In a town with beautiful homes and charming neighborhoods, there are certain sections of Main Road North that are quite dull in comparison. The road, a key artery from Bangor to the midcoast, is populated with industrial sites and businesses such as auto dealerships and construction companies.
The building and parking lot of 586 Main Road North are no different. The driveway is covered in gravel. The grass needs a good edging. And the structure itself is low, white and flat.
Yet inside the unremarkable building has bloomed something colorful, well-crafted and original.
Four area jewelry artists recently banded together to open Jewelry Artisans of Maine, a store in which the four artists can showcase their handmade, one-of-a-kind, Maine-made work. They’re running it as a cooperative, making all the decisions together and operating the store themselves.
Jewelry Artisans of Maine opened for business on March 15 — the owners spread the word through Facebook and e-mail — and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 3, will hold a grand opening for the public with refreshments and door prizes.
Donna Tumosa, one of the shop’s owners and founder of the same-named Jewelry Artisans of Maine guild, said she believes it may be the only store of its kind in Maine.
“I don’t think there are any jewelry co-ops that I’ve heard of,” said Tumosa, who has been teaching various forms of jewelry making for more than 10 years. “I’m not familiar with anything like this, especially locally.”
Yet for Tumosa and her fellow co-owners and jewelers — Amanda Coburn, Roxanne Munksgaard and Anne Reigstad — the driving forces behind the creation of the store are same issues many artists confront on the business side of their work.
Jewelers — or any kind of artisan, for that matter — tend to sell their work through craft fairs or consignment at shops or galleries or online through their own Web sites or sites such as Etsy, which is aimed at craftsmen and artisans.
The four owners of Jewelry Artisans of Maine, who have done craft fairs, consignments or both, said they wanted more control over their work and the ability to speak directly with their customers.
Avoiding the middleman, the women said, is key. Gallery or boutique owners, of course, have the final say in how items are displayed and advertised, although some do consult with their consignees.
“We all wanted a store or a place to sell our stuff without a middleman, because several of us do consignment and craft shows, and also other venues,” Munksgaard said. “We were itching for a store, in a way.”
Craft fairs can be risky business, some of the women have discovered.
“With craft fairs you can take some big losses because the booth fees are so expensive,” Coburn said. “If you’re just starting out it’s very difficult to know which ones are worth it. I’ve traveled a long way and paid a lot for a booth fee only to sell one $10 pair of earrings all day.”
And even if you are successful at a craft fair, the jewelers said, the events are held sporadically, especially in eastern Maine. Munksgaard has managed to expand into displaying her work at politically themed events such as the Left Forum, which was held last weekend in New York City.
Ann McAlhany, a certified business counselor with the Maine Small Business Development Center in Bangor, said she hasn’t noticed a trend among small-business people to form cooperatives, although she likened the jewelers’ situation to a farmers market.
“[The co-op] idea makes good sense [by] having a critical mass by having multiple businesses together,” she said. “Agricultural producers band together and sell directly to the customer without the retail space, in a parking lot, and that becomes the retail store.”
There are in Maine jewelry galleries selling high-quality, original jewelry, and there are artist-owned co-op art and craft galleries, but there are few that focus solely on jewelry, especially in the Bangor area. In fact, the four women of Jewelry Artisans of Maine were hoping to put their store in downtown Bangor, but rents for a ground-floor space were too high.
“It just didn’t work out,” said Munksgaard, who lives in downtown Bangor. “Donna heard the store here was becoming available. We came in here and did a lot of stuff to make it look nice.”
The four women — along with their husbands and families — all worked to prepare the store for the opening, from scrubbing floors to spiffing up the space with a fresh coat of white paint with purple accents, to buying display cases from Marden’s in Brewer.
Prices range from $12 for a pair of earrings to several hundred dollars for a heavy silver-and-stone bracelet.
“We wanted the store to have a certain look and feel to it, to be more of a gallery, where we’re featuring handcrafted, unique, one-of-a-kind art pieces,” Munksgaard said.
The store also is a way for customers to meet the artists, at least one of whom will be working in the store at all times, to learn about the process and the artists’ backgrounds, which are all very different.
Coburn, who grew up in Lincoln, had always been interested in jewelry. After she was laid off from her job at a Verizon call center, Coburn started Riverside Jewelry Designs, focusing on her sterling silver and stone jewelry. She ships her work and jewelry-making materials worldwide through her Etsy sites.
Reigstad, who worked as a journalist in her native Norway, owns Ymir Glass Design (the word Ymir comes from a figure in Norse mythology) with her husband, Robert Harris. They make jewelry with a dichroic glass process, in which layers of thin, colorful metallic glass are fused with art glass to make sparkly centers for rings, pendants, earrings and other items.
Munksgaard grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and worked on labor issues and Democratic campaigns before starting Maine Peace Works, her own jewelry company. While learning metalsmithing, she created the peace sign jewelry for which she has become known, including a peace symbol with a break in the metal, which she calls Broken Peace.
Tumosa is the link between the four women. They’ve all taken jewelry-making or metalsmithing classes from the Dover-Foxcroft native, who has been metalsmithing for 15 years and been teaching for 13. She learned the art of jewelry making while taking classes at Heartwood College of Art in Kennebunk.
Tumosa, whose business is called Ladysmith Studio, is skilled in a number of jewelry mediums, including wire wrapping, enameling, lampworking and dichroic glass. What sets Tumosa apart, however, is that she often collects her own gemstones for her cabochons, which are stones that have been shaped and polished rather than faceted, and also cuts and polishes her own stones.
The women consider Tumosa their in-store teacher, but they all play off each other’s work. One artist’s work will spark another to think of a new design — an unintended and unexpected benefit of the four-way partnership.
“As artists, most of us work from home a lot of the time, so it’s good to be around other artists to get the creative juices flowing,” Tumosa said. “We like to bounce ideas off of each other.”
For information about Jewelry Artisans of Maine, call 941-9636 or go the guild’s site, www.jewelryartisansofmaine.com. The store is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.