Lee Centeno (left) and Suzanne Wakefield admire the art at the entrance to Meraki Gallery. (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
Meraki Gallery, formerly of Orr’s Island, has found its way to Harpswell Neck with a new lease on life, thanks to local artists Lee Centeno and Suzanne Wakefield.
During their time in Southern Maine, Centeno worked in the corporate world and developed an interest in jewelry-making after taking a course at the Maine College of Art in 2010, while Wakefield worked in horticulture and pursued her interest in natural materials as a sculptor. From there, they made the rounds in the local art circuit by selling at festivals and in galleries, having been inspired by the community of artists in their lives. In 2012, the couple found their way to Harpswell, and they have been here ever since.
“We always had that little dream,” said Centeno, who grew up in Belfast under the creative influence of her mother, a painter and former owner of a gallery in Blue Hill. “We always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have some place of our own?'”
After discovering that Harpswell is home to many artists, Centeno and Wakefield took the leap and opened Meraki Gallery on Orr’s Island in 2016 as a way of supporting and showcasing local art within the community. The gallery was in the building now home to Harpswell Realty Group.
They had stumbled across the word “meraki” earlier that year. “We said, ‘This is it! This embodies what we want to be doing,'” said Centeno. “It’s perfect!”
The Greek word has no direct English counterpart, but loosely translates to “the soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work,” as a sign at the gallery says.
“The name resonates with how most artists do their work,” said Wakefield.
Harpswell, they found, was a natural home for artists. “It’s the natural beauty, the serenity, the coast. It’s the combination of solitude and community,” said Centeno. “Artists often work on their own, but there still needs to be some sense of community.”
The gallery on Orr’s Island closed in 2017, at which point Centeno and Wakefield built a modern home on Harpswell Neck. They revisited the idea of meraki last year. “We realize that this house gets a lot of attention in general, so we thought, ‘What if we did a pop-up out front? Would people stop? What would that be like?'” said Centeno.
With those questions in mind, the artists hosted a pop-up arts festival at their home on Fairhaven Lane in October 2021, featuring pottery, jewelry and sculpture, and were pleasantly surprised by the community response. “We got a lot of encouragement from (local participants), so that’s what pushed us forward to create a dedicated space,” said Wakefield.
“It was such a treat to talk to people again (after the onset of COVID-19) and have a sense of community, so we thought it would be fun to expand it with a slightly larger space, but also still be able to do our own thing,” said Centeno. “It’s very appealing to be able to be in the garden or make jewelry and go out when people stop by.”
The gallery, which opened this past Memorial Day weekend, features a rotating selection of work from 12-15 artists. The artists come not only from Harpswell, but from across the state, including Down East and the mountains of Western Maine. Their work includes pottery, visual art, woodworking, clay and wire sculpture, T-shirts, fiber arts, cards, lights, tea towels and glasswork.
“You have to have a little bit of everything,” said Centeno. She strives to make art accessible for everyone, with prices in the gallery ranging from $5-$900.
“When we sell something, like a painting, which is the hardest thing to sell, you just feel like you’ve won the lottery!” said Centeno. “You get to tell someone that you’ve sold a piece of their work.”
“It’s very gratifying to send those checks out (to artists with work in the gallery) at the end of the month!” said Wakefield.
A sign at Meraki Gallery gives the definition of the Greek word “meraki.” (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
Centeno and Wakefield said that they strive to curate a “modern Maine” experience within the walls of the gallery and are eager to welcome new artists who would like to build the arts community in Harpswell. “If you’re a Harpswell artist and you’re looking for a place to show your work, stop in,” said Wakefield.
How will meraki manifest itself in the future? Centeno and Wakefield believe Harpswell has the potential to become a destination for the arts. They want to maintain the serenity and character of Harpswell while enhancing its attributes to draw people in for meals at local restaurants, hikes on local trails, and stops at galleries and shops.
“Hopefully this (gallery) appeals to people. We would encourage more people to try something like this — the more, the merrier!” said Centeno. “It’s like a destination; it’s not just one place. If Harpswell had three to four galleries down the line that you could stop and visit, that would be wonderful.”
Centeno and Wakefield will continue to cultivate the arts community in Harpswell with their gallery and special events. What should supporters look for next?
“Food trucks!” said Centeno. “We would love to have other artists set up tents here and get some food trucks here for a festival next summer.”
Meraki Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at 4 Fairhaven Lane, just off Harpswell Neck Road and just north of the Curtis Farm Preserve parking area. For more information, find merakiislandgallery on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance journalist Kelli Park has contributed to The Times Record, The Working Waterfront, Edible Maine and The Coastal Journal. A part-time college instructor and teacher of English to speakers of other languages, she lives in Cundy’s Harbor with her son, Kieran.