BAR HARBOR — Thirty-six years ago, 11 Mount Desert Island area artisans came together with one simple goal.
“The main mission was to provide a space for craftspeople to sell their work,” said Abigail Goodyear, one of the original founding members and co-owners of Island Artisans in Bar Harbor.
The following year, on May 10, 1982, Island Craft Cooperative was born in a space on Main Street across from the Village Green in Bar Harbor.
Eventually renamed Island Artisans and relocated to its current home at 99 Main St., it is now celebrating its 35th year as one of the premier craft galleries and shops in Maine. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Island Artisans’ Northeast Harbor location.
Early on, all of the artists represented were from the Mount Desert Island area. The shop and gallery has since grown to represent more than 100 Maine artists from Portland to Jackman.
“We will never go outside of Maine,” said Goodyear, who is the curator of Sweetgrass Fine Baskets of Maine. “There is just so much talent here that you don’t need to.”
Island Artisans features a wide range of crafts from vibrant hand-blown glass to delicate, handmade paper, funky jewelry, mixed media sculpture, nature-inspired stoneware, colorful textiles, clocks, abstract paintings, woodcuts, fiber art, trinkets and much more.
Ellsworth glassblowers Ken and Linda Perrin are the most recent of the five current co-owners along with Goodyear, Chong and Judi Lim of Island Designs and Margaret Bundy.
The Perrins run Atlantic Art Glass in downtown Ellsworth. Ken Perrin creates tide pool sculptures while Linda Perrin crafts vases and glass beads and a wide range of jewelry.
“I worked as a clerk here about 28 years ago before I started showing my work,” said Linda Perrin. “It’s amazing to see artists grow from clerks to showing their art to becoming a co-owner.” She said her craft was honed and nurtured while working there.
The owners say one of the reasons for Island Artisans’ longevity is the amount of creativity on display at the Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor shops. Each prospective artist is vetted and his work is juried by each of the five co-owners.
“The quality and level of creativity must be interesting,” said Goodyear. “There also are issues of redundancy. We don’t want too many of the same type of object. Everything is looked at by all of us.”
Another reason for its success is the flexible shareholders’ agreement that allows artists to show the work of others in their space.
Each of the five owners has their own spaces that they curate with work they find aesthetically congruent with their own. Bundy’s curated collection of fiber artists includes felted work by Jodi Clayton, tapestries by Erda, hand-woven pieces by Laney Lloyd and sailcloth tote bags from One Woman Studio.
The Chongs’ embossed paper is shown alongside watercolor greeting cards from Linden O’Ryan of Southwest Harbor and art quilts by Audrey Nichols of Warren.
Although online shopping has become more prevalent over the past decade and a half, Island Artisans sees an increase in sales each year.
The owners say that is a testament to a younger generation of art-minded buyers who are eschewing mass-produced pieces in favor of handcrafted treasures.
While the Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor locations share some of the same artists, the Northeast Harbor location is used more as a fine art, upscale gallery, while Bar Harbor features more affordable options as well as collector’s pieces.
From handmade paper with an Eastern flair to Native American baskets, Island Artisans is a space where different craft traditions and cultures are on prominent display.
“We are helping to keep culture alive,” said Linda Perrin. “Our location is fabulous and it’s amazing that you have a postage stamp-sized space where you display all of this work, you create culture.”