Working: Stell Shevis

By Patrisha McLean | May 09, 2009

Camden — Stell and Shevis (each known by one name, her by her first and he by his last) have lived together and worked together as artists for more than 70 years.

“I think I fell in love with his work first,” said Stell. They were art students together in the early 1930s and a portrait he made of her then is among the colorful paintings, constructions and prints, handmade books and crafts that fill their home.

Early on, they began collaborating on wood-block prints that adorned silk scarves, ashtrays and at least 25 covers of Down East Magazine. “We both did everything,” Stell said. “I always enjoyed doing animals and flowers and children. Sometimes if I was designing something Shevis would say ‘that’s too pretty’ and he would strengthen it. I learned a lot from him.”

A fire at their farm in Belmont in 1965 destroyed all they owned: The early portrait of Stell is a print a friend gave back to them. The fire prompted their move to Camden, where they ran the Stell and Shevis Gallery. With some of their many artist friends, they founded both the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and the precursor to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. “We never made a lot of money,” Stell said, “ but we lived rich.”

Twenty-five years ago Stell inherited from an enamelist friend an enormous kiln, mounds of flat copper sheets and shapes, and ground glass in more than 1,000 shades of the color spectrum, housed in separate jars. Stell’s preferred medium at the time was clay but she switched to enamels because “I couldn’t do both, and I loved the colors.”

The art of enameling dates back to the fifth century and involves placing myriad substances – tiny colored-glass beads picked up with tweezers, gold leaf so thin “I hold my breath when I use it so it doesn’t disintegrate,” Stell said -- onto metal and firing it in 1,500 degree heat. Each piece pulled out of the kiln is a surprise and while Stell said, “I get a lot of things that go into the wastebasket,” a lot are keepers, especially considering the 94-year-old is in her studio, “playing,” eight hours a day. “I always sold things inexpensively because I love doing it and I have to get rid of them,” she said.

Stell’s enchanting enameled wall pieces, pins and music boxes can be found locally at Carver Hill Gallery and Mainely Pottery. She taught in Venezuela and traveled to China with the International Enamel Society, and reports that the craft is waning: At the society’s annual conference, “The most enamelists they get together is about 300, and that’s from all over the world," she said. "And the price of copper has been going up, up, up.”

A group of Stell’s women friends have been meeting for tea at each other’s homes for 40 years. She is also part of the “Lively Ladies,” nine women artists who gather once a week to paint and currently have a show at the Garage Gallery, aka Eastern Tire, on Park Street in Rockland. Stell sometimes uses this occasion to create birthday cards for the couple’s four children, 10 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Stell and Shevis have brought much beauty and wonder into the world as artists. As a couple too: Three years ago Shevis marked Valentine’s Day with a love letter to Stell printed in the local paper. Last month, on their 71st wedding anniversary, Stell did the same for him.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.