Martha Stewart's Maine.
- By: Paul Doiron
When Martha Stewart bought an estate in Seal Harbor in 1997, I admit that I was one of the Mainers who raised an eyebrow. Tycoons and celebrities have been purchasing palatial “cottages” on the Maine coast for more than a century. For the most part they have kept to themselves: played croquet, sailed around a bit, donated to the village library.
Martha, we suspected, would be different. She had risen to fame and fortune by elevating what were once dismissively termed the “domestic arts” into true art forms. For her, a centerpiece wasn’t just a vase with flowers stuck in it, but a beautifully blooming sculpture that required approximately one week to assemble (begin by blowing the molten glass into a ball . . . ). Some Mainers feared that she might apply this same treatment to those parts of Maine we valued most, creating a sham version of our state for the pages of her magazine, a place where the lupine are always in bloom and lobstermen never smell like bait.
Of course, she did glamorize Maine: That is Martha Stewart’s genius and modus operandi. But I would argue that she did something else, too. By turning her white-hot spotlight on small Maine businesses — from family-run Raye’s Mustard of Eastport to little Swans Island Blankets of, you guessed it, Swan’s Island — she helped turn struggling companies into thriving enterprises. She lent the power of her name to these brands and brought their wares to the attention of millions of potential consumers. I am hard-pressed to think of a single person who has done more to publicize small Maine businesses, especially those around Mount Desert, than she.
Martha Stewart is a person who elicits strong reactions. Her well-publicized insider trading conviction alienated many of her former fans, and the ostentatiousness of her beautiful mansion — the former Edsel Ford estate called “Skylands” — is irrefutable. But after reading John Golden’s exclusive interview with Stewart and hearing from businesspeople like Portland designer Jill McGowan who have benefited from her attention and enthusiasm, I have decided two things. The first is that Martha Stewart genuinely loves Maine, and in this I find her to be a kindred spirit. The second is that, as long as our state’s financial health depends upon self-employed contractors and family-run businesses, as long as we are a service economy, in other words, I am glad there is at least one multimedia superstar singing the praises of Maine workers to the world.
- By: Paul Doiron