As businesses remain closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, local artisans have struggled to keep their businesses afloat as activity at the outlets that sell their work has come to a halt even as peak tourist season approaches.

The River Roads Artisans Gallery at 75 Water St. in Skowhegan has had to delay its May 1 opening date because of the pandemic. It is still not known when the outlet will open as business are closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but one artisan has used her skills to create a message of hope and support to the community.

“It’s really tough,” said Desiree Dubois, an artisan at the gallery. “I’m very empathetic so it is very hard not to be weighed down by everything going on.”

Dubois, who typically creates ornaments out of clay and makes other works with stone, said that after talking with others at the downtown gallery, she was asked to create artwork that follows a theme of everyday heroes to be displayed in the gallery’s front windows.

She produced three canvases, each expressing the theme while also having its own separate meaning.

The first panel, she said, was inspired by a mural of a nurse that is painted on the side of a hospital in Italy. Dubois’ image depicts a nurse holding the world, called “Nurture the World.”

The second panel represents the state of Maine, with the state painted with a heart in the middle and “We Thank The Workers” painted below.

The third is a picture of the globe with hands holding it together. Dubois said that this particular painting is dedicated to “everybody that’s working together during this crisis to make the world happen,” including teachers, health care workers, police officers, janitors and grocery store workers.

“Desiree was feeling the slump that we’re all feeling,” said Nancy Jervey, a potter at the gallery. “When she started doing this project, she realized what a message she could give and we’re all thrilled about how it has been received.”

“It’s been really hard for us at the gallery,” Jervey said. “We were supposed to open in May and we don’t know what’s going to happen in June. The summer is a big season for us because of tourists.”

Jervey said that the shop, which has been open for a decade, closes during the winter months. Around 20 artisans participate in the gallery. Because of the delayed opening of the gallery, she said that many artisans are struggling to feel inspired and creative.

“It’s hard to feel passionate about making our art when there is so much sadness and isolation around,” Jervey said. “Making art depends so much on sharing our work and connecting with people. Having the gallery closed not only separates us from our customers but also from each other.”

Because of the pandemic, Dubois, like many others, has been unable to show and sell her work because the different stores and galleries that typically include her work are not opening, and all of the events that she has signed up to appear at have either been canceled or postponed indefinitely.

“Before this project, I certainly wasn’t feeling very inspired at all. It was so great to have this assignment because it pushed me to be creative and it has turned into a bigger thing.” she said.

Dubois said that after posting the photos on Facebook, the “Nurture the World” project received a big reaction from the community. In response, she made the painting that inspired the title available in poster prints and cards and has been able to sell more than 30 orders in just over a week, some of which are being gifted in other states, including Texas and California. The cards and posters can be purchased through her Nurture the Word Project Facebook page.

“Her panels are amazing works of art,” Jervey said. “She’s got three different messages and she’s starting to get hits all over the country and we’re really excited because it started locally in our gallery window.”

Dubois said that some of the proceeds that she receives from the artwork will be donated to Partners for World Health in Portland. The nonprofit collects medical equipment that would otherwise be thrown away at medical facilities and gives it to facilities where it is needed.

Dubois said that during a time of uncertainty, the support she has received from her local community has inspired her to create.

Though craft fairs, shops and galleries are closed, it is still possible to support artisans by shopping directly through their websites, such as Etsy, or to contact the artist directly to see if pieces can be shipped.

“I hope that this has a big impact on people,” Dubois said. “This all came together in eight days, so there was definitely some kind of need for it. I feel like during this time when I often feel hopeless about what is going on, this gives me a purpose.”


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