Maine Craftsmen Find Ways To Make Their Art More Environmentally Friendly


As in many fields, amateur and professional artisans are increasingly aware of the effect of their artistic practices on the environment.

Studios, artists, and supply stores across Maine have found ways to reduce the environmental impact of their work – and no matter what their discipline, artisans across the state can take simple steps to follow their lead. .

Ellen Wieske, deputy principal of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, said one of the most impactful measures in her studios has been to remove as much of the toxic material as possible, toxic acids used for etching in the metal studio to reduce the amount of toxin-rich oil-based inks in the graphic studio.

“There are a lot of solvents that can be used in place of toxics,” Wieske said. “Most people use water-based materials, things that don’t need to be neutralized.”

Wieske said he is looking for water-based materials rather than “solvent-based” materials, which often contain chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and human health.

Sustainability can go beyond just reading a package. Wieske said his woodcarvers have turned to carving green wood – wood that has been recently cut and not yet seasoned – to eliminate the need for chemically seasoned wood. Fiber artists have turned to creating their own natural dyes instead of using synthetic chemical dyes.

“Researching and trying to find the zero or less toxic version” before buying is the best strategy, according to Chris Battaglia, marketing manager at Waterfall Arts in Belfast.

When it comes to the environment, knowing how to properly dispose of used materials is just as important as selecting them, Wieske said. For example, some dyes must be neutralized or brought to a safe pH, and some ceramic chemicals must be dried before disposal.

“Watch what you use and make sure you do it in the most environmentally friendly way possible,” Wieske said.

Using recycled or recycled materials is another way for craftspeople to be more sustainable in their work. Chaya Caron, a jeweler in Portland, said she switched to using recycled metals after reading about the effect of gold mining on the environment.

Caron said that finding a community of like-minded jewelers and recycled materials suppliers “has taken a long time,” but that “the demand for sustainability and ethical business practices has increased over the past decade,” the availability of these products and information has also increased. about them.

Caron recommended talking to other artisans about where they buy materials and building a community around sustainable crafts. Plus, talk to other artisans about what they’re doing to be more sustainable.

“Everyone I have met over the years have been very open and ready to help each other,” Caron said. “We all start at the beginning and we all need a helping hand.”

Also think about where the materials are coming from. Shipping supplies long distances can be carbon intensive, so buy local where you can.

“There is a slight increase in shipping and shopping online, which can be difficult to do in an environmentally friendly manner,” said Sadie Bliss, executive director of the Maine Crafts Association. “You can buy as close to the source as possible rather than ordering products online based on how far you have to travel. “

Packaging is another problem in art supplies, although it can often be unavoidable for fragile materials. Wieske suggested buying in bulk when you can to reduce packaging.

Or consider not purchasing any new materials at all. Bliss said the Maine Crafts Association holds seconds and supplies sales where artists can purchase used equipment and supplies. You can also recycle what you have from the world around you.

Classes at the Haystack School of Crafts will be heading to the landfill to stock up, said Wieske, who even collected materials from mess rooms to use in papermaking. She also recommended asking local businesses for relevant waste – coffee grounds from coffee to dye the fabric, for example, or rubber waste from the bicycle shop to make sculptures.

You don’t have to go to the landfill or the compost heap, just save the leftovers of your own materials for later.

“Quilting is a great way to use up scraps of fabric,” said Abby Gilchrist, owner of Fiddlehead Artisan Supply in Belfast. “It’s probably the most environmentally friendly thing to do is reuse. “

Consider recycled alternatives for even simple tools, like plastic cups for mixing paints.

“Everyone who works here brings their yogurt pots and other plastic wrappers and we give them to the students to use,” Wieske said.

Finding specific materials and supply chains and connecting with like-minded artisans are important steps for more sustainable craftsmanship. However, as with art itself, finding ways to manufacture more sustainably is just as much about thinking creatively.

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