Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens supports Maine’s makers through its Garden Shop

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens supports Maine’s makers through its Garden Shop

When you walk into the Gardenshop at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, you may notice sweet ceramic mushrooms made by Brunswick-based Elizabeth Guilbault. As the daughter of a stained glass enthusiast and a talented quiltmaker, Guilbault grew up in the industry, spent at least one summer painting in her family’s basement, and dreamed of becoming a professional artist. Instead, she continued working in finance, and in 2011, when her father died and her children hit double digits, she realized she had lost touch with her creative spirit.

Guilbault first returned to her father’s hobby of stained glass. Then she took a ceramics class and found her favorite form. “In terms of expressing myself through art, pottery hits all the notes,” she says. Guilbeault taps into her love of nature, creating small animal sculptures and mushroom-shaped jars and adding natural materials to other functional items. “A lot of my sculptures are based on flowers because I like their symmetry,” she says.

Brunswick-based potter Elizabeth Guilbault. Photography by Jane Dean Photography

Four years ago, Guilbault began selling her work at galleries. Her display at the Freeport Fall Festival caught the attention of Hannah Laddie, buyer for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Gardenshop. “I was just mesmerized,” Laday says. She took photos to share with Gardenshop manager Michael McConha, who was similarly impressed. They arranged a visit to Guilbault’s home studio. “It was a pleasure to hear their vision for how my work would fit into their space,” says Guilbault. “It was a pivotal moment for me as an artist to have these products as my first wholesale order.”

When McConaha joined Botanical Gardens staff to open the shop in the visitor center six years ago, he prioritized raising the profile of Maine artists and seeking out crafts beyond galleries and commercial galleries. In support of the Botanical Gardens’ overarching mission to inspire meaningful connections between people, plants, and nature, Michael sources goods and products made from sustainable, recycled, or plant-based materials. Guilbault’s use of a closed basin, which allows her to use the same five gallons of water for nine months of pottery production, makes her a perfect fit.

“As an organization, we were committed from the beginning that if there was an item for sale in the Gardenshop, it had to be a portable piece of the mission,” McConaha says. This includes the sale of goods made by historically marginalized people, including BIPOC makers. “We realized early on that we could expand our impact beyond our support of the work of botanical gardens by building intentional partnerships within our community of local makers,” he says.

McConaha and Laday are keen to educate manufacturers about the Gardenshop process. They sometimes commit to pre-season orders to help producers plan and control production costs. New to the Gardenshop inventory is artisanal vinegar made by Guilbault’s husband, Brad, a former fine-restaurant chef. “We’ve been members forever,” Guilbeault says. “It’s magical to have things there because it’s a place we love so much.” Guilbeault is busier than ever, but she welcomes the challenge. “I make things because I love making them and because they are beautiful,” she says. “But giving something you made to someone else and having them appreciate it is powerful.”

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All products sold at the Gardenshop relate to and support the organization’s mission to inspire meaningful connections between people, plants and nature through horticulture, education and research.

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