WINTER HARBOR — Robert Killam possesses a finely tuned eye after more than a decade clambering over fine-grained pink granite boulders and slowly combing coastal Maine beaches for a silvered timber, length of lobster-pot warp, cobblestone streaked with magma or a brown fishing float. These finds, after much pondering, eventually get woven into a work of art.
In the Beach Street home, Killam and his wife, Nancy, have rented seasonally for a decade, a black basalt cobble resembling a seal is hauled out atop a metamorphic rock on the living room’s wood-beam fireplace mantel. Another sculpture anchors the opposite end. The close-hauled sailboat is riding the waves. A bluish vertical stone forms the full sail. An oblong, whitish rock represents the craft’s hull with a flattish granite piece serving as the sea. The rocks’ deep cracks, fissures and other characteristics convey the wind and ocean’s ferocity and formidable nature.
Inside the house, the retired fisheries biologist’s creations and his beachcombing adventures’ treasures are everywhere. Discarded buoy line has been repurposed and turned into chains — like Christmas tree garlands — adorning the beams and adding a colorful note to the living room. Unusual black-striped and quartz-veined basalt and granite beach stones cluster atop the woodstove.
On the yellow house’s deck, which has a fisheye view of inner Winter Harbor, plain, but elegant benches have been crafted from reclaimed hardwood timbers salvaged from a seafood enterprise’s dismantled wharf. A mobile, fashioned from scallop and razor clam shells, tinkles in the breeze.
“Sometimes, a particular rock or piece of rope will sit here for a couple of years,” says Killam, who has come to see his finds as sculptural elements and enjoys taking the time to consider how to arrange the different forms to contrast and complement each other.
Take Killam’s latest work. The outdoorsman creates figurative pieces by placing long, darkish stones horizontally — like outstretched arms — atop rough granite cobblestones standing upright. The figures are topped with round, smooth basalt or granite stones as the heads and faces. He has come to see them as angels whose heads are capped with vibrant pot-warp halos. A smaller, heart-shaped beach stone — representing a bird — rests on a shoulder or hand.
No two angels are alike. Their different skin colors have been enhanced by dipping the stone heads in melted parrafin wax.
“One has a white face, one has a red face and one has a black face,” noted Killam. This past year, his angels have taken on a broader meaning and have come to symbolize the Black Lives Matter movement. He is mindful, too, of those police officers who do a good job and risk their lives to protect the public. One of his angels sports a blue halo and gold badge.
An outdoorsman, whether he is kayaking around Schoodic Peninsula or hunting for feral hogs in Texas, Killam hails originally from the Springfield area in western Massachusetts. He served as a radarman 2nd class in the U.S. Coast Guard before earning a fisheries biology degree from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. As a fisheries biologist, he managed Texas Instruments’ aquatic laboratory and worked as assistant director of the University of North Texas’s Biological Sciences Department for nearly three decades before retiring.
Outside of work over the years, Killam has spent much time outdoors from wilderness camping in Colorado to tenting on Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island. Come late spring, the Killams escape the extreme heat and humidity in their winter home of Denton, Texas, and head to the uncrowded, wildly beautiful Schoodic Peninsula town of Winter Harbor. From their porch, they can watch the comings and goings of Mr. Lucky, Juggernaut, Sea Oddity and other boats in Winter Harbor’s lobster fleet. He can slide his sea kayak into the harbor and paddle out to explore Turtle, Stave, Jordan, Ironbound and other mostly uninhabited islands in Frenchman Bay and beyond.
In life, he’s always collected things — bones, fossils, arrowheads — on outings in the wild. So it was only natural for him to pick up bits frosted sea glass, sun-bleached shells, marine worm hole-textured wood and other mementos as he roamed the high ridges of these islands’ beaches. Back in Winter Harbor, the question became what to do with all his treasures tossed up and transformed by the tides and deep-water swells.
“I have never had an artistic bone in my body,” Killam, but he enjoys the challenge of how to create pieces from differently shaped and sized beach stones and other collected material without detracting from their natural beauty. It helped, too, that he had learned how to use a hammer drill and grinder under the tutelage of Sullivan stone artisan Obadiah Buell in Schoodic Arts Festival classes.
Lacking the space to keep all his creations, the beachcomber has begun selling his pieces under the label “Flotsam and Jetsam: Treasures from the Sea.” In Winter Harbor, Artisans & Antiques (357 Main St., 963-2400) carries Killam’s work.