Fishers at home creating art together Downeast
Maine’s slogan: “The Way Life Should Be,” sounds a bit romantic until one meets the Fishers in Prospect Harbor.
They are the poster family for living life in the slow lane: a rural setting; a deliberate choice of an alternative lifestyle and high level artisanal skills to make it possible.
Bell maker Dick Fisher and his wife, Cindy, moved to the Gouldsboro village in 1975 from Massachusetts and raised four sons here.
One son, Tim, a custom woodworker, and his wife, Liza, an accomplished potter, decided about 10 years ago to make the village their home as well.
And now the three — actually four, because Cindy makes handmade quilts — are blending their artistry under a new name, Watering Cove Studios.
Watering Cove is derived from the area’s original name and includes U.S. Bells, Fisher Woodworking and Liza Fisher Pottery.
“The name says what we do,” said Dick.
“We’re trying to make it more of a collaborative effort,” Tim said of their new name and logo. “We each have our own business and customers.”
“We want to promote it more,” said Liza.
A visitor to U.S. Bells on West Bay Road first sees the retail shop with Liza’s pottery, Dick’s bells, Cindy’s quilts and some of Tim’s smaller woodworking pieces.
To the right one building houses Liza’s pottery studio —which down the road will become a place to display Tim’s larger custom furniture.
The building adjacent to that is Dick’s foundry.
The large, open production space behind the retail shop will in the future contain Liza’s studio and a much larger space for Tim.
The addition for the woodworking space is well on its way to completion.
Combining efforts comes at a time when Dick, 69, was wondering whether to sell his bell business and retire.
Liza and Tim also were looking at a firmer economic footing as they raise their young family —Ada, 8, and Jack, 7.
Dick decided he didn’t want to stop completely. He has two experienced workers in the foundry and realized he just wanted more time to create original pieces, like the 18-foot bell tower — “Song for the Kennebec”— that he designed and fabricated for installation along the Kennebec River in Gardiner.
“You want to keep doing it, you just don’t want to have to keep doing it,” said Dick. “It just seemed like a no brainer to keep it all alive as a group and increase their footprint around here.”
Tim worked in his Dad’s business throughout high school and never planned a career building things until after he graduated from College of the Atlantic.
He took a job at the Brooklin Boat Yard and worked with Doug Hylan, staying there for about a decade.
“The excitement of the wooden boats drew me in,” said Tim, who enjoys the balance of using his mind and working with his hands. “I very quickly fell in love with working with wood.”
“You take what the tree has given you and work with it. Sometimes it is so striking you almost want to celebrate it and display it.”
Like any craftsman with an artistic bent, Tim does some jobs that might not be as stimulating, but that are more financially rewarding.
“The jobs that pay well are not always the ones you want to do, but you have to make money,” he said. “You need to find ways to make that part of your passion or you’re kidding yourself.”
“Each project is different,” said Tim, “a blend of ideas between craftsman and client.”
His projects range from cabinetry for a full kitchen to smaller pieces of furniture.
Tim’s ultimate goal is to have time to design his own furniture as well.
Liza, who grew up in neighboring Steuben, stumbled onto what would become her life’s work.
During her junior year at Sumner Memorial High School —which is where she and Tim met — she found herself spending every spare minute in the art room.
An unused pottery wheel stood in the room. Her teacher didn’t know how to use it, but said she would find someone who could give Liza pointers.
That someone turned out to be Charlie Grosjean, a very accomplished potter in Franklin.
“He came into the classroom a few times and helped me get started,” said Liza.
From there she studied ceramics at Bennington College, followed by a stint at Haystack Mountain School as a teacher’s assistant and work at the Blue Heron Gallery in Blue Hill.
Her wood-fired train kiln on the Prospect Harbor property was completed when Liza was eight months pregnant with Ada.
Now that the children are in school, she is spending more time on her pottery.
Liza said wood firing — as opposed to a gas kiln — is all about the flame and ash.
Pots and other items fired in a gas-fed kiln are usually fired outside and inside.
Liza said she will glaze the inside of the pots, but often lets the firing create the outer surface.
“Very long flames, along with drifting wood ash, get pulled through the kiln by the strong natural draw, weaving their way around the pots like water flowing around stones in a river,” she said.
“The flames flash on the surfaces of the pots, bringing out rich natural colors. Wood ashes hit the pots and melt, forming a natural ash glaze, which can be anything from very heavy and glossy to just a light speckling.”
Because a wood-fired kiln precludes total control, the results are often surprising.
“Which makes it challenging, but that’s what I love about it,” she said.
Visitors enjoy watching all three work. There are no formal tours, but anyone is welcome to observe the process in their studios.
A synergy flows between their materials. Tim at times likes combining metal and wood. He and Liza also have worked on pieces that meld her pottery with a wood accessory.
All of the Fishers speak the same organic language. Like Tim and Liza, Dick appreciates his bells for their sculptural look, the sound and the motion.
“Most important to me is that it’s a product for the outdoors,” he said. “And I like the connection with nature.”
It is difficult to picture any of the Fishers living and working anywhere else.
“The longer I have lived here, the more reassured and content I feel with the land, the area and the people,” said Dick. “I love the lifestyle and the quiet beauty. People want to keep it simple and want to pitch in and care for it.”