While up in Maine this summer I visited Fiber College of Maine. I reached out for an interview after finding out about the week-long retreat held in September, seeking to find out more about the event. It's described as "the largest Fiber Arts education gathering on the east coast," so we needed to learn more. What I uncovered was a much bigger community of fiber and arts than just a week long event.
I followed the directions to the address on their site, but when it took me to Searsport Shores I thought, surely this can't be right. When I heard they had a class going on that day, I figured it was a workshop/classroom space at the main office and the retreat week is dedicated to using the campground space.
Astrig Tanguay, Fiber College's co-founder, picked up my call and explained, the campground and Fiber College are all tied together. I parked at the office and she greeted me with a warm smile. She gave me a walking tour of the grounds and I was struck. Here is a campground by the ocean where you can bring your kids to play in nature like any other campground, but you can also engage in art activities unlike other campgrounds.
I first met the angora goats that they shear, spin, and dye the wool to knit, crochet, or weave. (We had to tell some kids not to feed them too many apples.)
Throughout the grounds are spaces for making and exploration. They grow flowers and indigo specifically for dying fibers. There is a workshop for metal work and wood work. There are cabins for classrooms and Adirondack chairs for relaxing and making with an ocean view.
They have an artist in residence program throughout the summer. The artist stays in the loft space (see the amazing tent made from crochet doilies) and is given a challenge - plan an activity to share your art not knowing how many people will join, which age groups or their art skills. Somehow, magically, it all works out.
There is a loom out by the camp office so that campers learn about the issue of manufactured fabric waste while making a rag rug.
We spoke about all the different artisans who have come to the college from all over the world including Somalia, Bolivia, and more.
Along the paths of the campground I kept finding buttons. At first I thought a couple stray buttons had fallen to the side leftover from a craft project. When I mentioned, I keep seeing buttons, Astrig explained it's a game for kids camping at the site. If they collect enough buttons, they receive a popsicle.
I felt like I uncovered a secret treasure trove like all the tiny buttons hidden along the path. Astrig wants to get away from the word "retreat" and focus more on using Fiber College as a way connecting people. We are all so connected digitally, but we also seem to be seeking ways of making real human connections more often. Retreat implies you go to get away from people, but the goal of Fiber College is to come together through making and sharing our passions.