Art Thieves

Cops thought they had an ATM heist on their hands. The masterminds? A couple of roguish Deer Isle artists.

Buzz Masters & Sarah Doremus
Buzz Masters (left) and Sarah Doremus (right).
Suzanne Rico
Photos by Tristan Spinski
From our September 2019 issue

Last fall, Sarah Doremus scavenged an ATM someone had thrown away at the Deer Isle Transfer Station. Then, she and neighbor Buzz Masters set the machine in the woods along a service road that leads to their houses. They thought of it as part art installation, part fun. “When I went back the next morning with an extension cord — I was going to pretend to plug it into a tree — it was gone,” Masters says. “We were dumbfounded.”

The following day, Doremus and Masters saw a story in the Bangor Daily News: A woman out walking her dog had noticed the ATM. Figuring it for stolen, she called the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, and deputies confiscated the machine. Masters, who knows most of the local officers, decided to call and confess. “They were like, ‘Okay, Buzz, we’re putting you on speakerphone so everyone can hear this,’” she recalls, laughing. “Then, they brought it back and dumped it in my yard.”

Masters and Doremus, both 61 years old, have homes 300 yards apart, separated by dense woods. Although they’ve only ever had the one run-in with the law, the pair has been decorating those woods with other people’s cast-offs for the past decade. They nailed a medicine cabinet to a white spruce and stocked the shelves with lipstick, nail polish, and a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution. They hung two lime-green chairs from pines. They stood a headless mannequin behind a fallen log.

“I like to see a different life for stuff, a different perspective,” Doremus says.

“Some of it is just silly,” Masters admits.

Forest décor is only a side project. Both women show their other artworks in galleries around New England. Masters uses bold colors to create layered, mixed-media paintings inspired by classical frescoes and the Maine seascape. Doremus makes wearable objects that riff on our collective angsts: Fear the Debt is a rosary made with sterling silver, cut-up credit cards, and beads of recycled car paint, while Carbon Footprint is a ring equipped with a tiny motor that moves dozens of small plastic feet.

“Her professional work has a dark humor to it,” Masters says. “She’s a rare bird in that way.”

“I like to have fun,” Doremus adds. “I’m all about ideas.”

One recent morning, the pair was back at the town dump, rummaging through the trash for inspiration. “Look at those textures!” Masters sighed, eyeing a mountain of colorful marine ropes next to a tower of tires. “I’m going to paint that.” She started snapping photos as Doremus walked up holding an old, pink Princess phone. “These are hard to find,” she said. “I’m collecting them, and then we’re going to hang them from trees.”

She also salvaged a chunk of scrap metal, noting that it would make a nice mooring. “Ducks,” she said. “Big rubber ducks in the middle of Mill Pond.”

“Everybody loves her,” Masters said, as the two strolled toward the dump’s Take It or Leave It shack.

“They think I’m crazy,” Doremus corrected. “My favorite saying is, ‘Everybody is somebody’s weirdo.’”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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