Guidebook offers tours to find local craftspeople

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WEST PARIS – For the past three years, Wendy Newmeyer has been anticipating the arrival of a new guidebook that directs tourists to artists and craftspeople tucked away in the region, sometimes in out-of-the-way spots that could easily be overlooked.

Newmeyer and her husband own Maine Balsam Fir Products in West Paris on Morse Hill Road. Their hideaway haven includes a production barn for the 100,000 balsam pillows they make every year. And now it also has a small shop, which Newmeyer said her husband built just so they could be included in the guidebook.

The book, HandMade in the Northern Forest, has been produced by the Northern Forest Center and Businesses for the Northern Forest. It is available on amazon.com and will soon be sold in bookstores throughout the Northeast.

“It will provide direct marketing and promotion assistance to small arts and craft businesses in Maine,” Mike Wilson of the Northern Forest Center said Friday by phone. He works in the organization’s Bethel office. “In the longer term we see this as the first step in really developing recognition of the northern forest as a destination for people to come to find high quality art and craft products that are really grounded in the forest-based heritage of the region.”

The northern forest encompasses the northern parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, Wilson said, although this guidebook cheats a little to stretch down to the eastern coast of Maine as well.

Newmeyer said she thinks the book will increase traffic to her business. And she also sees it boosting the economic vitality of the area. “It’s all about economic development, and how rural areas are changing. This whole push for a creative economy, this book couldn’t be better for that,” she said Friday, standing in the golden light infusing her new store.

The book includes driving loops through different regions, and recommends restaurants and inns to feed and lodge craft hunters. Maine has three sections: the White Mountains, which incorporates Norway, Bethel, Fryeburg and surrounding area; the Western Mountains, extending up around Rangeley and Farmington; the crown of Maine in the far Northeast; and the coast from Calais to Deer Isle.

Robin Zinchuk, director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said research by the crafts industry has shown that driving tours are attractive to tourists.

The book takes off from a model launched in North Carolina and started by an organization called HandMade in America. Its guidebook has “had a significant economic development impact in that region,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the book’s producers might consider a second edition to include more craftspeople once they assess how the first guidebook has been received. It took three years to produce, involved extensive research and site visits to every business listed, and was funded by several donors, including the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Community Foundation.


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