On a hot and humid August morning, we escaped into the cool interior of the Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford, Maine to visit the studio of artist Erin Donovan. The clean, white walls of this creative space serve as a fresh backdrop for her carefully curated items found at flea markets and beaches alike, producing a perfectly crafted nautically vintage aesthetic. Elegantly framed antique lobster prints hang alongside large marine signal flags, and handsome leather suitcases lie beneath suspended sea-blue glass Japanese fishing floats. These are the artist’s inspirational ledges from which she leaps into her creative work, designing beautifully functional collaged coasters, pocket mirrors, and cards for all occasions.
Raised in Saco, Maine, Erin spent a lot of time at the beach collecting shells and admiring the natural beauty of the coastline as a kid. With limited resources, her carpenter father renovated an old house, while her artistic mother made it comfortable and attractive with items found in antique stores and yard sales. “My parents were hippies. Mom played guitar. We had a wonderful childhood. I never realized how tough things were at times, they made it fun.” After graduating from St. Joseph’s College, Erin had a baby girl and started creating art to pass the time. When a friend expressed a desire to open a shop with Erin, she knew she had to jump at the chance. “It was during the Shabby Chic phase. It was battle to open a store of this sort because the local public had trouble differentiating between a junk shop and an antique and artistic gift store; they weren’t ready for it,” says the artist. “But we got a lot of publicity from that fight, and the first day we opened the line was out the door.” With a young family, however, the commitment and overhead of a classic brick-and-mortar proved to be too much, so Erin put her energies into selling her wares at farmer’s markets. “I’ve met a lot of other local artists through farmer’s markets. It’s a real community,” she says.
And that community still helps inspire Erin’s creative process. The initial spark of any one design starts with a distinctive image from a found item; a bank ledger, an old map or print. She then measures and hand scores one piece of annealed glass into two with a glass cutter wetted with vinegar for smooth gliding. With an exacto knife, she cuts the chosen image to the measurements of the pieces of glass. Depending on the antiquated impression with which she’s working, she adds a piece of dried red seaweed, or a word from another printed page that perfectly complements the image. From there she places her creation between the two pieces of cut glass, and holds the three elements together with a piece of copper foil, securing the edges with a palette knife. “I don’t use special tools. I just use what works for me,” Erin says. She adheres the foil together with lead-free solder and heat, adding flux as a binding agent, and finishes with black patina that gives an aged look to the piece, to be polished a day later.
Erin Donovan’s designs are elegant and modern, yet anchored in the past. “My craft will always be steeped in antique imagery,” says the artist. “I don’t want to make copies of things. Quality control and the joy of creating is important to me.”
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