MAISIE & SEAN
TEXTILE ARTIST & SCULPTOR
London, NYC & Singapore to Bear Island, Maine
Maisie Broome and Sean Patrick O’Brien’s immeasurable creative abilities and bohemian sensibilities have fueled their city hopping adventures - living for chunks of time in cultural hubs all over the world. Maisie works primarily with textiles, marbling and manipulating fabrics and using those fabrics to create wearable art and one-of-a-kind clothing, and handbags. Sean works with metals, wood and other materials to build sculptures that he shows at international galleries and museums. Sean recently returned from an artist-in-residency program in Iceland. After a long stint living in bustling metropolises, they began searching for summer job opportunities in coastal Maine. Serendipity struck when they came across an island caretaker position. Without knowing which island or family they would be working for, they sent in their resume and were immediately hired as the caretakers of Bear Island. The Fuller family, whose famous family member Buckminster invented the geodesic dome, own Bear Island. It was total serendipity, as Sean drew a lot of his sculpting inspiration from Buckminster’s work and Bear Island still has remnants of two of Buckminster’s prototypes for the geodesic dome. For the last three years Maisie and Sean live six months out of the year on the small island in a rustic cabin with no running water or electricity. They clean and stock the four homes on the island and make sure the family and invited guests are well taken care of. Aside from their care-taking roles, their summers on the island are busy with creating new work. Sean hard at work in the wood shop constructing a giant wooden dome for a contemporary art biennial and Maisie upstairs in the studio experimenting with dying silk in ocean water for her new clothing line. There are no distractions or social obligations to occupy their time and the island allows them the space both physically and mentally to create. Although they haven’t committed themselves full time to living in the country, the couple has begun researching and bidding on tiny abandoned homes and land on eBay auctions and Craigslist. They purchased a tiny stone shack on an island near Canada, and a couple of small parcels of land in various locations in Maine. They feel that the country allows them the quiet and space to create their work but they need the contrast of a city for short spells to keep their minds fresh and immersed in popular culture. Eventually they hope to create their own working studio in the country, but for now they are quite content to spend six months working, creating and living on Bear Island. (Click to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
I grew up on a very isolated island where my parents were caretakers and it was the most beautiful time of my life, so when we were given the opportunity to work on Bear Island, I was inspired to make the move. It is a profound an experience to embrace the peace, the quiet, the inner and outer reflection and change of pace that comes with such pure and natural surroundings. Island life distills everything, making it more potent, and you remember how to appreciate all the little things we normally take for granted.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Any move is a lot of work, but moving out to an island has a few extra steps. We pack very very sparsely, and it is a bit difficult to leave behind all of my special things, but once you arrive safely, the boat is on its mooring, and your cabin is warm and the pantry stocked, it is a very rewarding experience. The challenges that came later were adjusting my studio practice to a space without running water or electricity. It was a hard adjustment, but in the end the restrictions led me to creative solutions and processes.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Well, I grew up with a very rural and off the grid lifestyle, so for me it was more of a return to the way I was raised. That being said, after living in cities for so long I had grown accustomed to convenience. I hadn’t grown my own food for many years. Growing a garden was one of the things I was most excited about doing. I couldn’t believe how easy it was, that’s a plants job! They do it on their own with very slight encouragement. It was way more hands-off than I had expected or remembered. I couldn’t claim ownership at all, these plants were there own beings, living and producing without my help. I was reminded of the power of nature, always growing and changing and evolving.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
The hardest thing to get used to on the island was the lack of control we had. If it was too windy or stormy, we would be stuck on the island for days at time. Important deadlines or plans would have to change at the drop of a hat. Sometimes it was frustrating, but I had to learn to accept it and not get too attached to a certain idea of how I expected things to go. We had to shop for our groceries with this in mind also, so we could sustain ourselves if we became stranded. The garden played an integral role in this, as well as foraging for mushrooms, sea urchins, mussels, and fishing for mackerel. Even when our pantry was bare, we could find something to eat.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
I will always have a side of me that adores the city, but there is a certain sense of contentment that country life gives me, which I value too much to part with forever.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Having lots of S-P-A-C-E.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
If they were moving to Maine, I would encourage them to find a home with a wood stove. Nothing compares to the warmth and charm a woodstove brings, and I feel it is a necessity for us country dwellers.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Visit museums and galleries, connect with old friends and eat out!
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I come from a very creative family, so it is ingrained in me to make things. I love to experiment with materials. So many exciting things can happen when you begin to play and use materials in new ways. That moment of creative exploration, when magical things start to happen, is so enthralling, I am forever chasing that moment, and sometimes I get lucky.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away
from the city?
I always carry my watercolor kit with me, but I find that I use it differently in the country. I spend a lot of time outside playing around with landscapes and nature sketches. I don’t take this work too seriously, which is a nice break from my usual personal drive. Instead it is a way to focus in on what is around me, and helps me to transition into a new way of seeing things, with time and solitude.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
In the country I spend almost the entire day outside, working with my hands, walking everywhere, noticing the small changes in seasons and weather. I am much more connected to nature than I am in the city.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
There are lots of things you can do in the country that you couldn’t easily do in the city, in the country you have so much more privacy, you can really be free.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Being on the ocean is such an inspiring place for me. It is nostalgic, and beautiful, and powerful, and mysterious. Looking out to sea is a wonderfully expansive feeling. On foggy early mornings I go and sit on a secret outcropping of rocks, and let myself meld into the fog. It is meditative and incredibly calming, and I walk away feeling rejuvenated.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
In the city you can be quite anonymous, but in the country you learn every neighbors name, and you are there to help one another if the need arises. Community is a pretty special thing.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
During the winter I have plans to travel and create new work in exciting new environments, and then in the spring I will return home to Maine, launch our trusty boat, and make our way back out to Bear Island.
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