The workshop that George Castonguay built in Jay to develop his artwork, which ranges from woodcarving to murals such as the nature scene painted on the building. Castonguay refers to the workspace as “Camp” and markets his art on Instagram @outta_camp_designs.building. Castonguay refers to the workspace as “Camp” and markets his art on Instagram @outta_camp_designs. Photo Courtesy of George Castonguay

Before George Castonguay started at the Androscoggin Mill in 1983, he had spent his adolescence working a variety of jobs in the Jay and Livermore area. He baked bread at Lucarelli’s, bagged groceries at Sampson’s and oiled shoes — a component of the shoemaking process in which a divot in the heel, called an owl’s eye, is soaked in oil — in the basement of Wilton’s old Bass-Wilson building.

At one point, Castonguay was sent by his father to work at DeCoster’s egg farm in Turner to “get a reality check of what was happening in this world,” he told Castonguay and his three brothers.

“See, we were brought up as workers, it didn’t matter what we did or how we did it,” Castonguay explained. “So it was kind of like sending us to the military because you appreciate what’s out there.” 

Castonguay’s father, as did many family members, worked at the Androscoggin paper mill. To support five kids, Castonguay’s father worked bull-gang at the mill which is yard work, truck driving and operating heavy equipment and had a second job delivering oil.

This worker mentality haunted Castonguay who was more artistically inclined. He knew he was different and even his high school guidance counselor approached his parents about Castonguay attending college for art. But art had the stigma of drugs and Woodstock-like festivals to his parents. It was not a practical direction, it was not the mill.

While Castonguay was at his shoe-oiling job, his mother insisted that he attend an open interview day for the paper mill. With reluctance, 20-year-old Castonguay stood in a line that wrapped around Murray Hall in Livermore Falls.


“The line gets shorter and shorter and I’m like, ‘I know where this is going.’ That’s when I lost all independence,” he said.  

While Castonguay was at the mill, he held five boiler permits and also worked directly on paper machines. He recalled the mental drain from watching the plain, white sheets of paper repetitively come toward him for hours.

“It’s kind of like that puppy chasing a leaf. It chases it and then it stops, and then it’s waiting for the next leaf because it’s coming,” he said.

During the  16-month strike against International Paper in 1987, Castonguay left the mill to work at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley. It was a brief moment of liberation as he worked outdoors, first operating the chairlift and then playing a major role developing the golf course. He even brought Dagger to work with him, his beloved German shepherd who would ride on the golf carts. 

As a side gig, Castonguay also trained police dogs and had a number of German shepherds such as Dagger that he refers to as though they were his children.

After five years at Sugarloaf, the mill called.


“They called me back. I really didn’t want to go,” he said. “I told my boss at the golf course, if you give me a couple quarters more an hour, I’ll stay here.” 

Sugarloaf didn’t budge and Castonguay was back to staring at reels of paper. This time around, Castonguay incorporated his drawing skills into his position. Every time he was shown a new part of the mill, machinery or job Castonguay sketched out a diagram.

“There was a big lunch table with a roll of paper and a guy would show me my job and because I was hands on, everything he showed me I drew from point A to point B,” Castonguay said.

Management took note of his talent and put him on sketching diagrams of the mill and how to operate machinery. During breaks, Castonguay would sketch landscapes and he started to bring his paintings to work, impressing the mill manager’s wife who purchased one of them. At home, he was honing his woodworking craft, making benches and carving customized walking sticks by incorporating imagery such as a person’s favorite or most-feared animal.

George Castonguay carves customized walking sticks by conversing with a person and determining what pattern or imagery would resonate with them the most as they walk. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

So I would carve something that they either loved or feared and they would take that stick and remove themselves from that anxiety and by walking, understand that fear, that it’s OK; that you can control that fear,” Castonguay said.

Although Castonguay had his art as an outlet, it didn’t change his work environment which was consuming him more as the mill switched to 12-hour shifts. The new schedule had effects on Castonguay’s young family as it did with many others, he observed.


“That hurts, raising babies like that, it hurts. Not only does it affect the families as far as the babies, the wife has to change her life, too. The grandmothers, they all had to change their lives,” he said.

The long shifts completely absorbed Castonguay who adapted more to the people he found himself around the majority of the time.

“If you drank and smoked, you were accepted, you were in,” he said. “So I did a lot of it, a lot. It almost killed me.”

Castonguay still had that feeling of when he was a teenager, that he was different. In a way, he wanted to suppress that feeling and just conform to the expectations of his environment.

In 2013, as Castonguay’s brother’s health was slipping, he asked Castonguay to pursue his art and to stop drinking and smoking. After his brother passed, Castonguay quit his deteriorating habits and focused more on his art. He built a workspace for himself that he refers to as “Camp.”

And it was at Camp that Castonguay learned of the mill’s pulp digester explosion on April 15, 2020, while he was carving a bench with a painted scene of loons.


“I was actually working on a project, I heard all of the helicopters fly by and the only thing I looked up and said was … ‘So tell me Jesus nobody is killed in this. I’m going to continue my day.’ That’s all I said because I could smell it from my house. I knew what happened,” Castonguay said.

At this point, Castonguay takes a break, shaking his head in disbelief of decades of events that led up to this very interview. He finds a picture of a letter from Pixelle Specialty Solutions dated Sept. 28, 2020, that is a half-paragraph long. It was Castonguay’s first notification from Pixelle that he would be one of the 177 workers let go from the mill due to the pulp digester exploding.

“Someday, you’ll get a calling of what you’ve always wanted in life. It was a calling,” Castonguay said, who is now preparing for college for the first time through Spruce Mountain Adult and Community Education.

After Castonguay’s lay off, he was quarantining at home and working on yet another bench for a family member’s wedding. His cousin, who also worked at the mill, came over to inspect Castonguay’s progress before heading over to an adult ed. class. Before leaving, he made Castonguay promise that he would contact the adult ed. center and set up an advising session.

Castonguay is now working closely with Director Robyn Raymond for career and college advising and with other staff members to improve his math before starting at Central Maine Community College this fall. There have already been major benefits for Castonguay who said that he’s learned how to use his smart phone and he’s improved his computer skills. Now, he can scroll through his Instagram @outta_camp_designs and market his artwork online.

Just entering the adult education building was a struggle, however, for Castonguay who tried to make a joke regarding the amount of time he spent in closets in elementary and middle school.


“My concern, it goes back a lot of years … I think I know why I was such a good janitor at work because I was put in those closets because I was left-handed and I couldn’t comprehend anything teachers were trying to share with me,” he said. 

The Livermore Falls adult education center is housed in Castonguay’s old middle school where he has traumatizing memories of being punished by teachers.

“What bothered me the most was going in there and smelling this building,” he said.

Working through this trauma has been a coinciding goal as Castonguay prepares himself for his criminal justice program at CMCC.

“Don’t we all have a lot of things in life that we have to avoid or don’t want to deal with?” Castonguay said and went on to explain that he thinks his life experience can bring something different to law enforcement.

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