Propped against the side of the Rusted Raven workspace in Hampden is a collection of barn boards. The boards are nothing special — merely weathered wood that appears to have outlived usefulness. The boards vary in size, shape and color and look like a scrap pile to the untrained eye, but to Matt Stepp and Mike Weston, they’re part of a venture that has blossomed into something they never expected.
Stepp, Weston and Weston’s wife, Jen, operate The Rusted Raven Furniture, a business venture that began last December in Stepp’s living room in Bangor.
Stepp and Weston combine artistry with functionality, creating beautiful furniture. The barn boards propped against their shop may look like junk, but to the Rusted Raven crew they are the basis for a signature product.
Stepp and Weston create Raven Tops by arranging colorful refinished wood as tabletops to attach to anything from bureaus to coffee tables. They are breathing new life — and art — into pieces that would otherwise be abandoned.
“I was going through some rough emotional things, and decided I was going to do a few pieces of furniture,” Stepp said of the company’s start.
He revived a few pieces here and there, restoring them to look like new, but with a creative twist of color and patterns. It had been a while since Stepp had done anything artistic. With a young child and a career as York dining service manager at the University of Maine to keep him busy, his talents were on pause. Then he embraced art again, and it helped him pull himself out of the slump.
It wasn’t long until Stepp’s friend, Mike Weston, learned Stepp was trying to refurbish furniture in the small space of his living room. Weston offered shop space and a helping hand, along with his carpentry expertise. The two began collecting old pieces of furniture, from chairs and tables to desks and dressers, and breathing new life and art into them. For Weston, the business became a chance for him to work independently and do something he enjoyed while working with Stepp and his wife, Jen, who also has an eye for design. They began selling their creations on their Facebook page in January, finding it is most effective when patrons shopped online for their pieces.
One of Rusted Raven’s recent projects was an antique sleigh they refinished for a bride-to-be, who wanted her grandmother’s heirloom to feature as a wedding display. The sleigh took nearly five days to complete, but in the end the piece had gone from a dilapidated dust collector to a beautiful piece of art, looking as new as the it did the day it was bought.
Stepp and Weston are among several artists in Maine who are upcycling furniture and restoring old pieces.
In Sherman, Sharon Sirois, a self-taught artist, has a love for making old things new again.
From old trunks to worn out window frames, Sirois paints in the nooks and crannies of old pieces until they come alive with movement. Her paintings depict idyllic scenes: rolling hills dotted with white birch, picturesque lakes, and renditions of Mount Katahdin looming, blue and serene, in the background of homesteads. Her current venture is turning old milk cans into bar stools.
Art has always been a part of Sirois’ life, but perhaps what is most important is what it has done for her state of mind.
“Right now, my husband has Alzheimer’s, so I’m pretty well shut in, but it keeps me so busy,” Sirois said with a warmth in her voice hinting at her love for her work. “It puts you in your own little world and makes the days go by good. … It’s good therapy.”
She’s an independent artist. The items she creates are available for sale at Unique Boutique in Island Falls and Frugal Frog in Lincoln. Her love for artistry began when she was young and has followed her throughout her life, much like Stephanie Brown, a new resident of Portland who is trying to make her mark in decorative painting and historical surface restoration.
Brown has done iron work in the Biltmore Estate, an estate in Asheville built by George Vanderbilt, a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family that built its wealth through steamboats and railroads. She returned to Maine in 2009 and lived in Ellsworth until relocating to Portland.
She has restored the woodwork on a house built in the 1920s in North Carolina. She also worked on a home in Seal Harbor, Maine, restoring cupboards and light fixtures. She hopes to expand her horizons soon by collecting pieces to fix for others to enjoy.
“It was just always there,” Brown said of her passion for historical architecture and all things old. “There weren’t any people in my family who were artistically inclined. I was the one they called the ‘old soul.’”
Brown has been honing her skills since 2007, when she happened across a certificate program in decorative painting and historical surface restoration.
“I had this moment where I was like, this exists? It was a magical moment. I was sure this was something I had to do,” she said.
“It is incredibly satisfying for me to be able to fix something and step back and look at it. It gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Brown said.