Columbus Day weekend was unseasonably warm and sunny — a great sendup for the annual Open Door session for Maine residents at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I drove down to the eastern tip of Deer Isle on Friday evening and stayed through Monday noon.
Haystack is an internationally respected studio arts center that offers one- and two-week summer sessions to crafters and artists from around the world. This past summer, Haystack programs attracted 570 participants from 16 countries to its oceanside campus. They came for an array of top-shelf studio workshops including enameling, blacksmithing, woodworking, glassmaking, printmaking, papermaking and encaustics, which (I had to look it up) is a technique of applying wax-based paints to a porous surface, like wood, and then heating the surface to melt and meld the pigments. Most summer sessions also include a writing workshop, typically in poetry or memoir, and some feature a writer or artist in residence as well. The resumes and creative accomplishments of these high-level instructors, and many of the students, would make your head swim.
The Open Door session, for Mainers only, always falls on Columbus Day weekend, wrapping up the school’s short carnival of a season. Like the regular sessions, Open Door courses are led by top artists and craftsmen, some from Maine and others from far beyond these fair borders. Many Open Door students are, like me, approaching retirement age or older. We mix it up gleefully with the younger set and lend a dose of maturity and life experience to the heady environment of the studios.
Last weekend’s poetry workshop was led by recently retired Colby College professor Peter Harris, an extraordinarily good-natured man, a patient explainer of techniques and concepts, a blissful lover of good poems and a deft and nuanced — and published — poet in his own right.
Over two and a half days and under his relaxed guidance, 11 women of varying age, skill, confidence and and ambition produced an astonishing array of actual poems, including some that were pretty respectable and some, speaking of my own efforts, that were laughably, head-bangingly terrible. We all had a swell time.
The Open Door weekend at Haystack is a special gift for left-brain people like me who struggle to stay in touch with our creative spark. While Mainers of all skill levels take part, each workshop is geared to encourage the rank beginner. Never held a piece of clay in your hand, much less sat at a potter’s wheel? Not a problem. Don’t know your warp from your woof? Pull up a bench. Can’t tell a haiku from a pantoum? It’s not rocket science. Really, it isn’t.
Check it out. Even the most tentative newbie comes away from Open Door with new skills, new ideas and — most important — new self-confidence. You might want to give it a whirl, come next October.