Most folks in southern Maine have heard of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk. But what you might not know is that 30 minutes north of Portland, Brunswick has a Second Friday Art Walk. All sorts of galleries open their doors, including Spindleworks.

Lidia Woofenden works on a needlepoint design at Spindleworks in 2018. Woofenden’s biography on the Spindleworks website notes that her “art ranges from embroidery and fashion projects to an array of ceramics work.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, File

Spindleworks isn’t just an art gallery. It’s a nonprofit arts center for adults with disabilities and a day program of the Independence Association of Brunswick, “whose mission is to help children and adults with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives in their chosen community.”

It was rainy, and late in the evening, so I was the only visitor, which made me feel pretty special. Spindleworks is housed in an old Victorian, and it has what my generation calls “a good vibe,” humming with creative energy.

If you’re into architecture at all, you have got to go see the wide floorboards (most of which are paint-splattered) and the tin ceilings (most of which are not). It’s the sort of house where every closet feels like it could conceivably lead to Narnia. There’s even a secret hidden staircase, which isn’t usually accessible to members of the public. (I got to see it because, full disclosure, I’m dating a staff member.)

The house is divvied up into rooms that are each dedicated to a particular craft – the sculpture room, the drawing room (which may have once, in a previous lifetime, been the home’s – well – drawing room), the painting room; a media studio; an enormous textile room with looms and embroidery hoops hanging from the exposed beams. There are fiber art sculptures protruding from the wall; mannequins with costumes tucked in the corner, and a whole series of paintings of Bill Clinton, for some reason.

I love browsing funky little shops and galleries, places where you can buy bright and colorful items that you might not need, but that you want. And I realized, as I was standing there devouring sculptures with my eyeballs, that this was the first time I had been to any sort of shop other than Hannaford in well over a year. So I went a little wild. Actually, I went a lot wild.

I walked out of there with a large canvas painting of daylilies; a coordinating throw pillow; a purple woven chenille scarf and matching sachet stuffed with pine potpourri; a dishtowel embroidered with a patriotic Stars-and-Stripes-and-a-Liberty-Bell theme (for my mom, who loves fancy dishtowels), and a shirt with a shiny gold leopard printed on the front. If I’d had more arms for carrying and more wall space to display, I probably would have walked out of there with even more stuff.

My boyfriend tried to tell me, gently, that while Spindleworks appreciated the support, didn’t I maybe think I was going a little overboard? I hissed at him and after that he was very supportive of my patronage of the arts. (The profits, by the way, are split: Seventy-five percent of the sale price goes to the artist, and 25 percent of it goes back to the program for purchase of supplies.)

A lot of art looks the same to me, regardless if it was made by an amateur or a professional, if it’s selling for $10 or a million. An abstract painting is an abstract painting is an abstract painting. A lot of art galleries have vast amounts of blank space; they take the pieces and display them in a white void without context.

Those places tend to feel sterile and expensive to me – I don’t feel particularly comfortable in them, mostly on account of I am broke and uncultured and failed the only art history class I ever took in college. Maybe it’s because of the building, which was once a home, or maybe because it is a place of creation, not just display, or maybe it’s because of the people who work there, but Spindleworks feels warm and welcoming when you walk in, even for an English major who doesn’t know a Monet from a Matisse.

Our society tends to define people with disabilities by what they can’t do, not by what they can. Even the word “disability” contains the negative prefix “dis,” from the Latin “away” or “apart” – so “dis-ability” can, and often is, thought of as being away or apart from ability.

But at Spindleworks, the artists, who do have disabilities, are defined by their abilities: specifically, their creative or artistic abilities. I don’t have a disability, but I certainly don’t have the artistic ability that these artists do. (My talent, writing, is descriptive, rather than generative.) At Spindleworks, it’s not particularly important that Anna has Down syndrome; what’s important is that she weaves gorgeous chenille scarves. She’s also published two books so far. (I wish I were half as talented as she is.)

If all you hear about in the media is haggling over funding for services (never enough) and arguments over accommodations (also never enough) you might find yourself thinking of disability in the negative – all take, no give. But go to the bright blue house on a quiet residential street in a seaside town in Maine and you will see it bursting with life and love and all kinds of beautiful things being brought into the world.

Anyway, the next Second Friday Art Walk in downtown Brunswick is on Aug. 13. I don’t know what the weather will be like, but if you get the chance, I would absolutely recommend visiting Spindleworks at 7 Lincoln St. After all, if some horrible mutant strain of COVID-19 emerges and we all have to hide inside our houses for an entire year, you’re going to want something nice on your wall to look at.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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