Anonymous artist behind handcrafted afghan revealed

Community Author: Joshua Archer
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A local artisan has revealed she’s responsible for the woven artwork that’s been on display at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center for a number of years.

Alberta Owens, 83 of Baileyville, anonymously donated “The Great North American Afghan” to the center when it was formally known as BMHI. 

For personal reasons Owens remained anonymous at the time of her donation, but recently felt it necessary to let the world know she’s responsible for the afghan.

Inspiration for the afghan was spurred from a contest sponsored by the Paton Yarn Company of Canada. Designs that fill the blanket’s squares were designed by various artists from the US and Canada. 

“Hence the unique name for it,” Owens said. “The idea for donating the afghan to BMHI came to me after visiting the Acadia hospital. I was very impressed with the display of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings there and while I’m no Georgia O’Keeffe I felt I could do something worthwhile in my own line of creativity for this hospital.”

Owens has recently had a small plaque installed with the artwork including her name.

If Owens’ name sounds familiar it’s because she’s been a champion for the state of Maine and its neighbors in New Brunswick and the friendship between the locales.

In a letter to the Bangor Daily News penned in the early eighties, Owens expressed to the editor the need for increased emphasis on making St. Croix Island a tourist attraction.

“Vic Runtz, who was the illustrator for the BDN at the time depicted an international handshake over St. Croix Island. This illustration was to become my logo—with the blessing of its creator,” Owens said.

The logo depicting a Canadian-American handshake became the centerpiece of an afghan Owens featured at the 1983 International Festival. The festival’s theme that year being “Hands Across The Border” were also woven into the fabric of Owens’ afghan.

“I decided to try my hand at making a designer afghan to commemorate the occasion. While I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure just how it would turn out. With a little bit of luck and Yankee ingenuity, I was able to complete my ‘masterpiece’ just two-days before the festival started,” Owens said in a letter.

Drawing funds from her own pockets, Owens placed her bets on the “Hands Across The Border” theme and furthered fanning the flames of friendship in her community by starting her own small business selling art, shirts, buttons, postcards, bumper stickers, needlepoint kits and more.

Owens has traveled the state with her finished pieces to various craft fairs, garnering recognition for her craftsmanship, bringing home ribbons and even being featured in notable publications.

“I actually made and designed the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Afghan and it was published in the Mary Maxim catalog,” she said. “West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is the most easterly point in the country and it’s right here in Washington County and I don’t feel that this area gets attention, you know, we have some very special things here and nobody seems to recognize that fact.”

Owens first discovered the art of weaving afghans in the early seventies.

“I had my fourth baby and I had two in diapers and I could see that I was not going anywhere so I decided to join a book club and one of the books I chose was a book about designer afghans and that’s how it all started,” she said.

“I found something I enjoyed doing at home, without going out to enjoy myself, I had all I needed right at home,” she said.

Over time she raised her children and honed her skills. She said she hadn’t always been an artist and it was a talent she developed.

“The whole concept of designing something and putting it in an afghan, it was fascinating to me and I made one called ‘The Indian Head,’ I made another one called ‘Indian Geometric,’ I made several of both of those, and it’s just fascinating working on something like that, and I couldn’t believe it came out like it did, it was just perfect,” she said.

Owens normally visits several craft fairs each year but due to a recent his replacement she’s house bound and has her oldest daughter taking care of her.

“I keep busy all the time. I have a baby Afghan right here on my lap I’m working on. It looks like it’s very difficult to do but it is quite easy. The designers are the ones that deserve the credit you know, because I always tell people they look nice and they tell me what nice work I do and I say I have to give the designer the credit because they’re the ones that made up the design and I just follow the instructions,” she said.


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