It was an extremely windy day in Portland and across the northeast. By the time I arrived at the city’s east end it was close to 12 p.m. and many artists at the show had already packed up their things and left, the wind having put their artwork, tents and equipment at risk of flying away. Nonetheless, the vendors that remained were in good spirits and excited to speak with me. I spent the next hour wandering from “shop to shop,” appreciating the varied crafts and talking with the local artists in attendance.
I spoke first with a woman selling Ash Cove’s “Double Double Dip Dinghies,” mugs, figurines and more — the earthy pottery was hearty and stayed steady against the wind. She explained to me that these events (put on by Maine Crafts Association and aptly named “East End Vend”) came about as the Association worked to respond and adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, and have ultimately been fortuitous. She described to me how nice it has been to be around other people; how these events have both cultivated and revealed the full sense of community that Portland has to offer.
I then visited woodcrafter Denis Noonan, of ChaliceWorks turning, who, though frequenting other outdoor arts-selling spaces as a vendor, had only set up shop at one other East End Vend event. His array of hand-crafted bowls, vegetable peelers and crochet-hook handles had clearly been crafted with care, the natural wood enhanced yet transformed by the turning process. Noonan has an Etsy shop and blog, and has found that even when sales at events themselves are not as high as he’d like, he often experiences an uptick in visitors to his sites and will make online sales in the days following.
At a table just about 10 feet away was Lisa Meyer, owner of Kabyco Designs and another frequenter of outdoor events such as these. Meyer explained that though she had only recently joined Maine Craft Association, she already felt extremely supported and was impressed with how they were responding to the pandemic. With two storefronts already, the Association recently opened an online store which makes it easy for patrons to access their work. Notably, each of the Association members I talked with mentioned this feeling of support and community, and expressed gratitude for the opportunities the Association provided them with.
Also in attendance was Maine-based author and artist Tonya Shevenell, promoting her most recent work, “The Maine Birthday Book.” Illustrated in watercolor by Laura Winslow, the picture book draws its readers, young and old, into the forests and waters of Maine through the stories of lively cartoon animals from across the state. A wonderful read any day of the year, “The Maine Birthday Book” is particularly relevant now, as 2020 marks 200 years of Maine’s statehood.
Other artists at the fair included Lacey Goodrich, of Laceypots, Jenny Bee, of Jenny Bee Designs, and Keanne Petrie, of Keap Ceramics. Each with their own distinct and compelling style, these artists exemplify some of the very best features of East End Vends — with works from younger, Instagram-based artists to seasoned small business owners, patrons of Maine Crafts Association’s East End Vends are privileged to an array of artistic perspectives and backgrounds. Further, though brought about by a devastating crisis, it seems Maine Crafts Association has responded in such a way that might serve them well into the future: one does not have to look far to see how these events (and Maine Crafts’ new online store) have offered much-needed opportunities for art-selling, creativity and the cultivation of community.
(Maine Crafts Association’s “East End Vend” events take place Fridays from 3-7 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. through September. Visit their website at eastendvend.com to view their online shop and a full list of upcoming events. For more information on the Maine Craft Association, visit mainecrafts.org.)