosier. Giant plus, my hot studio is on the same property.
After another winter I was finally feeling a little more functional. The new plan for that second summer after the gallery closing, was to rent a little store space for the summer, ten minutes down the road in Bucks Harbor. I set my hours to fit when Mom or Kipp could drive me, as I still couldn't drive safely. The space was inexpensive and rentable by the month. So I had a gallery again and it was okay to just be making a moderate amount in that quiet little spot. It was in the same building as the general store in Robert McCluskey's children's classic, One Morning in Maine.
For the first time since having a store I was showing just my own work and some of Kipp's paintings. In the past I had always shown 35 to 50 other artists. It is much simpler just showing mine. The space was very charming, with big old retail windows, a front porch and a bit of a view of the water. My inventory was not terribly ample but the space was small and every piece was new. I started building a new body of work with several new lines to it. I made enough money to get sort of caught up. It was a very slow spot but many of my following came and found me and a few new customers discovered me. It was a bit more work then I was up for but I very much enjoyed getting out of the house.
With a little rest in the fall, I felt up to a pop up shop for the holidays. I rented the store space on Main street in Blue Hill for November and December. By the new year I was driving again, with the worst of my vertigo past. I decided to keep the space and now I'm halfway through my third year there. The Blue Hill shop is mini, I long for more space. But I'm still enjoying just showing my work and Kipp's.
To bring my story up to date though I have to share that after changing doctors five times over seventeen years, I finally was diagnosed with Lyme disease and am about two thirds through a multi year treatment to get rid of it. My health is improving a little each month. The treatment itself makes you feel pretty rough. But I'm much more functional then I was two years ago and am looking forward to being cured in a year or so.
This year I am celebrating 20 years as a full time glass artisan. What are my refections? I wish I had done a gallery of just my own work long ago. But in the beginning I wasn't as amazingly productive as I am now. I wish I hadn't been bit by a tick seventeen years ago. Ironically there were no ticks in Alaska. Who new Maine would be so much more dangerous then living in the Alaskan Bush.
I love my work. Most days I get to work with molten glass and a rainbow of colors. When I am on the torch, I am very much in a state of flow. I love my gallery. It's another part of my creativity. I love the solitude I often have and I like the upbeat interactions with customers too. I have lots and lots of hours to listen to audio books! I get to both work productively and devour books at the same time.
I am looking forward to being cured and a fully healthy person again. I have lots of creative plans that are just waiting on the health to tackle them. In the meantime though, I am very proud of the work I've been creating. This is the best collection I have ever shown!