Do It Yourself: The Best Classes to Take in Maine

Learn how to cook, make a ceramic, design a graphic, attend a wine tasting with our guide to the best classes available in Maine
Words By Brian Shuff

Let’s not skirt the facts: Winter is coming. After Thanksgiving, it’s only a matter of time before grills get covered and tank tops are pushed to the backs of drawers. As the world moves indoors, what better time to connect (or reconnect) with our inner creatives and to use the long months of quiet and seclusion, as have so many makers and artisans throughout the state’s history. “People from around the world have always come to Maine to learn new skills and to hone their abilities in numerous mediums,” says Ginger Aldrich, Development Director at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. “The environment is a generative space.” And while Haystack remains the vanguard, the OG of craft study in Maine, offering year-round instruction in metalwork, woodwork, fibers, graphics, ceramics, as well as an ever-rotating catalog, all housed on its singular Deer Isle campus (the Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed facility was featured in the New York Times Style Magazine as one of the 25 most significant works of postwar architecture), plenty of educational offerings across the state are giving people at all skill levels the chance to give their creative minds a kick.

“Our classes are a great pregame,” says Nikaline. “Guests can try new wines, have a bite of something on-theme, then head to dinner.” 

In Rockport, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship is considered the “Juilliard of woodworking” by marketing manager Victoria Allport. The center has a spectrum of programming, from one-week workshops in basic woodworking (one class is called ReallyBasic Woodworking, in which students take an Adirondack chair from design through construction) to nine-month comprehensives in professional furniture making. “Our students fill out evals, and ‘transformative’ is the word that gets brought up most,” says Victoria. Generous scholarship programs help keep classes accessible to a wide range of aspirant woodworkers.

If you’d rather swap spruce for steel, Erica Moody Fine Metal Work of Waldoboro provides private instruction plus day and weekend workshops in the rudiments of metalwork. The beneficiaries of her 25 years of experience, Erica’s students learn silver brazing, welding, cutting, forming, drilling, threading, small forgings, and finishing—invaluable skills when fabricating anything “from a spoon to a skyscraper’s topping lantern,” Erica writes. And for a medium more pliable altogether, check out Portland Pottery Studio. Eight-week courses teach everything from hand-building, wheel throwing, glazing, and firing. Open studio time is also included in the cost, and kids’ classes (ages 6 to 16) are available. As a bonus, head to their café before or after class for a daily frittata, homemade veggie burgers, and what is secretly one of the best Caesar salads in the city. 

Nikaline’s on-site foraging classes give participants a feel for what’s available on their own land.
Ingredients for wild-crafted cocktails.

For those who already know their way around a chisel, die grinder, or fettling knife and just need the time and space to commit to a particular project, why not think about a membership at Portland’s Factory 3. Tools and training are available not only for the “big 3” (wood, metal, and fiber) but also newer mediums like 3D printing, Adobe photoshop, and computer design. The space is sleek, spare, well-lit, and pristine. Owner Patrick Walker Russell likens the environment’s aesthetic ethos to that of Apple or Tesla. For a shorter-term commitment, the rent-a-bench program at Hiram’s Tear Cap Workshops has daily, even hourly, rates. You provide the idea and the materials; Tear Cap provides the tools and troubleshooting.

Of course, in recent years, Maine has become a lure for culinary minds as much as for craftspeople. The warmth of the kitchen is a fantastic place to spend frozen days (maybe sipping a California pinot while keeping an eye on a simmering Bolognese), and some of Maine’s greatest food minds are opting to share their skills.

“Taking an idea through the design process, choosing a piece of wood, then bringing the object into the world is a transformative experience,” says Victoria. The Messler Gallery hosts shows throughout the year (top right).

Portland’s Bravo Maine hires professional chefs to lead its hands-on classes, each of which centers around a particular dish or region of the world. Past sessions have included macarons, a croissant workshop, rustic Italian featuring spaghetti carbonara with pasta from scratch, paella, sushi, chicken curry and naan, ribeye Beaujolais and duchess potatoes, and Argentinean night featuring beef empanadas and chimichurri. French-born director and extensive traveler Justine Corbi says, “My hope is that by cooking together, guests discover new products, new cultures, and new flavors.”

A bit south, husband-and-wife team Noah and Flora operate Arundel’s Frinklepod Farm. Frinklepod’s crops are certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and the farm focuses heavily on regenerative agriculture. In addition to running a year-round farm store,Flora teaches cooking within a plant-based diet. Her soup course, which includes veggie stock, pho, creamy squash, and hearty lentil-tomato is all but custom-made for crisp nights. And if your ideal winter involves sipping something tasty while the snow falls, Vessel &Vine in Brunswick has monthly wine tastings and cocktail classes.

Erica Moody in her studio. Photo by Bryan Coppede.
A sampling of Erica’s work, including an incredible take on the classic oyster knife (top left).

“With the wines, we open about five bottles and focus on a theme—either a region, a varietal, or sometimes a concept, like ‘oak’ or ‘acidity,’” says owner Nikaline Iacono. “With the cocktails it can be anything from shaken cocktails, stirred cocktails, or how to incorporate amaro.”(Starting in spring, Vessel &Vine also has private foraging classes that are extremely popular. “It’s a great way to explore your own property and see what’s available from the land,” says Nikaline.)

Lastly, while the isolation of winter can drive some mad, for others it might provide the perfect stretch of solitude to finish that novel that’s lived too long in a desk drawer. The Maine Writers &Publishers Alliance offers online workshops taught byMaine writers in a multitude of genres. “The Maine literary culture has grown exponentially,” says executive director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc. “I remember when you couldn’t program two lit events on the same night because there wasn’t an audience for both, but now it’s exploded.”

“I want people to see Factory 3 as exclusive and premium,” says founder Patrick Walker Russell.
A Frinklepod intern tends to their organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers.  
A Factory 3 member works on a personal design.

Just be sure to take breaks.Get outside. Even in the cold. See a friend (maybe catch a sushi-making class together).Winter is long, and you don’t want to start hearing ghosts and typing the same line again and again and again.