The demise of the art gallery was announced too soon. On rapidly gentrifying Washington Avenue, two men are betting that original art, handmade furniture and home decor trappings made mostly by Mainers will revive the independent spirit of bricks and mortar in Portland.
Photographer Samuel Strickland and international financier Michael Fortier have joined forces for Venn + Maker, a “gallery shop” opening the week before Thanksgiving at 65 Washington Avenue.
“We want to help Maine people, who are skilled, have a marketplace for their products,” said Fortier, who is tapping crafters, weavers, blacksmiths and potters across Maine to be featured in this new concept shop located next to The Drifter’s Wife in the Nissen Bakery Building.
Fortier, a Winslow native who has lived abroad as a director for J.P. Morgan, was itching to return home. Knowing that a diverse, well-curated store featuring custom furniture and an eclectic cache of art would gel in Maine’s largest city, he pounced when he saw the space.
Strickland is designing a website to serve as Venn + Maker’s e-commerce site and the pair are designing their own furniture.
Just which artisans and hand-crafted items they will feature is being kept under wraps (though there will be axes for lumbersexuals, candles and granola). Right now the owners are looking for more local makers.
“This is an unusual model for Maine,” said Fortier, who seeks to capitalize on the momentum in this part of town. “I look at it as a good laboratory, a showroom,” for developers and future hoteliers, for example, to get a feel for the artistry of Maine.
They are working with local makers to develop a Venn + Maker line of “modern, rustic” designs. Some items will be culled from Fortier’s travels to places like Iceland, England and Scandinavia, others are local brands they have researched and respect. There will also be some found objects, like vintage Flexible Flyers, scattered here and there.
“We are looking to unite the young group of entrepreneurs moving to Maine with local makers,” said Fortier who sees his new venture as “a conduit,” helping consumers find goods “from Maine made in Maine.”
Amid the 2,350 square feet will be a studio where a seamstress will be working. Down the road Fortier, a Bowdoin College grad, would like to find a building to create a multi-level maker’s space.
Venn + Maker will open soon at 65 Washington Ave., Portland.