Harpswell jeweler Keith Field stands next to a photo of the Cribstone Bridge in his Brunswick shop. (ERIN O’MARA PHOTO)
If it’s possible for a place to be in a person’s DNA, Harpswell and the surrounding area are in jeweler Keith Field’s. With four generations of Mainers behind him, he has a sense of place and time rooted in community, and that sense informs his art.
“Jewelry is more than just a piece of metal,” Field said. “It’s an emotional connection to an idea.”
Harpswell is rich with ideas.
Field’s ancestors built a farmhouse on Basin Point in the 1850s. The house had been largely abandoned for years when 12-year-old Keith and his family moved in. Beyond coming down to mow the lawn or celebrate Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, the family hadn’t spent much time in the house. It was in such a state that the neighborhood kids thought it was haunted.
“It was a home that was falling down. When we moved there, there was no running water or septic,” Field said. He remembers hand-pumping water from the well and trips to the outhouse.
And he remembers a lot of joy. “We looked at it as just a ball. It was a ton of fun,” he said.
“The mud flats and the water were our lives of play,” Field said. His parents, as parents do, imposed boundaries: The kids weren’t allowed to wander away from Basin Cove. But with two old wooden boats rescued from the barn, the possibilities of the water were limitless — as long as they could get the boats to float. That required a lot of bailing and a spirit of adventure. “If the tide was in, we were in the water,” Field said.
Harpswell and the surrounding area are full of Field’s touchstones and family history. There’s been a jeweler from the Field family in Brunswick since the late 1800s. In 1918, his grandfather bought the building now home to his shop.
Field felt called to the family business early on and had a penchant for tinkering, so he taught himself and honed his talent with training in Deer Isle and New York City. He started with jewelry repair, then grew his creative muscle and his business by adding his own jewelry designs. All the while, he knew he’d stay near his roots in Maine. Today, his parents still live in the Basin Cove farmhouse and he and his brother live nearby.
Field grew up hearing his grandmother talk about how his family helped build the True and Company grist mill. The mill was quickly made obsolete by the innovation of steam power, then it was lost to a storm. The foundation that remains today enhances the effect of the rushing water as the tide changes. Keith’s Reversing Falls earrings are inspired by the area — shaped like Basin Cove, swirling with movement.
A necklace from Harpswell jeweler Keith Field’s Cribstone Bridge collection. (PHOTO COURTESY KEITH FIELD GOLDSMITH)
In March 2021, as the pandemic wore on, Field had some extra time on his hands. He took a ride to the Cribstone Bridge. As he walked the span and read the dedication, an idea sparked. On that day, he realized he could create something beautiful and tangible that honored the era and the iconic bridge. He had some diamonds, cut around the same time the cribstones were cut. He set them in structural pieces and the connection was immediate and visceral.
“I like jewelry as a medium for artwork. I like the idea that jewelry is very long-lasting. I like the idea of the emotional connection to it. And it’s very interesting to me that’s the same reason people like the bridge,” Field said.
People began getting in touch to share their connections to the Cribstone Bridge and Harpswell. Some had grandfathers who passed down stories of constructing or designing the bridge. Others had family history with the quarry in Yarmouth that provided the granite.
And then there was the emotional connection. People who’d been eating at Cook’s their whole lives or who got engaged on the bridge shared their stories. The summer folks who look forward to seeing the bridge each year called and talked about their time and delight in Harpswell.
Hannah Simmler, Field’s daughter, grew up working in the shop and built on that experience to become an accredited appraiser. She now serves as the shop’s fine jewelry appraiser and owns an appraisal business.
Simmler summed up the value of having a sense of place and history. “It’s very grounding … living in an area in which you meet people and they know your story,” she said. The Cribstone Bridge, she said, “is a marker that people can come back to and remember their parents or grandparents.”
While nothing stays the same, the Cribstone Bridge remains solid and reliable. It’s more than a roadway connecting Orr’s and Bailey. If you’re on the islands, it’s an integral part of every day. If you drive down the Neck, you get a stunning view of the granite span. It’s a common understanding and a shared memory.
“I’m just a small guy with a little store in a little town,” Field said. He’s one person, like all of us, connected to history and community, a latticework of knowing and being known.
“I love being here,” he said. He has the beauty and history of his surroundings to draw on for jewelry design. And, just like in childhood, he’s on the water when the tide is in. Though now, he’s got a kayak that doesn’t leak.
Erin O’Mara lives in Harpswell and serves on the board of Harpswell News.