Transcription of Designing Anew #293

Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio. Hosted by Doctor Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Doctor Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at Here are some highlights for this week’s program.
George Smith: It took about a year to get to that trust, but with that came that conversation that was really conducted with love, and love is always the key to vulnerability, isn’t it?
Cabot Lyman: People are traveling up from Portland to see what’s going on. Musicians are coming up there to be part of a whole musical thing in the Strand, and of course I like the movies they show, so that’s great. Yeah. Rockland has changed a lot.
Lisa Belisle: This is Doctor Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show Number 293, Designing Anew. Airing for the first time on Sunday, April 30, 2017. Maine is home to many who enjoy transforming things in unexpected ways. Today, we speak with Doctor George Smith, an education innovator who founded the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, headquartered in Portland, Maine in 2006. We also discuss the recently opened Rockland boutique hotel, 250 Main, with its co-creator Cabot Lyman, owner of Lyman-Morse Boat Building, and with manager Ruth Woodbury Starr. Thank you for joining us.
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Lisa Belisle: It is my pleasure to have with me today George Smith, who founded the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts in 2006. Headquartered in Portland, Maine, the Institute is the first and only school in the world to offer a PhD in Philosophy especially designed for visual artists, curators, and creative scholars. Thanks so much for coming in.
George Smith: Thank you, Lisa, for having me.
Lisa Belisle: So, I’m really kind of fascinated by the fact that you are so dedicated to the visual arts, that you actually are putting out there something that nobody else is doing. Why would you do that?
George Smith: A man will do anything for a job, as we all know.
Lisa Belisle: That could be true. Yes.
George Smith: Aside from that, Lisa, I started an MFA Program at the Maine College of Art that was unusual if not unique in the country, so as far as it was kind of a 50/50 between theory and practice, so our philosophy and studio study, and the students really rocketed out of that experience into zones that they hadn’t really anticipated, and people got very excited about it and they were writing for me dissertations, and I said, you know, you really ought to go turn this into a PhD, because it’s absolutely phenomenal. They’d come back and say, there’s no place in America, in fact, there’s no place in the world where artists can go get a PhD in Philosophy without having to start all over again. So, when I got fired from Maine College of Art, I said to myself, this would be a perfect time to try out the idea, and I did. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Okay. Talk to me about that firing thing, because I think anybody who has been fired, and I have lost a job, before, it’s kind of painful. There is some amount of time where you spend thinking to yourself, how do I go back and remake something that existed rather than, how do I go forward and make something that hasn’t existed yet.
George Smith: Yeah. It was a great experience for me. It was very painful. And yet like all painful experiences, it may have been one of the best in my life. Certainly it forced on me a lot of reflection. It was just one of those things. It was a fit situation; we had a new president who wanted to do something with the MFA Program, that I didn’t see eye to eye on, and it was her prerogative to find others to lead that charge, and I could come to understand, but it did force me into a necessity that I had never anticipated, and that is, what will I make of my life? I was 55 years old. I was a white guy. Getting another job in academia was about null, so what did I really want to do? And, I knew that I couldn’t give up on my life as a scholar, as an academic, and someone that was deeply invested in visual culture, visual art.
So, I decided that the thing to do would be to try to get this school off the ground. One of the things that I committed myself to was coming up with an idea that would reflect what I would do if I were going to do a PhD again. What I would want as a student. What I would want to experience. What I would want to get out of it. What I came up with I absolutely vowed that I would not change, if someone said, we’ll let you go for it, but you have to change this, or you have to get rid of that, or you have to do this instead of that, I wouldn’t go forward. You know? Luck would have it, we went all the way with no changes.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about that, I mean, explore a little bit your own background, your own PhD, your own kind of progression academically. Then, how you came to this new place.
George Smith: Yeah. Life is, we learn more from life than we certainly do from academic study, and that was my experience in graduate school. I went to Brown, and I studied literature there, and as you probably know, RISD, one of the nation’s great art schools is next to Brown, but it’s down the hill, and everybody at Brown teaches you to look down at artists, because the Brown people are intellectuals and the artists work with their hands, and that was never said, and I never knew that I recognized that until I wound up at the Maine College of Art, and I said to myself, oh, these people aren’t going to like me and they’re not going to be able to do what I teach, because they’re not trained in intellectual rigor, they’re trained in something completely different.
What I discovered is that wasn’t true at all. In fact, they got theory much faster than students at Brown that I was teaching. They were much more interested in it, they’re relationship to it was an authentic and not, well can I bring this phrase [inaudible 00:07:18] to a cocktail party and impress somebody. It was really dedicated interest. What came out of their experience was tremendously impressive. It was changing the way they saw the world, because they were seers. To me, two things came out of that: one, I did not recognize that I myself was prejudiced. I only discovered that when I discovered it in my attitude, and to my surprise, oh, these people are so smart, I didn’t think they would be. Then, secondly, I got from them the demonstration of what it means to change. That maybe freed me to the experience that I had when I was fired. Okay. Now, it’s time to change.
Lisa Belisle: Okay. You were in literature, and now you’re doing visual arts, so where was the turnoff here?
George Smith: You ask very pointed, insightful questions, Lisa. You’re a great listener. Well, when I was at Brown, because I was interested in art before I got there, I actually wrote a dissertation on the relationship between art and literature. The dissertation committee back in those days people were very conservative, as you probably know, especially at the Ivy League Schools, and the dissertation committee rejected my dissertation proposal on the grounds that it was interdisciplinary dissertation, one had never been done at Brown, and the people in the English Department worried that with that I would never get a job, and that would reflect badly on the department. It turns out they were right. I pushed through and got the dissertation approved and got it done, but no English Department would hire me. They said, well, you know half about English, and half about Art, we need somebody that knows all about English, because that’s what we teach here.
That was the general message. Nowadays of course, you cannot get a job unless you do interdisciplinary studies. But anyhow, I was really tough, hard up for a job, and I wound up teaching a little Art History course at Westbrook College, and then wound up teaching a theory course at the Maine College of Art. It was the first theory course they’ve ever offered, and it just so happened that the following year their dean left for another job at the Maryland Institute. They were desperate for an interim dean, they begged me to do it. I needed more income, so I took it and the next thing I knew I was stuck in that job for over 12 years.
Lisa Belisle: An interim dean for 12 years?
George Smith: Well, I became the permanent dean after the first year. Yeah. They did a search and then they made the great mistake of selecting me as the final candidate. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: It sounds like you’re very committed to the things that you believe in. You didn’t back down when the people at Brown said, no, we don’t want you doing this, this way, and you didn’t back down when the people at MECA said, well, we need you to fit better. Talk to me a little bit about that. It would be easy enough, because many of us do make compromises in our job lives, for example, to just say, okay, fine, I’ll be who you want me to be, but it sounds like that’s not the direction you took.
George Smith: That’s a great question, too. I grew up in a family of eight kids with a single mother, and we were all raised to stick by our conditions, and I think most of us have, if not all of us.
Lisa Belisle: Where were you in the lineup?
George Smith: Second oldest.
Lisa Belisle: So, I’m imagining having a single mother you probably had a lot of responsibilities.
George Smith: I did. She and I worked in a restaurant together. I mowed lawns. I took care of the young kids. I had a lot going on. Plus, I played sports. I had every excuse to do poorly in school.
Lisa Belisle: Somehow you made it into Brown.
George Smith: Well, that was the luck of the accident, I suppose.
Lisa Belisle: I’m guessing that’s probably not as much as hard work, just reading between the lines, but did it feel once you got to this place where you had this great education in front of you, did it almost feel not as hard, because what you had been doing as the second oldest in the family of nine, with a single mother, was so challenging to begin with?
George Smith: That’s a great question, too. You know, when you come from a family of that size, with those economic dynamics…. By the way, we grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, and we were poor kids because of the consequence. I knew a lot about difference, I knew a lot about struggle, but when you grow up in a family that size with one breadwinner and a couple of kids trying to bring in some extra bucks, there was a lot of chaos, and doing well at school really is not a promising prospect, so I wasn’t a great student. In fact, I loved to skip school. But I knew that I had a fascination with literature, and I knew that I had a fascination with visual culture, and visual art. My mother was a painter. My father, who was a good guy, was very much interested in literature, so even though we were poor, we were raised to take a deep authentic substantial interest in the world, especially through literature and visual art and culture.
When I got to Brown, I actually was deeply intimidated, because everybody that was there with me had gone to Choate and Exeter, and then had gone to Yale and Harvard, and I had more or less bumbled my way through a state school education. I really had no idea what I was doing there. I spent the first year trying to prove to my professors that I knew an awful lot and that’s why I was there. Finally, at the end of the first year one of them took me aside and said, how long have you been in graduate education? I said, oh, a year. He said, how long do you think I’ve been in graduate? I said, oh, 25, 30 years? He said, yeah, the other people on the committee that admitted you had about the same amount of experience, so that’s almost a century of experience against your one year, why don’t you stop trying to tell me what you know and start learning what I have to give you and we’ll get along really well. He turned out to be my dissertation director and my mentor. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: That’s a certain amount of stark honesty in that comment to you.
George Smith: Yeah. He said it in a beautiful way. I’m not conveying to you the sentiment that it came with because it was really done in a loving way.
Lisa Belisle: Do you think that when one is that age that that is often the approach? I’m just, I think about my own children, and both of my older ones who are now in their early 20’s went through a stage where they knew a lot more than me and needed to kind of work it out.
George Smith: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: I’m not saying that they’re wrong. They probably do know a lot more than me.
George Smith: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: But do you think that’s a developmental stage?
George Smith: In that case, it wasn’t. Of course, I was certainly an example of retarded development, but I was in my 30’s by that time, so it really was a matter of feeling less than, and being afraid to show what I didn’t know, so I wasn’t really prepared to learn. It was that first year that actually taught me the lesson, because I did not know. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: That takes a lot of vulnerability to be able to admit that, because you have to trust that the people around you are going to accept you for whatever of knowledge that you have.
George Smith: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And be willing to work with you.
George Smith: Yeah. It took about a year to get to that trust, but with that came that conversation that was really conducted with love, and love is always the key to vulnerability. Isn’t it?
Lisa Belisle: I think so.
George Smith: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What is the philosophy of visual arts? When you talk about theory, give me some information. I mean, I am someone who has been trained in science. I have some background in literature, and all I know about art is what I have picked up through working with Art Collector Maine and the artists and the people I’ve interviewed. I don’t even know where to start on this idea.
George Smith: Yeah. I don’t think very many philosophers know where to start on that idea, either, quite frankly. I think we’re all pretty much confused about that and struggle in the dark to figure it out. But, what I would say there is certainly there has been a history of ideas that has accumulated over centuries and thousands of years in the struggle to understand the human spirit in relation to the world. Traditionally, artists have been relocated to a side role in that human aspiration as visually representing how those ideas might be translated into images that could then be symbolically interpreted by human beings in such a way that it could be a benefit to their lives. My feeling has always been that artists are themselves by definition philosophers, and because we deny them that kind of training, A, it limits the kind of work that they were thinking that they can represent and be. It also denies us the advantages that come from that kind of thinking because we don’t pay attention to them as thinkers; we only pay attention to them as makers, going all the way back to the experience that I had at Brown.
For me, it’s not so much what is philosophy, the real question is what can philosophy become? My feeling is that philosophers today are mostly trained in logic, which is really the elemental foundation of science, and what we need to do is to reinfuse that kind of thinking with creative dynamic thinking that is intrinsic to the creative imagination of the artist philosopher. What we, shall we say “push” that idea at IDSVA is what we call new philosophy and new philosophy is the kind of philosophy that is made by the artist philosopher. That may be a person who’s trained in philosophy that also thinks as the artist, or it may be the artist who’s been trained in philosophy and thinks in that way, too.
IDSVA is the only school in the world that trains people to think as artist philosophers, and we think that, that’s so important because of where we are in the world, today. We are confused. We are absolutely lost. Our politicians don’t know the way. Our economists don’t know the way. Our sociologists and academics don’t know the way. In my view philosophers have lost the way. The hope is with a new way of seeing we can find a way and to that end we bring philosophers from around the world to join in with our artists that come to IDSVA. To think about how do you think? To practice new ways of thinking.
Lisa Belisle: It seems as though there would be an applicability to lots of different areas. I mean, we are so confused right now about issues of diversity and gender, and we’re trying to see these issues through the same lens we’ve always seen them through, but what you’re describing is, okay, lets change our thinking, which then would enable us to change our lens, which might actually move us a little bit further than where heading, now.
George Smith: I wish I could say it so well. But, that’s not to say that we’re not interested in questions of gender, and race, and all of the other issues that immediately dog our lives, today, because we are and we work on those questions. But, again, we try to work on them from the kind of point of view that you’re describing, so eloquently, and I struggle so hard to say, as clearly.
Lisa Belisle: As a student with IDSVA, what types of things would one learn? I mean, what are the tools that you use? Do you use literature? Do you use art? Do you use both? I mean, how does the learning take place?
George Smith: That’s, again, a good question. All of those things and then more. For one thing, our students travel around the world. They go to the places in the world where historically art and ideas have come together in such an intersection that it’s changed the future of civilization and history. They travel in such a way that they actually retrace the evolution of the relationship between art and ideas, so they start in Rome and study classical philosophy, and obviously architecture, culture, visual representation, and certainly aspects of aesthetics. From there, they spend about two weeks in a feudal castle in Tuscany, so they go from the classical to the medieval and feudal, and while they’re in this castle they study contemporary philosophy and we fly in some of the great philosophers from around the world to work with them while they’re there.
Meanwhile, they’re also looking at the relationships between classical and feudal culture because now they’re on a feudal agrarian estate. It’s about a 1,100 acre farm, it’s a beautiful place. While they’re there they study in Siena, which is a medieval banking city in Florence, which is renaissance, of course. Then, from there they go to either Venice or Paris, Venice as a Baroque city, but also the Venice Biennale, which is the most contemporary moment in world art, and while they’re there they work with the curators and artists. They’re representing their nations at Venice. Or, they go to Paris, where they study modernism, Paris, the city of lights, French impressionism, post impressionism, so forth and so on, but also French post-structuralism, Deleuze, Guattari, Sartre and all that sort of thing.
Second year, they go to start in Berlin, and they study the neoclassical classical, Kant, Hegel, all those people we don’t like to hear about, and then to Heidegger then from there they go to Athens and go all the way back to the pre-Socratic thinking and look at that through the lens of Nietzsche. So it’s that kind of experiential work they do in the summertime that allows them to grasp the actual concrete relationship between the history of ideas and visual representation. I should say as they’re traveling around the world like that they go to about 60 of the world’s preeminent museums. In addition to the street life and the architecture and the music and the fashions and the living philosophers and artists that they work with they are also studying the history of visual representation that way.
In the fall and the spring, they do live seminars by video conference, so there they are all spread around the world with, faculty that are spread around the world that come together and they study the regular syllabus of seminar analysis. When doing those live video conferences, by the way, not only do we have a philosopher or an artist teaching the course, but also we have people from around the world drop in by live video, so if we’re reading a book by a philosopher who lives in London, she can drop in and say, well, we’ve got a few questions for you about how this text fits in with Derrida and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s pretty exciting.
Lisa Belisle: How many students do you have?
George Smith: We have about 75 students, which is very small for a school, and very, very big for a humanities PhD program today. We have about 45 students in the three year course of study, and then another 30 or so writing dissertations.
Lisa Belisle: What do you see the future of this institution being?
George Smith: The future that I’m hoping for is an endowed institution that will live in perpetuity along the lines that it’s so far developed. It’s been tremendously effective. When I was in graduate school, I don’t know about you, but my primary job was to complain about how lousy the program was, and how ineffectual the faculty was, and how other faculty, other schools were so much better. We get letters and emails and telephone calls from our students all the time saying, I cannot thank you enough for this experience. Most of them are themselves professors; maybe half to two-thirds of our students are faculty in studio departments at American universities and colleges, so they are educators themselves and they so appreciate what we’ve come up with.
Lisa Belisle: How about you in your own life?
George Smith: Couldn’t be better.
Lisa Belisle: No future thoughts? You’re happy exactly where you are right now.
George Smith: I’d have to be bigger to feel any better. But again, if I had one big next dream come true it would be to endow the institution. To me, that’s the real key. We compete against some of the great institutions in the world who fund their students completely and then give them usually some kind of a fellowship, and our students have to pay tuition because we’re a small institution and we don’t have the undergraduate tuition to depend on to fund. My next project, actually, now that we’ve got the school accredited and really flying is to focus on endowment.
Lisa Belisle: It’s really interesting to me that you are literally building this from the ground up, and in Maine we have this tremendous history of institutions doing exactly that, because we’ve talked to the College of the Atlantic, we’ve talked to Unity College, and of course the other schools, which are now a couple hundred years old.
George Smith: Sure.
Lisa Belisle: But it seems like people don’t necessarily feel held back by the fact that something educational doesn’t currently exist. Does this in any way feel comforting to you as you’re moving through this process?
George Smith: You know, I have to say that from the very beginning I was convinced that what I’m doing could only happen in the state of Maine. I am an academic, so I just know that you cannot start a school, you cannot start a program like this with an existing school. If you tried to do it at Harvard or even USM it would take ten years to just get through all the different committees, and then it would have to go to the provost for funding and then to the board of trustees. It would be fifteen years and then eventually be shot down, I’m sure of it. Therefore, my first major decision in developing this program was to say, it has to be standalone. People said, well, that means you’re going to have to get a bill passed through the Maine state legislature and signed into law by the governor, are you sure you want to do that? Much easier than going through the academic bureaucratic process. Much easier. In fact, it was a relative piece of cake.
From the day that we decided to do this to the day we delivered our first lecture at Spannocchia Castle in Tuscany it was eight months. Eight months. We started with no money and no students. But I had to give a lot of credit to the state of Maine for that. That was an amazing process. We had to speak before the education committee of the state legislature, we had to speak before the board of education, and these people were farmers and fisherman and gardeners and truck drivers and school teachers, and we’d go in and we’d say, oh, my God, they’re not going to even want to talk to us, and they were amazing. Amazing. Then we had to speak before the committee on education at the legislature, and again, what an amazing experience. Glenn Cummings, who is now the president of USM, was the speaker up at the house at the time, he took this on as a personal aspiration, and got it through both houses, and then before the governor with a unanimous minus one vote, combined between the house and the senate. Unanimous, minus one. If I had tried to do this in Massachusetts where I’m from, I would not be talking about it today.
Lisa Belisle: Well, given the amount of effort and energy you have put into this, and given the amount of success you have had, I can only imagine that your next quest to get this fully endowed will be successful. I hope people who are listening will find out more about the Institute for Doctoral Studies and the Visual Arts. I’ve been speaking with George Smith, who’s an internationally recognized scholar and has long been a leader and innovator in American education and the founder of this wonderful school. I really appreciate you coming in and talking to me, today.
George Smith: Thank you for your hospitality, Lisa, really wonderful to talk to you.
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Lisa Belisle: It’s my great pleasure, today, to speak with Cabot Lyman and Ruth Woodbury Starr. Cabot Lyman is the owner of Lyman-Morse Boat Building. He moved to Maine and started the boat building company in 1978. In 2016, he opened 250 Main Hotel, a boutique hotel in Rockland. Ruth Woodbury Starr, a Maine native, is general manager of the hotel. It’s really great to have you both here.
Cabot Lyman: Thank you.
Ruth Starr: Thanks for having us.
Lisa Belisle: 250 Main is really a unique hotel for the state of Maine. When I think of the Press Hotel and 250 Main as being the ones of their sort, I believe in the state. I haven’t stayed everywhere, obviously, but what was your inspiration for this?
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. The idea was to have something that was going along with what was happening in Portland, which was getting more, I don’t know, as I say, Brooklyn-chic kind of atmosphere, and I guess quite modern in what people are doing today and our own touches. We were building it from scratch, so we had the advantage of not trying to fix up an old building, so it was easier for us to do it than other places. Yeah. I think it came out pretty well. It was a combination of an architect and interior designer and a lot of us tweaking. So it worked pretty well.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. There are a lot of interesting touches. I think, the iPads that are replacing all of the papers that normally one gets in the hotel, and the lounge, downstairs, that offers some breakfast, but also has drinks later in the day, and the artwork. I mean, the artwork is really great. It’s all curated. Is that right, Ruth?
Ruth Starr: It is. It’s a cooperative of most of the galleries right in our midcoast area, mostly in Rockland, and all of the art is for sale through the gallerist and proceeds going to the artist, so it’s a way to support that part of our community, and it changes out quarterly, so it’s sort of like a gallery.
Lisa Belisle: There’s also enough space. The way that the ceilings are done between floors and with the big fireplace, that there are very big pieces and very unique pieces, too. It’s not your average hotel art.
Cabot Lyman: That was part of the design and part of the real thing was to have real art, rather than the prints that you see in most hotels. This works out really well for everybody. Yeah. That’s fun. What’s been fun for me is that we’ve got a lot of children of good friends of mine that are actually exhibiting in the hotel, which I absolutely love. So, it’s great.
Lisa Belisle: It really couldn’t be in a better location, either. I mean, Rockland has some places to stay, but this is right on Main Street, but not, and close, but it’s not in the middle, so you cannot get through with your car.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve got great views of the waterfront and the sunrise. I mean, the deck is wonderful. The top floors are so expansive, but really there isn’t a bad view from any room.
Cabot Lyman: No. You’re right. It worked out really well. It was hard lot, because of the way it’s angled, but the angle ended out turning out to be a real plus. So, it’s great. Yeah. That’s why…. My sons got me into this, so they saw the lot for sale, so that’s what we went for.
Lisa Belisle: It seems as though someone who has spent more time doing boat building stuff, moving into hotels, that might have been kind of an interesting experience.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. I think the comment is maybe I should just shoot myself… not really, the hotel has worked out great. It was a bit of a slow time for the boat building industry, so we started to wander towards a little bit, how to keep our guys busy and a little of diversification, and a little investment in the future. So we did it. It’s worked out great. Really. I’m really pleased with the building. It’s great. We got Migis running it. They’ve done a great job. That’s what a lot of the like, iPads and so forth, that comes from the Migis touch. Migis of course is the outfit that’s running it, who Ruth works with.
Ruth Starr: We still are very closely with Lyman-Morse. For example, my facilities director is straight from the boatyard, he can fix anything, build anything. He can 3D print a soap dish or a shower pan, so we’re never in disrepair. That’s for sure. Handy guys over from the boatyard.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. Actually, that’s really cool, the idea that you can do 3D printing and come up with something that’s very useful.
Ruth Starr: Yeah. Give him a hammer and a piece of wood, and it’s always going to be a beautiful property.
Lisa Belisle: Migis is doing some interesting things. I know that I interviewed…. He was a youngish gentleman.
Ruth Starr: You interviewed Jed Porta, I believe.
Lisa Belisle: Yes. For a little TV segment.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I was really intrigued to hear that, not unlike what’s going on in Cabot’s family, that there’s a lot of family back and forth. There’s a lot of interaction. There’s a lot of wanting to maintain the sense of family and community, but also looking toward the future.
Ruth Starr: That’s right. Yeah. It feels really good, for me, to be working for two family companies, and Maine family companies, so it means a lot. Both of them, I think, have a little bit of throwback, but a lot of innovation, and that’s what happens when you move down generations, too. It’s a great combination. It’s great to know you are working for good people.
Lisa Belisle: Where did you grow up, Ruth?
Ruth Starr: I grew up, up north at Millinocket. I had a paper business family and I’ve been all over the state. I also grew up with a troller right in Rockland Harbor, a boat, I grew up on, so family in Rockland and high school there, so every time I look out my office window I sort of think about coming full circle and really sharing, I’m from all over the state, and sharing that with my visitors.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. It sounds like you have kind of the love of the inside part of the state, and-….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Also the love of the coast.
Ruth Starr: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: Which, I know, Cabot, you and I were talking about your Vermont connections. So, you have the same kind of thing, although it’s love of inside of New England, I guess. You’re a coastal guy, but you also love going back to the mountains.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Both. Very much so. We came here because the coast, and we came here because of boats. Heidi and I spent a lot of time after college, we were running charter boats, and sailing around in the Mediterranean for quite a while, back in what I would call our hippie days. That really pushed us into Maine, back to Maine. I grew up coming up the coast, up here, and being on boats and working on boats. So it was all about Maine.
Lisa Belisle: Was it important when you were looking at the lot for the hotel that it be looking out on essentially a working waterfront?
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Absolutely. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. That’s a really nice lot for Rockland, Maine, and Rockland’s on a roll, so it worked out really well to have that lot come up, and we were already starting to look about what the future brings, and that lot came up, so we jumped on that, very quickly. It is an exceptional lot for Rockland. Yeah. That park in front will always be open, so it works out great.
Lisa Belisle: Now, you told me before we came on the air that you wanted there to be kind of marine and nautical touches, but you didn’t want it to be your standard hotel that, you know, with anchors and anchors on the pillows, and….
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: You didn’t say that, but….
Cabot Lyman: Well, my wife was very, Heidi was very adamant about that. We weren’t going to do that. Yeah. I think we got enough marine in there, but not overwhelming.
Lisa Belisle: Ruth, what are some of your favorite, I guess, marine-inspired touches within 250 Main?
Ruth Starr: I think there’s just generally a lot of nods to Maine industry. The fabrication, the eye beams, it reminds me of Bath Iron Works, and the boatyard, so I love that there’s Kevlar sail rope running the banisters and wrapping our rooftop deck. The rooftop deck sort of comes to a point, so it’s shaped like a bow of a boat, so you can be king of the world there up there on the top corner, so it’s very subtle and you really have to look for it, but the wood, the shiplap, all referencing, I think, our state’s past in industry.
Lisa Belisle: I noticed when I was going up the stairs that you’ve painted quotes in the stairwell.
Ruth Starr: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And that made sure that the stairwells also are nice enough that people would like to take the stairs, which is unusual, I take a lot of stairs, and a lot of places don’t, it’s sort of an afterthought, like if there’s a fire you could take the stairs, but otherwise that’s not what we expect you to do.
Cabot Lyman: That’s right.
Lisa Belisle: Where did that come from?
Cabot Lyman: That was my idea. I’ve seen that in other places, and it’s just really neat when you walk up the stairs to see something, as you say, make it fun to go up those stairs, and I have a feeling that future generations are going to use stairs more than the elevators, just because we’re all realizing what we need to do. Anyway, I often use stairs and not elevators in a building.
Lisa Belisle: Now, people who are going to Rockland, they’re going to have to specifically go in….
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s what I want them to do.
Ruth Starr: We won’t spoil it.
Lisa Belisle: That’s right. I’m not going to….
Cabot Lyman: And I noticed that kids like to run up and down the stairs, so that’s good.
Lisa Belisle: It’s very good for the parents; we’re trying to get some sleep.
Cabot Lyman: Exactly.
Lisa Belisle: That’s for sure. Ruth, you have a background in wellness. You actually worked at Soma Wellness.
Ruth Starr: I saw you interview Julie Wright.
Lisa Belisle: Exactly.
Ruth Starr: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of crossover in what I do now and have always done with what I did for Julie. Wellness is important to me, personally, but I think there is a real intimacy and tenderness in taking care of people overnight and in those vulnerable hours, especially when they’re far from home, and I just think a general aspect of why people travel is that escape, to get away. You know? I want to provide that safety and security… it’s another thing we do in our business kind of drive, but overall just really taking care of people and providing a safe space for whatever they need, that’s wellness.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve noticed that hospitality in Maine, I mean, we’ve always had a strong sense of hospitality, because we’ve been welcoming people from other places for a long time, but it seems as if it’s even more upping its game, it seems like we are really trying to compete with some of the bigger markets; at the same time, I know that sometimes getting enough people to work in the hospitality field can be a challenge.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: What has that been like up in the Rockland area?
Ruth Starr: I’m very proud to say that we are providing close to a dozen year-round positions, and the winter has proved really good to get us all through. There is a big difference between Portland, where I lived for years, and the midcoast area, in terms of seasonality. It can be kind of tough to make it through the winter, but I think we’re providing something that’s fun and educational. I would like my professional legacy to be sort of providing an educational setting, I think the hospitality industry is a great place for people, such as some young people in our area who may not have access to higher education to still advance in a field, where if you’re willing to do and learn you can really get a head in the hotel business, and I’m trying to provide a working environment where I can teach them everything I know. Once I’ve got a good person, I try to keep them, and try to provide not just a job, but maybe potential careers for people.
Lisa Belisle: I know that, that’s really important. We actually, one of our sales account managers was in hospitality, I think for at least a couple of decades, and the skills that she learned, that she brought into our organization were really quite wonderful. You know? It’s the ability to be organized, and work with people, and understand how to make people feel good, and welcome, and cared for.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Cabot, I’m wondering because you’ve been doing boat building for quite a long time. You started Lyman-Morse Boat Building in Thomaston after you moved here in 1978. That’s a few decades.
Cabot Lyman: A few decades.
Lisa Belisle: So you’ve probably seen some things, and your business has grown a lot.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What are some of the things that you’ve learned through this process?
Cabot Lyman: Whoa. A lot. You know, I enjoy being an employer with skilled people. We’ve got great crews. We’ve certainly seen a huge growth in our area. It’s really changed from 40 years ago. Thomaston, Rockland, Camden. So it’s a great place to live, bring up kids, and it’s been a good run. As things, what we’ve learned is whoa, a lot. You know? Especially in the boating industry. Now, I’ve learned a lot about the hotel industry, I had no idea that existed, so I’ve learned that every day.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. That’s, I mean, if you’ve done one thing for so long, and say your son convinces you that we should go take a right turn.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Were you able to adapt to that idea, easily, or….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. I’m easy to do that. Yeah. I have three sons, who are pretty involved with me, and we all decided as a group, but I also have a theory that every business has a run for about 30 years, and then you’ve got to get some new blood, so I’m pretty much retired from boats. My son has put in a really good crew together, and doing really well. It was a long six, seven years here with a downturn, for all boat businesses, not just us. So we’ve come out of a bit, now, so we’re a lot busier, and things are good. The midcoast area is growing, so all of it, hopefully that will last, you know, keep ongoing.
Lisa Belisle: If you grew up, originally from the Millinocket area, Ruth, you’ve also seen significant changes to….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Your hometown region.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I think this is kind of [inaudible 00:45:50] of Maine. Maine always has kind of a back and forth, and we are one thing and then something changes and then we’re something different. We’re constantly having to remake ourselves. Have you had the sense that things are on the upturn for Millinocket?
Ruth Starr: That’s one that everyone has been following, and I guess it remains to be seen, but I think there’s some positive things happening, and I think Millinocket will always keep some integrity as well, so I’m interested to see…. I mean, what it was when I grew up it certainly no longer exists, but yeah, I’d love to see the locals benefit from everything that’s happening there.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. The new monument up there is pretty interesting. I wasn’t part of the conversation, but I heard about the conversation with some of the wardens, so they’re all buying houses in Millinocket, now there’s some people coming in. Yeah. As we know, every national park has great economy around it. Let’s hope. Huh?
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. Lucas St. Clair, he’s an impressive individual. He’s very thoughtful. He’s one of our Maine Live speakers, and he’s been in the magazine. I’ve interviewed him, and one of the things that I’ve been impressed with is his ability to keep pushing forward despite naysayers.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Which isn’t always easy to do.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ruth Starr: We know, Cabot, knows a bit about that.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Ruth Starr: In licensing and permits in building this.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. I want to hear some of this dirt then, Cabot. If this is something that you have some experience with.
Cabot Lyman: We ran into some opposition, because they didn’t like the idea of a new building like this, but we were, Scott Tease, and I were very adamant that you cannot copy old buildings, you don’t want to, and historical societies around the country are very much behind us, now, because they don’t want you to go in and try to duplicate an old building. Because you can do it, and it doesn’t work, so we wanted to distinctly, a kind of unique building that was standing on its own, be good for that south end of Rockland. I think we nailed it really well. Of course, there was a lot of naysayers in the beginning because they want to keep everything as the way they moved in, but people in Rockland that have been there forever have been totally supportive. It’s been great. It’s been interesting, I had no idea I was going to run into that. Zero. Because social media is out of my realm, and they use social media without any kind of real input; in other words, they’re not involved. You can do subtle things on social media and make a big splash, but you’re not really involved in the process. So that was a big surprise to me. We learned a lot.
Ruth Starr: The moral of the story is, change happens.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Is it possible to hold both things? To maintain the integrity of the community.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Maintain support of the people who have lived there….
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: Maybe generations….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: But, also bring something in that is new, that might benefit the economy and these families. Is it possible to do both?
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. I think we did that. I think we’ve got a good building, and it looks good, and it does, and it’s going to be there for a long time. It’s well built. It fits right in on Main Street, in terms of, you know it’s the first building in 100 plus years that’s been built on Main Street. It’s quite a bit longer than that, actually. There was a fire in Rockland in 1952, and some really nice old buildings got burned, and they never got replaced because that was the advent, the whole car was moving in, so everybody moved out. They didn’t rebuild anything in Rockland, so we’re the first ones to really go ahead and build a new building, and some of the old buildings that had burned were just fantastic, but you cannot replace that; you’ve got to start something new. I think Rockland is on such a roll that it’s time to present a little newer face. Some people didn’t like that, but generally everybody is all quieted down. Everybody is quite happy.
Lisa Belisle: On that note, does it seem as if there is some interesting energy going on? I know that Dowling Walsh, and there are several other galleries in the area, they’ve been there for a while, now. Obviously you have the Farnsworth on Main Street, now you have the contemporary art museum that has just reopened….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. That’s great.
Lisa Belisle: In the middle of Rockland, which is very modern looking.
Cabot Lyman: Very modern. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Obviously, it’s good contemporary art.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: There’s actually kind of some interesting synergy between the design of your building and of the CMCA.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Again, it’s the question of….
Cabot Lyman: It was unplanned.
Lisa Belisle: Does it seem as if, if you bring something over here, and you open up that possibility, that it makes it possible for other people to entertain growth and change in building?
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. I think it’s important. We’re starting to see, the CMCA good example, how they came in on their own and unbeknownst to us, but it works really well with our building. It works really well for Rockland. It’s great. Rockland become a gallery and a foodie town, so there’s quite a lot to do for people that are interested in that. The Strand Theater has this terrific venues, and people are traveling up from Portland to see what’s going on. Musicians are coming up there to be part of the whole musical thing in The Strand, and of course, I like the movies they show, so it’s great. Yeah. Rockland has changed a lot. Farnsworth Museum is kind of [inaudible 00:51:52] oriented, but a lot of really good stuff in there. Yeah. It’s a change town. Hopefully, we’ll be part of it. Hopefully, it will work out by the push of the lot. I don’t know.
Ruth Starr: Great minds think alike.
Lisa Belisle: I was just wondering, Ruth: as someone who’s on the lower end of the age range, what’s it like to be back in Rockland?
Ruth Starr: Right.
Lisa Belisle: After living in Portland and other….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Parts of the world.
Ruth Starr: It’s great. We’ve got lots going on. My husband and family are in the art fields, working at galleries, and at the Farnsworth, we’ve got the bash celebration this weekend, which is sort of the young person innovative art party going on, and they had a pre-party last Thursday with a sumo theme. It’s origami theme this year, so it’s all the young people. Lots and lots to do, even in March, so if we can do this in March and having a thriving hotel and we’re doing events in the lobby, I think there’s a great opportunity in Rockland for younger people. Yeah.
Cabot Lyman: We had no idea what was going on in Rockland when we opened the hotel. It’s unbelievable how many things jump out at us.
Ruth Starr: Yeah.
Cabot Lyman: From the Fisherman’s Forum to some of the food things going on, and all of a sudden, we’re really busy, and it’s really neat stuff. Everybody is having fun.
Lisa Belisle: You also, in the fall Camden, Rockport, or Rockland, you pull in people from all over the world with the Camden International Film Festival.
Cabot Lyman: All that stuff that’s going on in Camden helps feed us, too. Yeah. They fill up, up there, and also some people like being in Rockland better.
Lisa Belisle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: I’m in both towns, pretty heavily invested in all three towns, so it doesn’t matter to me. You know? Let’s bring them all in. Let’s keep all three towns going.
Ruth Starr: The rock coast.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. It’s interesting because people think of Maine, and they have a very specific idea of what Maine is like, depending upon where they’ve traveled, but I think your part of the coast is quite unique compared to some of the other… you know, Mount Desert Island is its own thing. Down here in Portland we’re our own thing, but your area, I mean, with the jetty and Owls Head just up the road, I mean, there are some really different things that people can experience in your part of the world.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Portland is the driving agent for all of us. Things are going well down here and that kind of helps push, but the idea is Portland has become a very modern kind of cool town and that’s pushing that whole coast of Maine, and so we’re feeding off of that a bit. It’s great. Yeah.
Ruth Starr: What we offer is very different, though. It’s still an escape, still a getaway.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Definitely an escape. We’ve got a lot of Portland people coming up for anniversaries, and birthdays, whatever. It’s a nice turn from Portland.
Lisa Belisle: It was really interesting to me, because the magazine does a Cinq A Sept event, you know, five to seven, once a month in different parts of Maine, and we did ours up in Camden a couple of weeks ago, and it was packed.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: We happened to be at the Camden Harbor Inn, and I’m sure at some point we will ask if you would like to work….
Ruth Starr: It would be great.
Lisa Belisle: With us at 250 Main, because I think it would be a great Cinq A Sept in Rockland, but the midcoast region. I mean, there were people like overflowing the porch and out into the parking lot, and this was March.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: There’s still a lot that’s going on in Maine…
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: Even not during lobster season.
Cabot Lyman: We’re a year-round community, now. 40 years ago, that just wasn’t happening. We’ve reached, as a friend of mine, who has since died, but he was saying, we’re a little like Santa Fe in some way, where we reached a critical mass of the full year-round community now, where it’s just a vacation place, so it’s very much changed that way. Yeah. There’s just something happening every weekend up there. It’s really busy. I’m just amazed. We used to be pretty quiet, the whole winter up there.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. I find when I go up there and when I stayed at 250 Main, I just could not eat at all the restaurants I wanted to eat at.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I couldn’t visit all the places that I wanted to visit, and this is the rock coast.
Cabot Lyman: That’s right.
Lisa Belisle: You’d think that it would be small enough and manageable enough that would be possible.
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: But, there is, there’s a lot going on.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What do you see happening, Ruth, with 250 Main? You’ve been open since 2016, so not quite a year….
Cabot Lyman: We haven’t been open a year. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What are you hoping as the manager? What are you hoping to see happen with the hotel?
Ruth Starr: Well, there’s a lot going on in Maine this year, and I was just at the governor’s conference on tourism last week, so certainly to stay abreast of all of that and stay pragmatic, but also, you know, the second season, sort of more, put down some roots and find that sort of rooted pattern, especially with the seasons being so strong. But I hope that as we do put down roots that we still maintain our cutting edge. I think that our edge is a big thing. Cabot’s a little bit of a visionary and a maverick, and I want to stay true to that no matter what. I always want to stay true to Rockland.
Lisa Belisle: I appreciate you both coming in and talking with me, today. I really do love the work that you’ve done.
Cabot Lyman: Good. Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: To stay there was such a treat. I’m hoping that we’re back again soon. I’ve been speaking with Cabot Lyman, who’s the owner of Lyman-Morse Boat Building, who moved to Maine and started the boat building company in 1978 and then in 2016 opened 250 Main, a boutique hotel in Rockland. And also with Ruth Woodbury Starr, a Maine native, who is the general manager of the hotel. Thanks so much for coming in and for all the good work you’re doing.
Cabot Lyman: Thank you.
Ruth Starr: Thank you.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show Number 293, Designing Anew. Our guests have included Doctor George Smith, Cabot Lyman, and Ruth Woodbury Starr. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter on the Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Doctor Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio on Instagram. We’d love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows, also let our sponsors know that you’ve heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Doctor Lisa Belisle, I hope that you have enjoyed our designing a new show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day, and you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Paul Koenig. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. Our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host production team, Maine Magazine, for any of the guests featured here, today, please visit us at