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 on Main Street.
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 the state. This also is the 20th anniversary of the Northeast Harbor outpost of Island Artisans.
Early on, all of the artists represented were from the Mount Desert Island area. The shop and gallery has since grown to represent over 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 handblown glass to delicate, handmade paper, funky jewelry, mixed media sculpture, nature-inspired stoneware, pottery, colorful textiles, clocks, abstract paintings, woodcuts, fiber art, trinkets and much more.
Ken and Linda Perrin are glassblowers and the newest of the five current co-owners, along with Goodyear, Chong and Judi Lim of Island Designs, hand spinner Sue Hill and Margaret Bundy.
The Perrins run Atlantic Art Glass with a studio in downtown Ellsworth. Ken Perrin creates tide pool sculptures, while Linda Perrin crafts vases and glass beads.
“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 as a clerk there.
The owners said 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 or her work is juried by each of the five co-owners.
“The quality and level of creativity must be interesting,” said Goodyear. “There are also issues of redundancy. We don’t want too many of the same type of object. Everything is looked at by all of us.”
Island Artisans is considered one of the premier showcases for craft in Maine, and many of its craftspeople are nationally renowned.
Linda Perrin said the gallery has long been considered one of the “premier showcases” for artisans in the state.
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 space 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, handwoven pieces by Laney Lloyd and sail cloth tote bags from One Woman Studio.
The Lims’ 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 15 years, Island Artisans sees an increase in traditional retail sales each year.
The owners said 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 artisan 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.”
An earlier version of this story inadvertently omitted Sue Hill, a hand-spinner who is one of the original founding members and co-owners of Island Artisans. It also referred to Chong and Judi Lim as the “Chongs.” They are the Lims.