A sewing circle that is all about dolls


Terry Bomba with a Port Clyde Fisherman and a “wife” doll

Speaking of the Sewing Circle which meets at the Port Clyde Baptist Church, the group’s president, Terry Bomba, says it’s “a wonderful fellowship.” The three other women who have gathered in the church’s parish hall on this early April morning—Laura Wiley, Jaye Sierer and Colleen Newcomb—nod in agreement. “Stories come up and we do a lot of laughing. And once in a while we have a few tears together—whatever is going on.”

The good fellowship may be significant, but this sewing circle is all about the dolls they make—the Port Clyde Fishermen dolls, to be specific. These dolls, in fact, are the reason that, for the past several decades, on the first Wednesday in August (this year that is August 5) a line of people begins forming outside the church doors by about 8am in anticipation of the church fair that will begin at 10am.

“You open those doors and stand back because the people rush through to the table that holds the 55 to 60 fishermen dolls we’ve made since the last fair,” Bomba says. “There’s also a bake sale, a crafts table and a flea market, but the first thing is the dolls. Most are scooped up in the first 10 minutes.”


Laura Wiley with a special “captain” doll

For many years the sewing circle made quilts they would sell at the church fair. The shift to focusing on dolls began in 1977, when the first Port Clyde Fisherman doll was “born,” selling for $8. The design, by artist Janice Tate, was inspired by a pattern in a magazine. The doll sported a bait bag and lobster buoy, elements that every fisherman doll since have had, although differences in clothing and facial details make each doll unique—and sometimes looking like people you know.

Eventually Tate developed prototypes for “wife” (each with a handmade rolling pin), “mermaid” and “artist” dolls (complete with berets). Over the years the artist dolls evolved into what the circle calls “specialty” dolls of every conceivable type—pirates, brides, ice skaters, cheerleaders, Grundin fishermen—whatever strikes a member’s fancy. More recently, the group has developed a “lobsterette” doll (each with specially made lobsters in their hands) to honor the fact that women are now fishing and sterning.

“This is all hand done,” points out Jaye Sierer. “Every single little stitch of each body. It makes the dolls unique.” Sierer herself, however, doesn’t sew anything. “I never attended sewing circle because I said ‘I can’t sew.’ But I found I didn’t have to be a sewer—I could be a ‘stuffa.’” The group breaks out in laughter at this, which turns out to be an old joke.

“That’s how Diane Bailey got involved,” Bomba explains. “When Diane moved to Port Clyde, Eva Cushman, one of the veteran members of the circle, tried to get Diane to join. Diane said she couldn’t sew, but Eva said, ‘You can be a stuffa.’”


Other specialty dolls

The story illustrates an important sewing circle tenet: Everyone has something to offer in the making of the dolls. While some of the members, like Wiley and Bomba, are well versed in every aspect of the doll-making process—from sewing the bodies, arms and legs, to knitting sweaters, sewing clothing, and adding the facial features and hair—others specialize. Eva Cushman, for example, now only knits sweaters for the fishermen dolls. And some members, Bomba says, “are better at eyes or hair.”  Circle members who spend the winter elsewhere return to Port Clyde with the dolls and pieces of dolls they’ve continued to work on while away.

Another tenet is that circle members don’t need to belong to the Port Clyde Baptist Church. Colleen Newcomb, who shifted from being “a buyer of the dolls to a maker,” recalls her initial hesitation about joining the circle. “I was worried because the circle’s members were getting older and that if more people didn’t pitch in, the dolls wouldn’t be made anymore. But I was concerned that I would have to be a member of this church.”

The group’s goal is to annually raise $3,000 through the sale of the dolls, which these days run from $45 to $70 each. “We then send the money out into the community,” Bomba says with a note of pride. The Fuel Assistance Program, Trekkers, the local boy scouts, the humane society and Herring Gut are among recent recipients.

Bomba admits that it would be nice if new people would join the group. “Nobody ever quits the circle—they keep on until they get sick or pass away. It used to be that women came to the circle for the social aspect and they would bring their children and then the children would get involved. I wish more people realized how enjoyable it is to do this. We’re creating something.”
After a moment of reflection, Bomba adds, “Still, we have a good group of women. I told them at church meeting that as long as we can make a doll we’ll have a sewing circle.”—JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

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Looking for balance—and fulfilling a passion for ‘how to do things’


There are many people in St. George who work several different jobs, most often as a matter of  necessity. But for Alan Letourneau, both a social worker and owner of a repair and renovation business called AJ Works, working multiple jobs is mostly about balance.

“I think people prefer some variety in their lives, and the opportunity to use both halves of their brains,” he explains. “The mental health work has been my avocation and what has allowed me to make a decent living. The repair and renovations work is more of a passion and a natural inclination. There’s a balance there.”

Letourneau, who grew up in Jay, Maine, got his Master’s degree in social work from Hunter College in New York City. He first worked with teenagers in a residential treatment setting in White Plains. There he met his wife Jan, a White Plains native, who was working in the same program. They moved to St. George in April of 1986.

“I wasn’t making much money in social work and so couldn’t afford a house in White Plains. But I knew I could still buy one in Maine, so I dragged her up here after finding a job in Rockland at Mid-Coast Children’s Services.” Letourneau adds with a smile, “She’s adapted very well and we’ve been happily living here ever since.”

After many years and a number of upward career moves, Letourneau says, he finally grew tired of doing mental health work full time. He was enjoying repairing and renovating the house he and Jan had bought on the Ridge Road opposite the Ridge Church and wanted to do more of the same. “The house was an affordable mess when we bought it and in dire need of care. I’ve done plumbing, wiring, roofing, drywall, moved walls, windows, doors, built closets and shelving units.”

So he began doing maintenance and repair work part time for Diane Hall’s rental properties and also started fielding requests for small repair jobs. The idea of starting his own company—A J Works—to do repairs, renovations and small construction projects came about five years ago.

Repair and construction, Letourneau says, is in his blood. “I come from a long family tradition of blue collar workers who built their own homes. I grew up with it and often helped. Growing up we fixed our own cars when something went wrong. We would go buy the parts and figure out how to do it. Over time I’ve figured out how to fix a lot of stuff.”

Problem-solving, he admits, is an important component of AJ Works. “I’ve done some new construction, but I’ve done a lot of work on older houses and buildings. The older houses are often more work, and more challenging. First you have to ‘de-construct’ before you can ‘construct.’ You never know what you’re going to find when you start taking things apart—it can be scary, gross, completely unexpected and even alive. The main thing about old places is that they have settled, so if they were straight once and had level floors and plumb walls, you’re lucky if they still are. More often, you’re needing to calculate angles and making sure you measure in two or three different places so you can deal with a slope instead of trying to put a square object into a parallelogram.”

Letourneau mostly works alone, less by choice, he says, but often for expediency. “I enjoy working with other people, but working alone offers me flexibility to accept small jobs that people with crews aren’t looking for. It also means I only have to schedule my own time, so I can go from one job to another fairly easily.”

Recently Letourneau added property management to the services he offers, based on his experience with overseeing a rental property in Thomaston. “I’ve learned a lot managing that property and am now willing to take responsibility for a few more homes, whether it is just checking on a place while the owners are away or doing routine maintenance or dealing with rentals. Basically I’m willing to worry so someone else doesn’t have to.”

Letourneau says the decision to divide his time between working with his hands and the mental challenges of social work has been a good one for him. It might have been prompted by his desire to find a balance between a desk job and working with his hands outdoors or in a workshop, but, he admits, there is another factor that suggests that for him there is maybe less difference between the two than it might appear.

“It is just that I like to figure out how to do things. Even in social work, I enjoy creating a program or an agency more than simply working in one. I guess I like to build things.”—JW


PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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Scholarship winners recognized by Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum


The Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum’s Scholarship Committee recognized this year’s scholarship recipients—Paige Tyler, Philip Reinhardt and Audrey Myers—at the museum’s annual volunteer recognition picnic on July 22. Tyler plans to major in nursing at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Reinhardt will study antique automotive restoration at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, and Myers will pursue a degree in nursing at the Fort Kent campus of the University of Maine.

The museum began awarding scholarships for college-bound St. George students in 2005. The recipients receive a total of $2,500 over the course of a four-year program of study or $1,500 over the course of a two-year program. Winners are chosen based on academic performance, recommendations from teachers, counselors and community members, and on essays about their interests and ambitions that they submit as part of the application process.

“These students have impressed us very much with their very compelling personal stories,” says scholarship committee member Linda Small. “And over the years we’ve also been very impressed by the strength, both personal and academic, of our St. George scholarship recipients—most have been successful in their college work while also working often almost full time to pay for their college expenses.”

Over the course of the 10 years the museum has been awarding academic scholarships, the recipients have pursued a diverse array of fields of study, including international business, journalism, criminal justice, secondary education, environmental science and architecture.
Applications for 2016 scholarships will be available at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum website (marshallpoint.org) in January. —JW

PHOTO: Gavin McSkeane

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St. George VANITZ

Who has TRAN WK for his plate to remind him of how lucky he and his grandson were to have not been injured when a train rammed into the back-side of his truck? Witnesses to the 2011 accident in Rockland say the train was going at least 10 miles over the speed limit, and the engineer never tooted his horn.—Susan Bates

Who’s behind the wheel? Email your answer! The first reader to respond correctly wins a free business-size ad in the print edition of The Dragon. Elaine Polky knew TWILL featured in the last issue was Selectperson Tammy Willey.

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St. George Days

The parade began with the pipes.

The parade began with the pipes.

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Raffle and silent auction at the annual library book sale

Raffle and silent auction at the annual library book sale

The lobster dinner benefit for the Fire and Ambulance Association was a big success and delicious, too.

The lobster dinner benefit for the Fire and Ambulance Association was a big success and delicious, too.

Art show at the Odd Fellows Hall

Art show at the Odd Fellows Hall

The Martinsville Flower Show

The Martinsville Flower Show


The rain held off for the excellent fireworks.

The rain held off for the excellent fireworks.

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The Old Timers game on Sunday

The Old Timers game on Sunday

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Getting that complicated boat documentation paperwork right—the first time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen asked what she does for a living, Susy Ellis’ stock response is, “I push paper.” Specifically, it should be added, very complicated paper having to do with commercial fishing boats and other vessels.

Ellis, who does business as Coastal Documentation from her home on Dennison Road in St. George, explains her work with the quirky humor her friends and neighbors have come to expect: “It’s a lot like doing taxes. Boat owners have to interface with government agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Federal Communications Commission. These agencies send them paperwork to fill out. The owners look at the paperwork and then they say to me, ‘I will give you any amount of money to make this paperwork be right.’”

Luckily, she adds, the government agencies involved have every interest in having the paperwork “be right” when it comes to them. “So it’s about making relationships inside these agencies so that if I run into something I’m unfamiliar with I can call or email somebody and find out how to handle it. This way the paperwork goes in and it’s right the first time and it comes back and everyone is happy.”

Commercial fishing boats over five net tons have to be documented by the National Vessel Documentation Center, which is a branch of the U.S. Coast Guard. Ellis got started preparing the paperwork for boat documentation in 1983, when the federal documentation office in Rockland moved to Boston. (Today, strangely enough, the National Vessel Documentation Center is located in Falling Waters, West Virginia.)

“My friend Nancy Payne worked in the Rockland office and the folks there said she should set up a business helping people get their new boats documented,” Ellis recalls. She asked me to help her, so we set up an office in Rockland. Eighteen months later she had a baby and I bought her out and set up an office at home. Since then it has just been me.”

Ellis has clients not only in Maine and New England, but also as far south as Annapolis, Md., and in Nevada, Hawaii, Ohio and even New Zealand. She points to a wire file holder on her desk  jammed full of folders labelled with boat names. “This week (in late June) I’m working on 75 boats. At one point this spring there were 98 boats on my desk—business has been good.”

In part, she says, the reason is that the fishing economy has been improving and fishermen are feeling more confident about replacing their old boats. “Boatyards are busy, which means people like me are busy.” There are only two people doing boat documentation work in Maine and only about 100 documentation professionals in the country at large (although some lawyers handle boat documentation and big shipping and industrial fishing concerns generally have their own in-house people to do this work). “I don’t do anything giant,” Ellis says. “I work for little fishermen and some yacht brokers.”

Looking out for “little” fishermen—basically troubleshooting problems—is, in fact, a significant aspect of what Ellis does. “You have to be a savvy businessman to be a fisherman these days,” she points out. “There are a ton of regulations to stay on top of and the agencies keep changing them as they look for new ways to protect the marine resources. That’s not anything I know about, but I look out for the stuff like if you change boats.”

For example, if a person is fishing for flat fish, Ellis explains, they can’t get a new boat that is more than 10 percent longer or has 20 percent more horsepower than their old boat. Another thing to watch out for is the point at which a fisherman’s new, more-than-five-net-ton boat can no longer be registered with the state and must be documented through the Feds. The fine for non-compliance is $500 a day.

“So I’ll get guys showing up at my door with their eyes bugging out because they were boarded by the Marine Patrol or the Coast Guard and in the course of the inspection—mainly they’re looking for short lobsters and safety equipment—they say they’d like to see the boat’s certificate of documentation. The next thing these fishermen know, they’re facing a fine of $10,000.”

Unfortunately, Ellis says, there are many fishermen on the water in Maine with a ME number on their 42-foot boats who have no idea they are illegal until they get boarded. When they put out a call to fellow fisherman for how to handle the surprise bad news, they are frequently advised to go to Ellis, who by her own account is “fast and cheaper than many documenters because I live in Maine and work from home so my overhead is low.

Working from home is a big plus.

Working from home is a big plus.

“I fix them up,” Ellis says bluntly. “I get them documented and then the Feds take away the fine. I don’t think anyone has had to pay more than a token amount, if that. It’s all about compliance.”

In addition to getting boats documented, Ellis helps fishermen transfer their federal fishing permits to their new boats, performs title searches and most anything else needed to make a boat legal. An English major in college, she’s learned the documentation trade first, from her friend Nancy Payne, and then from people in the federal agencies—and, she says, “by making mistakes.”

And after 32 years, she says she still loves the work. Asked why, she counts the reasons off on her fingers. “I like orderliness, I like filling out forms right, I like working from home—and, maybe most of all, I feel like I’m doing some good.”—JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

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Espresso with a ‘spectacular view’

IMG_2463SMAs the summer heats up and more tourists arrive in St. George, everyone seems to be needing a caffeine fix. Thankfully, this spring Jan Lipson opened Squid Ink, a small coffee shop next to the General Store in Port Clyde. Squid Ink has indoor seating and outdoor picnic tables that look out over Port Clyde harbor.

Squid Ink’s menu contains a variety of espresso drinks such as halvah lattes (sugar and sesame paste complimented by espresso and steamed milk), Cortados (espresso with a tiny amount of warm milk) and Macchiatos (espresso with a dash of foamy steamed milk), along with lemonades and brewed iced teas. The coffee beans come from a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company called MadCap. In fact, Lipson’s  very positive experience learning about coffee at MadCap’s Washington, D.C. lab and training facility, she says, is what motivated her to open her own coffee shop.

JanSMIn addition to the rich aroma of coffee, the atmosphere at Squid Ink is also filled with lovely pastry smells. The donuts come from Willow Bake Shop in nearby Rockport, while the cookies and most of the baked goods are created by Sweets by Casey in Thomaston. The goat cheese scones are baked by Bittersweet Heritage Farm located up the road in Martinsville. The mandelbrat Lipson makes herself, in remembrance of her grandmother.

Lipson and her family started spending the summer in St. George in about 1986, traveling from their home in Washington, D.C. “We bought a house in Martinsville—my son was about two years old. That was our first summer here and we fell in love.”

Squid Ink is Lipson’s first business in Port Clyde, but not her families’ first business endeavor here. Her two sons used to sell a product they called “Port Clyde Country Root Beer.” “They used to harass local people into buying their root beer,” she says with a laugh. “They even had a root beer stand at the Rockland lobster festival.”

Lipson created her small coffee shop business because, she says, “I thought vacationers and locals would love a good cup of coffee on a dock with a spectacular view.”

So far Lipson seems to have been right. The business has been open for only about six weeks and already it has been receiving stellar reviews. Chris Chadwick, owner of the nearby Black Harpoon, claims, “Great coffee and mandelbradt.” Angela Stendel, a Rockland resident, says, “Awesome latte.” Brian Hupper, a local fishermen, agrees, adding “It’s a great spot.”

Lipson and her four baristas—Karly Robinson, Olivia Hupper, Meg Joseph and Neva Joseph—taste-test and evaluate the espresso machine every morning. “It’s up to us as baristas to make sure the coffee tastes good every day,” Lispon says.

Lipson says she plans to expand her menu in the future. “Maybe I’ll add a tart or some form of savory items,” she ventures.

The friendly atmosphere at Squid Ink is something Lipson wants to emphasize. “It’s not just a business,” she confides. “My idea of Squid Ink is that it can be a community center. I want it to be a place where people feel comfortable.”

– Sienna Barstow (Squid Ink is open 7am-3pm, Monday through Saturday and Sunday 10-2pm.)

PHOTOS: Top, Betsy Welch, bottom, Sienna Barstow

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St. George VANITZ: Who’s behind the wheel?

TwillCTWILL is her nickname, given by a friend in gym class freshman year of high school and it stuck. Even her family calls her Twill or Auntie Twill. —Susan Bates

Who’s behind the wheel? Email  your answer! The first reader to respond correctly wins a free business-size ad in the print edition of The Dragon.

Editor’s note: When you see the same vanity plate over and over you can be pretty sure it belongs to a resident of St. George, and it is natural to wonder who’s behind the wheel and what the story is behind the name. In this new feature of The Dragon, created by Susan Bates, we’ll tell you the story behind some of those special plates and leave it to our readers to guess who’s behind the wheel. If you have one you’d like to share, or one you’d like us to track down, email julie@stgeorgedragon.com

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