Folk artist Alice Spencer makes “something out of nothing”

Artist Alice Spencer paints and otherwise transforms discarded odds and ends. PHOTO BY KATHRYN CAWDREY

Looking to toss out mussel shells, sardine cans, crab parts, a broken shovel or an old pair of high heels? Such materials serve as canvases for Alice Spencer, who knows a thing or two about three-dimensional art.

The 79-year-old Stonington artist sells artwork out of her husband’s workshop-turned-art-studio along Route 15 on Deer Isle. The Spencers’ blue house is particularly identifiable because of the three lobster boats occupying the driveway. Her art, ranging from a painted cast-iron skillet to clam shells, sells for $5 to $100 depending on the size and uniqueness of the piece.

Sitting between the garage and a tall stack of lobster traps, Spencer wears a blue apron adorned with a sequin flower, a purple floral shirt and a straw sunhat festooned with leopard-print ribbon. Above her eyeglasses, a pair of colorful sunglasses perches between her forehead and her hat. Each lens has a painted seaside scene, with tiny pebbles and miniature people glued on, making it a 3-D composition.

Just past the life preserver that reads “BLOW HORN FOR SERVICE” and “PASS AT YOUR OWN RISK,” Alice’s shop overflows with clam shells, lamps, matchboxes and pop buoys. Each item has been decorated with colorful acrylic paint, shells, gravel from her driveway, wood splinters, broken shells and whatever else the folk artist finds on a given day. She also has experimented with chalk and pastels, but prefers acrylic for its vibrant color and the speed at which it dries.

Alice Spencer has been making and selling her artful, three-dimensional pieces since she was 27 years old.

Alice uses “anything and everything” to craft on and with, she says. “I make something out of nothing.”

The artist roams through the cluttered shop, pointing out a painted conch shell, the decorated cast-iron skillet, the wind chime made of shells and the transformed saw that her husband has been looking for. An old Ziploc bag hung from one wall, brimming with blue ribbons from the Blue Hill Fair. Many of her creations have won first prize.

“I’ve got stories on every one,” she stated, referencing a hand-sized clam shell that depicted the tale of a woman unaware of surrounding lobsters. Her favorite canvases are wood and “anything new.” A couple of larger pieces are painted on a giant toadstool and a whale’s vertebrae.

When she’s not creating her 3-D pieces, Alice also plays piano at the Galilean Gospel Temple Church in Stonington, where her husband is the song leader. She donates about 80 pieces of artwork to the church each year. She also gifts pieces to family and friends for birthdays and holidays.

Alice got her seller’s certificate in 2000, but has created her artwork since she was 27 years old. Her mother allowed her to put a painted plate on an old lobster crate in front of their home to sell. The plate was ruined by rain, but it didn’t dampen the young artist’s spirit.

“The Lord told me to do it, so I did it,” she said. “And I’ve done it ever since.”


Alice’s Unique Folk Art Shop is located at 102 North Stonington Road (Route 15) on Deer Isle. She can be reached at 367-2642.