The Fiber Wire

Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.

Interview: Stephanie Hare of SHare Studios

 

Photo by Jenny Nelson of Wylde Photography

Photo by Jenny Nelson of Wylde Photography

In a small coastal Maine town lives a papermaker and artist, Stephanie Hare. Stef and her partner Sean, a welder and carpenter, run SHare Studios out of an old farmhouse they are renovating for friends. For three years they’ve been creating contemporary lighting solutions and unique handmade paper products like stationary and notebooks. In this interview Stef talks about her coming to papermaking and her love of process. Read along as she shares her enthusiasm for her craft and her optimism for the continued growth of their business through craft shows and collaborations.

 

The Fiber Wire [FW]: Let’s talk about your educational background.

Stephanie Hare [SH]: I went to Pratt Institute for interior design my first semester, which was an amazing experience but after a few months in the city, I realized how much I loved Maine. It’s a fabulous place to be. You know, I grew up here and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. So I got my degree at University of Maine at Orono in Art Education and Studio Art with a focus on sculpture. After that I found a fabulous part-time job at Handmade Papers Gallery in Brooklin, Maine where I learned papermaking.

[FW]: You weren’t introduced to papermaking in school then?

[SH]: No. They had no papermaking there, whatsoever.

[FW]: Handmade Papers Gallery was your first exposure then. Was it an advertisement in the paper or did you just walk in and say ‘hey, hire me.’

[SH]: A friend recommended me for the job, actually. They called me up and said that Virginia “Gigi” Sarsfield [the owner] was looking for someone. They couldn’t do it themselves and they recommended me. I feel so lucky, like it fell into my lap and sort of was just meant to be. It was just a part time job at the time. She needed someone to watch the gallery a couple of days a week, and it transformed from there. I became the gallery manager and lampshade maker a little bit after that, and the gallery started picking up in business.

I took the job because I wanted to learn papermaking. It was an intriguing concept that I knew nothing about. Gigi apprenticed me in sort of a crash course kind of way. She taught me the basics and I got to watch her make paper and see all of her beautiful work. She makes a variety of papers: kozo, abaca, garlic and quite a few others. She loves to experiment. It was cool to see her process and then be able to use her studio. She has a large studio space with all of the basic papermaking machinery including a Hollander beater, mini beater, and two presses. It’s a papermakers dream.

[FW]: Do you remember your first time making a sheet of paper?

[SH]: I do actually. At the gallery, Gigi likes to set up the vat outside so the people walking by can come see what we’re doing and be intrigued by the process. So she set up the vat under the tree and I think she was making blue paper, which is my favorite color. So it was sort of magical in a way, making paper outside on a beautiful spring day. Something clicked, and it all went from there.

[FW]: Now you’re in charge of making the lampshades at Handmade Papers Gallery, right?

[SH]: Yes. A few weeks into the job she taught me how to make the lampshades. As I was learning to make them I was working with different papers. I learned the various qualities of the different batches of paper, what I liked for lampshades and what I didn’t like, and learned to reproduce that in my own work. After a couple of months of making lampshade for her, which were all pretty traditional lampshade forms, I was inspired to create my own forms. I had some experience welding in college, so my partner and I crazily decided we were going to start welding our own creations. We bought all the things you need to weld, set up a tiny garage workshop, and taught ourselves what we needed to know. Sean does it much better than I do now. We started from scratch, really, and built our own forms.

[FW]: On your website it lists you as a papermaker and artist and Sean as a welder and carpenter. Knowing that you two are relatively new to your respective craft fields, it’s great to see you owning it. It took a few years before I started calling myself a papermaker and I think a lot of people, myself included, struggle with not feeling skilled enough at our craft to use it as a describer.

[SH]: It takes a lot of courage for me but I do need to own it because this is what I want to become and it is what I am.

[FW]: And you put it first.

[SH]: It’s taken a long time growing into the title. I always want to defer it to other things. You know, people ask what I do for a living, and I used to give some silly answer because it was so difficult to describe exactly what I do, there are so many aspects. But I really had to start owning that I’m a craftsman, I’m a papermaker and that’s what I want to do. I’m learning to embrace the title.

[FW]: It leads into conversation, too. When people ask what I do and my answer is ‘papermaker’ their response a lot of times is ‘that’s a thing? <laughing>

[SH]: <laughing> That’s what I love about papermaking. Many people don’t understand the concept of it. So when you tell people about it they’re like, ‘wow, that’s really interesting.’ Like you said, it really is a conversation starter.

Photo by Jenny Nelson of Wylde Photography

Photo by Jenny Nelson of Wylde Photography

[FW]: When did you decide to go into business for yourself?

[SH]: Well, I was working for Gigi at Handmade Papers and it was more of a part-time job because we do most of our business in the summertime. In the wintertime I really needed and wanted something to keep me busy and keep developing the craft. Sean and I decided to make a go for it and start making our own lamps. A year or so later, we moved to the farmhouse, which really facilitated the business, having a place to live rent-free and having the studio space. It has really allowed us to grow our business.

[FW]: Yes, I read that you are renovating a farmhouse for the owners. How did that all come about?

[SH]: Well, the owners of the house are like family. They had this old house that nobody had been living in for almost fifteen years. Her mother passed away, well her parents passed away, and they just couldn’t bear to do anything with the house for quite a while. Eventually, they decided they wanted someone to come in and fix it up as a summer home and we were available. It’s kind of a dream come true, really.

[FW]: And now you’re living in this beautiful house while you’re fixing it up. The photos from your site are amazing.

[SH]: Yes. There’s a whole studio in the garage and then of course there’s my new papermaking studio. Then there are all the many windows, which is just amazing for a papermaker.

[FW]: I read that the house is called Middlefields. What’s the history of the name?

[SH]: For many years it’s been called Middlefields. Originally it was the poor house, less fortunate people in the area would live here. It’s been through a lot of transformations and renovations. The living room used to be the barn. It’s fun to think about all of that, the history of it. I just found out that my studio used to be a painting studio. The owners of the house, a couple of owners ago, had a cook. The cook was also a painter and he used the same space for his painting.

[FW]: That is fun to think about. So, are you from the area in Maine you live in now?

[SH]: I’m from Maine, but I grew up in southern Maine. My mother grew up in this area, and my family is here, so it definitely feels like home because of that.

[FW]: Because you went there as a child to visit your mother’s relatives?

[SH]: Yes, and my family owns land and a camp less than an hour away from here. So, in a way it’s like coming home even though it’s a new home.

[FW]: And your partner, Sean, is he from the area?

[SH]: <laughing> He’s from Louisiana. He moved up to Maine a few years ago on an adventurous whim, bought a little parcel of land, and started building cabins. We met at the country club where we both worked at the time.

[FW] Okay, so did you two start by crafting a business plan or was it more like, here’s a lamp and I’ll sell in on Etsy. Okay, that sold. Make another lamp and sell it…

[SH]: It did begin with Etsy. I had just learned about it and was really interested in cruising Etsy and seeing all the different things people can create. It was so inspiring. They’re coming up with amazing things. You can start with nothing on Etsy, which is really what we did. It was more of an organic process with us. There was no business plan. It was experimenting and building things ourselves. So we came up with some lamps and made our Etsy shop and went from there. Now we’re learning to do craft shows, and reach out to retailers.

lamp1

 

[FW]: I saw on one of your sites that you went down to Brooklyn for a craft fair.

[SH]: We did! It was the Renegade Craft Fair.

[FW]: It seemed like quite the adventure!

[SH]: It was actually this crazy leap of faith, in a way. We hadn’t done any craft shows and this is a rather large one, like, 200-300 vendors. It’s in Brooklyn. It’s huge. We got accepted, we didn’t know if we were going to get accepted or not. We felt really excited about it but suddenly realized, oh gosh, we’ve got to make a lot of lamps! So we busted out, like, 30 lamps. We packed the car up and, we started from nothing so we had to design the boxes and how we were going to travel with everything. Doing craft shows is quite an involved process.

Then getting set up and that moment of presenting your work to people right in front of you. That was a new experience. We had a customer come straight up to our booth, we hadn’t even finished setting up yet. She just went nuts. She saw our lamps and thought they were amazing. She bought one right then and there. That was just the best feeling, being able to talk to someone with the product in front of us and hearing what they think of it. We had a lot of really great exposure and people genuinely interested in our work. It was definitely uplifting and helped keep us going.

[FW]: So how long have you been devoting time to the business now?

[SH]: It’s been three years now. Time flies!

[FW]: Do you and Sean design the lamps together?

[SH]: We do most things together. In general, I come up with the concept then I get together with Sean. He has an architecture degree so he’s able to build what I have in my mind in a computer program. He creates computer models so we can see them in 3-D. It was quite a process to get where we are right now. Like our first lamp, the vessel lamp, we had to design the mechanics of how the lampshade would fit on top of the glass base. That happened through several variations but we’re finally to our most polished version.

[FW]: It’s great that you have complimentary skill sets and can work together as a team.

[SH]: Oh yeah. I couldn’t do any of this without him. In terms of encouraging each other, too, we keep each other going. I think that’s the most important thing in a craft business like this. Keeping going when things get a little bit harder and you’re not necessarily selling a lot of things but you know that you will. With a partnership, it’s helpful.

lamp3terr

[FW]: That vessel lamp you make is fantastic, especially when set up as a terrarium. Your work has beautiful lines. Handmade paper, like other crafts, can slip into kitsch and tackiness quickly. There’s a market for that but it’s not the customer most of us want to attract. What you are doing is incredibly labor intensive and you need to attract a customer who is willing to pay for quality craftsmanship.

[SH]: Yes. I wanted to create something that was modern and minimalist and always functional in a way.

[FW]: On your website you talked about wanting to walk that fine line between art and craft. Can you talk a little more about that? It seems like an ongoing theme and everyone seems to have a different take on it.

[SH]: In school I was really into sculpture and three-dimensional forms. It came to be that a few of my pieces were illuminated too, had some aspect of light. I love art and craft but in order to want to buy something I need it to have some sort of functionality, to be practical but be beautiful at the same time. That’s where the terrarium lamps came from. I wanted there to be that duality of function and light. They are also a sculpture in a way, a very minimalist sculpture, which I like as well.

I think that’s what I find most intriguing about craftspeople, they are creating these objects with their hands and they are works of art. Sure, you can hang things on the wall but I like that you can have an object you use every day and have it be a beautiful object. Like our stationary line, it is a piece of art. You can look at it like that but you can also use it. It has a duality of function.

[FW]: Yes. Thinking about your stationary, suddenly your correspondence becomes more than a letter, it’s a gift as well.

[SH]: It does. It adds a sense of reverence to it. It elevates it from a plain piece of paper to something so much more.

[FW]: Your stationary line is relatively new. Has it met with success so far?

[SH]: We’re just getting started with that, getting it in the hands of people who love stationary. I’m working with craftsperson Codi Ann Thomsen of West Heritage. She creates leather mail clutches and we’re creating the stationary to go with her new leather clutches. She’s an avid letter writer, so working with her; she has a broad audience of people who like to write letters. Getting our work in her hands and having her spread it around is amazing. In our craft I think it’s very important to work with other craftspeople. It’s all about networking. So we haven’t sold a ton of stationary yet, but we will. It’s about exposure. We’re going to do a lot more craft shows this fall so we’ll be getting a lot more exposure.

stationary

[FW]: Local craft shows or ones that require road trips?

[SH]: This year we’re going to stay more local, stay in Maine. You know, the great thing about Maine is that we have so many people coming here. It’s all about tourism. Everything kind of comes to life and there are a lot of people coming here to spend money and to buy a bit of Maine memorabilia. We’re making something different. We’re fortunate that people come to the area we live in; people who want to buy the kind of things we make. We’re going to do shows in Portland and Freeport, and get to know some more of the local people. Right now our sales are mostly online, through Instagram and Brooklyn, NY. So now it’s really time to introduce ourselves to Mainers.

[FW]: Jump on the local movement.

{SH]: Absolutely. I do want to do other shows. I’d like to go back to NY. They even suggested that we go to California and sell our things. Maybe some day we’ll do a big road trip out there.

[FW]: You could do a craft fair road trip, just map out craft show all the way across. But then by the time you get to California you won’t have any lamps left.

[SH]: <laughing> And then there’s the problem that some of our work is very large so travelling that far might be difficult with lamps. We’re trying to expand our line with the stationary and the books and smaller objects so that we can travel.

[FW]: Yes. I saw that you have a notebook for sale at a local online shop, Ioneta. Did you make that and pitch it to them or did they say ‘we want a book, make us one.”

[SH]: She came to us. I was experimenting and posted to Instagram. She saw it and asked if we could make a few more. So, that was exciting, that she came to us.

[FW]: Do you get a lot of custom work?

[SH]: In the beginning we got a lot of custom work. It’s exciting to work with someone else’s ideas. Right now we don’t do as much custom work because I have a lot of ideas in my head that I still want to get out. There’s never enough time in the day especially with all of the house renovations and my job at the gallery, too.

[FW]: Yeah. <laughing> You’ve got a couple of things on your plate. Just a couple.

[SH]: <laughing>

[FW]: Is the gallery where you work all paper-based artwork?

[SH]: Not all of it. GiGi has lots of friends that are craftspeople and she’s filled the gallery with their work. We have a lot of lampshades, which is the focus. We also have the work of James Dodds, an English printmaker and painter. He does maritime work and of course his work is on paper. We also have a weaver, Hillary Hutton. She makes amazing rag rugs. And Arlyss Becker, she’s a papermaker as well and does collages and paintings that are really amazing, all Maine inspired, too. Then we have other lamp artisans such as Lou Charlett and Mark Hutton, they make lamps for us and we put our shades on top. Then we have little cards and accessories and things like that.

[FW]: The dying of the paper that you did with the indigo, is that something you taught yourself?

[SH]: Gigi helps me if I have questions but I mostly taught myself. The indigo is actually pigment. I haven’t done indigo vat dying yet. I used the term indigo because it was the best term to describe the color. Indigo dying is such a popular thing right now that people assume that’s what I’m doing. It’s been hard for me to tell them that I actually use pigments. I use pigments because they are lightfast and they will last longer, especially when used as lampshades. The pigment is from Carriage House. They have a fabulous array of colors and are a great resource. When you buy something from them, they’ll tell you how to mix it with the right proportions. I would love to learn more natural dying and that’s definitely next on my list. I want to learn to grow my own kozo, too.

[FW]: Do you order your kozo from Carriage House now?

[SH]: We do.

[FW]: There was a shortage of kozo recently, wasn’t there?

[SH]: There was, at least for us! We had a few orders this winter that came just as I was running out of kozo. We called Carriage and they were out and we called a lot of other sources and nobody had any; that kind of hindered our papermaking. It’s harvested in the winter and isn’t ready for purchase until the spring, and Carriage just got it in a few weeks ago so we stocked up.

[FW]: Bales and bales?

[SH]: Oh, yes. We got an 88 pound bale so that will last me a long time and it’s very exciting now because I have so much at my disposal to experiment with.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

[FW]: I saw a picture on your site of very bright white kozo. Do you buy it bleached already or do you bleach it yourself?

[SH]: When I first started out I was buying it bleached. Carriage House does a great job. They have perfectly white kozo, which is really easy and fun to work with. It’s already cooked. It’s already bleached. All you have to do is beat it with a mallet. That’s one of my favorite things about my papermaking process is that it’s done entirely by hand. You can play with the formation of the fibers and how long you beat it. That is how I experiment. I love the long fibers and the way you can manipulate them to be longer or shorter, changing the specific qualities of the paper. They’re kind of lyrical in the sheet of paper when they’re done, the way they’re suspended there.

When they ran out of the bleached kozo they had the raw kozo left and I was like, ‘gosh, now I’ve gotta learn how to bleach.’ My first attempt was in the wintertime and I thought I’d try the Japanese way of laying it in the sun and snow. We played with that process and using a little bit of peroxide; that really brightens it up after about a week of laying in the sun. Then we wash all of the peroxide out. It’s not as white as what Carriage House can do but it’s a nice cream color. For me, the long process of bleaching the kozo adds to the value of the paper.

[FW]: Do you cook your own kozo then, too?

[SH]: I do, which has been a great learning process. The whole act of cooking it down and cleaning, setting it in the sun and beating it, is a whole meditative process. It’s a personal thing. It’s very special to me. I love to share those little glimpses on Instagram.

[FW]: And people love it. You have over 1000 followers!

[SH]: I know! It’s pretty exciting for me. I mean, who would have thought- a papermaker! The process is so interesting to me. I just wanted to show that to other people. I love Instagram. Such a great community of craftspeople, getting to know other people, it’s really encouraging.

We’re also working with the ladies of NEST. They’re on Instagram, too. It’s a beautifully curated lifestyle blog with a contemporary and creative inspiration. They did a pop up shop this past winter in Seattle where they had a few of our lamps and sold them all. Now they’re adding a store to their website where they’re going to be selling their curated line of goods, including our lamps. It’s going to be a beautiful collection and great exposure for us.

[FW]: Like you said, you are doing what you want to do, you have this great product and now it’s about finding your customers because they’re out there.

And your moulds and deckles, did you and Sean make those yourselves, too?

[SH]: We did. We went through a lot of different versions but have finally arrived at a pair that works well for us. The screening from Carriage House was most important. They have heat-shrinking screen so it makes it nice and taut. When we first started we were using window screening and of course that doesn’t go very well. Some day we’ll upgrade to really nice handcrafted moulds and deckles but for now the ones we have work pretty great, too.

[FW]: Hey, everyone has those ‘in the beginning’ stories!

[SH]: Yes, you’ve gotta start somewhere! It’s all a process of learning and figuring out what works best for you. That’s the thing I love about papermaking. I still have a lot to learn, but the possibilities are endless, which is really exciting.

 

Check out their website: SHare Studios: Handmade Paper Illuminated

For a real visual treat: Follow Stef on Instagram

One comment on “Interview: Stephanie Hare of SHare Studios

  1. Shirah Miriam "Mimi" Aumann
    June 7, 2014

    Loved this interview with Stephanie!! Her (their) work is exquisite!! Mimi

    Liked by 1 person

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