Animal Art (And a “Mustachioed” Cat) Enlivens Their Living Room

Animal Art (And a “Mustachioed“ Cat) Enlivens Their Living Room

In their Brunswick home, Samaa Abdurraqib and Matt Fein cultivate art, inspiration, and a “zoo theme.”

Samaa Abdurraqib and Matt Fein with their cat in the their Brunswick living room

From the May 2022 issue of Down East magazine 

1. Vases

Samaa Abdurraqib, who’s from Columbus, Ohio, moved to Maine in 2010 to teach gender and women’s studies at Bowdoin College. Ten days before leaving for a three-week trip to West Africa in 2020, she met native Milwaukeean Matt Fein, a therapist who’d recently relocated to Portland. “We had a lovely courtship over WhatsApp,” says Abdurraqib, now associate director at the nonprofit Maine Humanities Council. For years, Fein collected artful pieces, like these vases, at flea markets and online auctions for a future house. As for Abdurraqib: “I had no intention of owning a house.” That was until last summer, when they purchased their 1847 Brunswick Cape together.

2. Art Thompson Print

Abdurraqib first admired Canadian First Nations silkscreen artist Art Thompson’s work at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. Years later, she acquired this print from a friend’s father. “I love the colors and that it tells a story from his tribe” — about a whaler who drowns and comes back to life as the creature “Pookmiss.”

3. Ella Baker Quote

Emblazoned on a poster by Portland letterpress shop Radical Emprints, “this quote is very powerful to me,” says Abdurraqib, who grew up listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Ella’s Song,” in which Baker’s words are sung a cappella. A civil-rights activist, “Baker believed in the power we all have as people who want to change the conditions of our communities.”

4. Plate

“It’s important for me to have visible markers of being a Muslim both on my body and in my domestic space,” Abdurraqib says. This plate, inscribed with the Arabic Verse of the Throne from the Koran, “serves as a reminder that there is a higher power that is greater than me and greater than whatever situation I find myself in.”

5. Books

When Abdurraqib, a poet and author of the chapbook Each Day Is Like an Anchor, learned that Fein owns signed copies of science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s Clay’s Ark and Wild Seed, “I was sufficiently impressed.” Other cherished books in their collection: Abdurraqib’s mother’s copies of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and the 1981 feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back, as well the out-of-print Home Coming, the first collection of Frost Medal-winning poet Sonia Sanchez. “I keep it in a plastic baggie so it will stay pristine forever,” Abdurraqib says.

6. Collectibles

A hand-painted bowl Abdurraqib bought in Morocco and a wooden urn by an Arizona artisan mingle with Fein’s mid-century wooden hedgehog and Murano-glass owl. “They fit into a zoo theme we have in the house” (and in their wardrobes), Fein says.

7. Stashiell Hammett

Mustachioed author Dashiell Hammett inspired Abdurraqib’s “mustachioed” cat’s name. He climbed right onto Fein’s shoulder the first time they met — “behavior that’s reserved for me or people he’s close to,” Abdurraqib says. “Matt said, ‘I think Stashiell and I were meant to be together.”