The idea for the Grand Lake Stream Folk Art Festival took root in 1993, when resident Cathy Shamel was approached by several area business and lodge owners who were looking for ideas to bring visitors to Grand Lake Stream. They wanted to showcase the area’s natural beauty and unique heritage with a “low-impact, outside of the box, something really different” type of event. Cathy, along with fellow resident Sophie Melanson, came up with the idea of a family-oriented festival that would incorporate both folk art and music, with an outdoorsy, back-to-nature theme. They quickly subscribed to the old adage, “when you dream, dream big”, and proceeded to hit the road to recruit folk artists and musicians. To this day, Sophie is the Festival Chairperson and Cathy is the Artistic Director and Event Coordinator. The two founders have been helped along the way by innumerous volunteers from the community and beyond.
Today’s festival continues to be built around folk art and has grown to close to sixty exhibitors who create in a variety of mediums and genres. The music at the festival spans two days with everything from American roots to bluegrass, and contemporary to jazz. All performers are professional or semi-professional (meaning they have day jobs!), and are from Maine or the Maritime Provinces, or have a strong Maine connection. The only amateurs performing each year are the Grand Lake Stream Strummin’ Wildcats, a ukulele group made up of “locals”.
Various displays have been added over the years, including locally-built canoes and a historical photo display known as the “Remembrance Tent”. Sophie Melanson presides over the tent each year, as the ex-officio local historian, and answers questions regarding the interesting display of local family photos provided by year-round and summer residents, both past and present.
A children’s arts and crafts program was added more recently, the brainchild of Judy Guggenhime (supporter and fundraising guru), Lindsay Wheaton (owner/operator of Grand Lake Lodge), and Cathy Shamel. This popular festival activity gives parents an opportunity to leave the kids while they shop the vendors, browse the exhibits, or enjoy the music. Katie Vetack coordinates the programs throughout both days and is assisted by artists Rebekah Raye and Betsie Leslie.
The Quilt Display Tent has been a popular attraction for many years, featuring the talented seamstresses from the St. Croix International Quilters Guild. Other fiber artists have joined them over the years, to both display and demonstrate their hand work. Authors often appear to sign their books and talk quilting with the many festival-goers who also enjoy the art of quilting.
Now in its 24th year, the Grand Lake Stream Folk Art Festival has become a regular summer event for both area residents, folks from across Maine and New Brunswick, and beyond. The Festival received the 2006 Maine Governor’s Award for Excellence in Tourism, along with being voted Editors’ Choice for the Best Family Art & Music Festival in New England by Yankee Magazine in 2015. If you haven’t made it to Grand Lake Stream, Maine yet…perhaps this should be the year to see what you’ve been missing!