AUGUSTA — After earning a degree in art education, Rebekah Raye spent years supporting herself by teaching workshops and creating paintings, sculptures and jewelry of the Maine animals she loves.

Then an unexpected call opened new artistic possibilities, as she told an audience at the Maine State Museum on Saturday morning.

Tilbury House Publishers in Gardiner called Raye at her East Blue Hill home in 2004 to ask if she’d illustrate “Thanks to the Animals,” a children’s book written by Passamaquoddy storyteller Allen Sockabasin.

The caller read the story over the phone — about a Passamaquoddy boy who falls off a bobsled, and the animals who protect him and keep him warm until his father returns — and Raye loved the idea immediately.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It was every animal I love to paint, and others that I never had, like ermines and other weasels and caribou.”

Since then, Raye has written and illustrated two more children’s books, “The Very Best Bed” and “Bear-ly There.”

With an audience of about 30 children and adults, Raye explained the illustration and publication process, talked about where she gets story ideas and led a drawing workshop. The event was the first in the Friends of the Maine State Museum’s 2012 winter/spring series of programs and lectures.

Raye said “Bear-ly There” was inspired by the time a bear stumbled into her backyard, and the idea for “The Very Best Bed” came from a concern she had about animals when she was growing up in Tennessee.

“When I was a little girl, when I was in my warm bed, I wondered where the rabbits were sleeping,” she said. “I worried about the birds — were they warm?”

Raye told the story, about a gray squirrel searching for a place to sleep and all the other animals he encounters, already settled in their caves, branches and lodges. She held up oversized cardboard reproductions of the illustrations from the book, such as a bear, a chipmunk, deer, harbor seals and racoons.

Raye gave tips on drawing characters before sending everyone to create their own.

“If you can write your name, you can draw,” she said. “Anybody can; everybody can.”

Crystal Arbour of Sidney drew a scene of a family building snow forts, as she and her children had done before going to the museum.

Her daughter, 10-year-old Peyton Arbour, drew a person standing near a stream and said she’d like to be an artist.

“It’s fun, and you get to draw whatever you want and draw what you’re feeling,” Peyton said.

Colin Demmons’ drawing of an alien — a cross between ET and the creatures from “Cowboys Versus Aliens,” he said — drew high praise from Raye.

“It’s so expressive,” she said. “And he fills the page, too!”

Although Colin, who’s 9, enjoys drawing and writing, he has other career plans in mind.

“Actually, I’m going to try to be a rock star,” he said.

His mother, Terri Demmons, said she and her husband were glad to bring their two children from Freeport for the event.

“I love that this is free,” she said. “I hope they do more things like this, because it’s important for kids to have their creative sides drawn out.”

Raye advised all the budding artists to name their characters and, perhaps most importantly, to put their own names on their artwork.

“You never know when the museum is going to call your folks and ask, ‘Where are those drawings?'” Raye said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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