Inspiration in diversity

Posted Feb. 21, 2010, at 5:17 p.m.

HARRINGTON, Maine— Creative people everywhere seem drawn to those who share the same interests.

There are knitting clubs that focus on woolen crafts, art groups that find strength in numbers when marketing, fiber artists who gather to share their love of spinning, cattle breeders who jointly try to learn better husbandry.

There are book clubs, sportsmen’s clubs and cooking clubs, even tractor lovers’ clubs — all groups that share passions and experiences.

But a group of artists in the Harrington area share just a singular passion: creativity.
Their interests are wide-ranging and follow varied paths —they work in paper, paint, wood and words. One is a poet, another a musician. There is a bookmaker, a bowl maker, a fiction writer, a painter and a songwriter.

The Flat Bay Collective has discovered that there is strength in diversity, and the very essence of their differences can be used to inspire and awake their individual creativity.
Flat Bay wraps around a peninsula bordered by Harrington and Milbridge along the Down East coast in rural Washington County.

The collective members say their success arises partly from the wonder of their environment and their ability to work in isolation.

“What we really are is a celebration of the creative spirit,” said Leonore Hildebrandt, a Harrington poet.

Flat Bay Collective consists of eight members, all published and accomplished.
“Initially, we were a group of friends,” said Robert Froese, a novelist from Harrington. “We were collaborating. It mostly had to do with some novels I was writing. Some of the people were readers and we decided to form a more formal bond.”

Some of the members of Flat Bay work on poetry together; several have known each other for more than 20 years. The collective meets irregularly over the year, but many of the group see each other in between formal gatherings.

“The bond of friendships that we share are wonderful,” Hildebrandt said. “We share a strong love of Maine.”

“And we love being surprised by each other’s work,” songwriter Brian Dyer Stewart said. “I’m the newest member and I feel like the group is finding everyone’s voice. The varieties of gifts we share really helps.”

When one collective poet reads her work, another may get inspired to create a painting. When one plays the piano, another is inspired to create a different kind of bowl. One writes a novel, and another artist paints the cover.

“The effect we have on each other can be pretty subtle,” said Froese, whose fourth novel, “The Origins of Misgiving,” has just been published under the Flat Bay imprint.
“But there is a great spirit of ‘Yes, we can,’” Hildebrandt said. “We encourage, welcome and accept each other’s work.”

When asked whether this type of collaboration is possible outside Washington County, the artists smile widely.

“It takes a certain type of person to live here,” said Hildebrandt, a native of Germany. “You need to be able to jump-start yourself, and that culture happens in these networks.

“We have all fallen so deeply in love with Washington County and we are always being surprised by the odd connections and talents of people,” Hildebrandt said.
Stewart said the width and breadth of artistic talent in Washington County are amazing, from artists working in seclusion in wooded hideaways to musicians who packed away their instruments after successful professional careers in New York City.

The rural atmosphere and the simple way of life seem to connect collective members.
“Donna [Kausen] is a bowl artist who does her own butchering. Many of us grow our own food,” Hildebrandt said. “So maybe that is what connects us, that we make thoughtful life choices and live responsibly. We are an unusual, diverse group of friends that have found common ground.”

When the group gets together, Froese said, it is almost like a family gathering. “We have dinner, reading and music. It is inspiring to see the integrity of people at work trying to create beautiful things,” he said.

“Sometimes the work reinforces what we already know — that we all depend on each other.”

Members of the Flat Bay Collective include:

  • Bernie Vinzani of Whiting, book artist and internationally known papermaker, director of the University of Maine at Machias art gallery.
  • Brian Stewart of Harrington, a musician and songwriter who has published several albums and performs weekly at Riverside Cafe in Ellsworth.
  • Richard Miles of Harrington, poet and author of “Boat of Two Shores,” who is also a sculptor and stoneworker.
  • Donna Kausen of Addison, a wooden bowl maker.
  • Leonore Hildebrandt of Harrington, a published poet and creative writing instructor at the University of Maine in Orono.
  • Susan Hammond of Harrington, a painter.
  • Robert Froese of Harrington, a novelist who has published four books and is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Machias.
  • Tony Brinkley of Bangor, a poet and professor of English at the University of Maine in Orono.

The group’s Web site is www.flatbaycollective.org.

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