Making It Here: The Island Artist

Islesford potter Kaitlyn Duggan embraces both business and creativity.


Kaitlyn Duggan sees her life on Little Cranberry Island, also known as Islesford, as a seamless proposition. In exchange for the challenges of living and running a business on an island, she receives from that place an energetic zest that plows through all aspects of her life—potter, spouse, mom, and island citizen.

Duggan, 37, has had a connection with Little Cranberry since studying at the Maine College of Art in Portland. A teacher there, Marian Baker, worked at Islesford Pottery every summer, and one summer invited Duggan to join her. Duggan liked it, and a few years later, she and her husband Cory decided to move to the island full-time.

Through Cranberry Isles Realty Trust, an affordable housing group, they were able to acquire a house, which had been uninhabited for 40 years and was in need of a lot of repair. They have lived there year-round since 2008. Cory is a carpenter and works a variety of island-based jobs. Four years ago they added Bode, their son, to the family.

Duggan creates pottery in the majolica style. Like its European antecedents, her pottery is earthernware clay decorated with lively colors and designs from nature.

“I love getting out in the woods, in the garden, to the beach, and on the water,” she says. “The rich colors and patterned designs I use on my pottery are inspired by the plants, vegetables, and flowers that draw my attention in these places.”

Winter is her opportunity to spend time working in her studio, uninterrupted by interactions with customers. Bode sometimes works on art projects alongside her; other times, he is part of a childcare-swapping arrangement with a few other island families.

Getting supplies, like heavy blocks of clay, is perhaps her most grueling challenge. She has to drive to Portland to pick materials up, then drive back to the mail boat, “schlepping things from car on the mainland to boat to car on the island to studio.” There are no ferries that carry vehicles to and from Little Cranberry.

“I do every aspect of the business myself, which makes everything go very slowly,” Duggan explains. A shaky internet connection makes for communication challenges. “Doing updates to my web pages and social media becomes a practice in patience.”

She offers 60 different products in a wide price range, from buttons to candlesticks, dishware to earrings, but enjoys creating something new and different every year.

Islesford potter Kaitlyn Duggan taking selfie in front of her work

Duggan continues to sell her work at Islesford Pottery, which generates about 85 percent of her annual sales, but she also sells it year-round through Etsy, Instagram, and Facebook, and at Archipelago, the Island Institute’s store in Rockland. She also gets off-island to some craft shows in venues like Portland during the holiday shopping season. Selling her work on the island, though, satisfies her the most. There is a sense, she says, of the world coming to her. “The chemistry of those interactions (with summer visitors)—it’s a thrill.”

While working with her hands, employing her creative vision, and creating one-of-a kind pieces in pottery are all immensely satisfying, Duggan hopes that “the colors and designs I work with invite into the user’s life the same joy and pleasure I experience as I make the work I love.”

There is a strange paradox about living here. Despite limitations, I get the sense anything is possible.”
— Kaitlyn Duggan

She feels handmade pottery “counteracts the mass-produced products of a fast-paced industrial society.” She
appreciates a slower pace and “the ability to walk the same shore, the same roads again and again, each time noticing something new, while looking at the same familiar scenery.”

The island community also provides that opportunity, to notice the richness of possibility. “There is a strange paradox about living here,” Kaitlyn concludes. “Despite limitations, I get the sense anything is possible.”

Islands have held a fascination for Tina Cohen since she began visiting Vinalhaven in the early 1980s. She enjoys writing about people who live on islands. Besides writing profiles, arts reviews, and travel articles, Cohen works as a psychotherapist, and previously held jobs as an educator, archivist, librarian, and social worker.