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In Old Town, a New Marketplace for Wabanaki Artisans

Dawnland Handmade Creations is a new retail venture from a Penobscot pacesetter.

Courtesy of Debbie Huston
By Brian Kevin

In one sense, Maria Girouard admits, this winter was a counterintuitive time to open Dawnland Handmade Creations, a gift shop in downtown Old Town, featuring work by artists and makers from the four Wabanaki nations. The pandemic has dinged foot traffic on Main Streets across the state, and Old Town’s is still bouncing back from a devastating 2019 fire that left three vacant lots next door to what’s now her shop.

In another sense, she says, this was the perfect time. “Right now, there are a lot of tribal artisans bearing the brunt of this situation,” Girouard explains, “because a lot of venues for selling their art were canceled: powwows, community gatherings, the Basketmakers Alliance market.” A member of the Penobscot Nation and executive director of the advocacy group Wabanaki REACH, Girouard has long nursed an entrepreneurial streak. When she saw a space for rent last year, she dove in, investing savings from a vacation fund that COVID had rendered useless.

Wooden barrette, carved from yellow birch and black cherry, by Rick Love; Indian Island Pond in Winter, by Maria Girouard; beaded earings by Debbie Huston, of Four Crows Beading and Crafts.

It’s not like she doesn’t have other things going on. In addition to her day job, she’s active in tribal government, cohosts the Dawnland Signals radio show on eastern Maine’s WERU, and advocates for tribal land and water rights as the founder of Dawnland Environmental Defense. Plus, she’s a painter — her oil landscapes hang in the shop alongside the work of a dozen or so craftspeople. Some are family and friends, like Girouard’s cousin, Debbie Huston, and aunt, Faye Decontie, who both make exquisite beadwork jewelry. Others have approached Girouard with wares, like Rick Love, who makes handsome wooden bowls from tree burls and carves intricate, animal-shaped barrettes. Visitors might find sweetgrass baskets, sea-glass sun-catchers, fiber arts, and more.

For now, the store is brick-and-mortar only (no website, no phone) and open just a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Beading and weaving workshops are in the cards, post-pandemic, but for now, the hyper-committed Girouard is taking it slow. “I’m kind of a weekend warrior with this place,” she says.

Dawnland Handmade Creations, 278 Main St., Old Town.