A splash of water and the chatter of two employees met Jodi Clayton’s ears as she descended the stairs connecting her art-filled boutique and basement studio. Hovering over a long table, Hannah Todd and Sally Gilbert were hard at work, pouring water over merino wool dragonflies on a silk chiffon scarf, just one step in the nuno felting process required for Clayton’s designs.
The past year has been a big one for Clayton, fiber artist and owner of One Lupine Fiber Arts in downtown Bangor. After working in a basement studio for five years, she expanded upward and out, building a two-story studio-shop that offers wares from nearly 100 artists and crafters. And this March, she launched a much-awaited line of hand-dyed “One Lupine” yarn.
But it was her vibrant, nature-inspired apparel line that earned Clayton the honor of being the Artist of the Year for the 17th annual Arts in the Park on the Belfast waterfront, scheduled for July 7-8 in Heritage Park.
“It was really a great honor. When they asked me, I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’” Clayton said. “It’s another way to get One Lupine out there. Arts in the Park has a really good reputation. It’s a juried show that has credit in terms of being a quality event.”
An exhibition of 80-plus artists and crafters, Arts in the Park is the main fundraiser for Friends of Belfast Parks, a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and improvement of Belfast’s parks and green spaces. Typically, the event raises $5,000-$6,000, said Chris Urick, chairperson of the Arts in the Park Committee. In recent years, the event has raised funds to build the Belfast Dog Park and an outdoor ice rink.
“It has changed over the years,” Urick said. “In the beginning, the majority of the artists were painters. Then, for a time, a lot of photographers were applying. And now, we’re getting a lot of jewelers and fiber artists.”
Clayton has displayed an array of her scarves, wraps, capes and jackets at Arts in the Park for several years, and she always makes sure to set up in the same prime spot — a corner by the information booth, live music and food vendors.
“It has always been one of my best shows of the year in terms of everything,” said Clayton, who sets up shop at about 10 shows per year. “It’s really well-attended and draws an informed crowd of buyers — and it doesn’t hurt that you can end the day at Three Tides, sitting on the deck with a Marshall Wharf beer.”
As Artist of the Year, Clayton’s art is displayed on all of the event’s promotional posters. She also is featured on the Arts in the Park website, and her booth will be singled out at the event.
“It’s always flattering for someone to like what you do, but I know that it’s a show that brings a lot of business to Bangor,” said Clayton, who is an officer of the Downtown Bangor Arts Collaborative and is passionate about camaraderie between downtown businesses. “It’s perfect for me in that it’s helping to build a web.”
Clayton has knitted since she was a little girl, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she discovered the versatility and beauty of felting while attending a class at the University of Maine’s Page Farm and Home Museum. Now her felt and silk creations are sold in boutiques, galleries and gift stores across the country, including 2 Friends Gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Smithsonian gift shop in Washington, D.C.
“I’m always working to make felt contemporary. It’s the oldest textile in the world,” she said. Her sparkly silk and felt scarves and her sheer, asymmetrical capes have proven popular to a wide age range.
“The three of us hand-make everything right here,” Clayton said. “We hand-dye silks and wool right here on the stove.”
Dyeing silk and wool has become her favorite step in the process. She’s constantly combining dyes and creating recipes for new colors, which is evident in the rich hues and appealing color combinations displayed in all of her pieces.
“On a Friday, sometimes we’ll say, ‘Let’s get pizza and paint some roving,’” Clayton said as she sprinkled iridescent bits on silk that would become one of her popular, sparkly asymmetrical capes. “It’s that kind of thinking that keeps the ideas going.”
The motifs in her work tend to be organic, inspired by time spent in the garden. Nuno felting is similar to watercolor painting or papermaking, she said, because the materials are, to a degree, unpredictable. The wool blends, expands, shifts and shrinks throughout the process, so that the artist must relinquish a certain degree of control over the final product. That said, each finished piece has its own character.
Clayton said she wants to sell what other people in the region aren’t selling, and she strives for originality in her own work.
“I don’t want to make something with a shelf life,” she said. “The most lukewarm response is when I too closely follow the trends.”
Her expanded shop has exceeded her expectations in the first year, thanks to loyal customers and creative employees, she said. And to further strengthen the fiber arts community, she hosts classes in knitting, crocheting, needle felting, wet felting and spinning.
In an effort to support the local economy and reduce her company’s footprint, all of the products sold in One Lupine are handmade in the U.S. and Canada, and 40-50 percent of that merchandise is Maine-made. And in her new fiber section, all of the fiber she sells has gone through a Maine business at some point during production, whether it’s a Maine farm, spinnery or distributor.
Her own line of One Lupine hand-dyed yarns — varieties of wool, bamboo and silk blends — will continue to grow as they create new color combinations with fun names such as “Bad Behavior,” “Canyon Jumper,” “Junk Science” and “Cowboy Way.”
She plans to continue to build onto her store, starting by doubling the size of her downstairs fiber section this summer.
The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of Belfast’s Arts in the Park and will have a booth at the event showcasing local midcoast photographers.