August 5, 2009


Last summer, the day after we returned from our first trip to beautiful Swan's Island {Maine}, we received a call from our friend Jane that the Island's library had been destroyed by fire in the early morning hours, during an intense lightening storm. That was July 24, 2008. Fire and rescue teams responded to the call at 3:30 a.m., but found the fire had already engulfed the historic Swan's Island Library. The Swan's Island Educational Society inherited the old Atlantic Schoolhouse from Minna Geddes {widow of the poet Virgil Geddes} in 1990. In addition to over 12,000 volumes, the library was also home to over a century of historic records and photos, now lost.

Swan's Island Library Fire July 2008 courtesy of The WorkingWaterfront {left} Library now July 2009

When artist and island summer-resident Elizabeth Awalt drove over the next morning after hearing about the fire she saw something quite surreal... hundreds of scorched pages flying around. Only the edges were burned resembling pieces of toast or even tombstones but the center of the pages were intact. She started picking up the pages, from Jean de Brunoff's Babar, Edward Gorey, and more. She was deeply moved by these pages and remarked on how much a part of her own life these books had been. Elizabeth thought she might paint on some of them or give some to other Maine artists to paint. And, it's from that single thought that came one of the most beautiful ideas, New Pages — a benefit auction of unique works by noted Maine artists, created from the scorched pages Elizabeth recovered that day.

Swan's Island resident pages {top left} Elizabeth in her studio, poster for New Pages auction {right}

In addition to works by noted Maine artists, Elizabeth asked residents of Swan's Island to create pages and we were lucky to have seen them at her recent open studio. The emotions that fill you by looking at these incredible pages of art include a sense of sustainability and hope, the importance of community, and a pure love of books. Elizabeth's brilliant idea is more than helping people heal from this tragedy through art, its also the catalyst to raise actual dollars for rebuilding the library.

A breathtaking wall of Swan's Island residents pages {click to enlarge image}

pattern painted on a Felicia Lamport page {left} and a fun-loving creation on an Edward Gorey page {right}

simple design "Annie" on a page from The Colonist

another Gorey page {left} a simple sketch on a page of reflections of E.B. White & Anne Morrow Lindbergh {right}

Elizabeth asked us if we wanted to participate and we were honored to create our own New Pages that evening and deliver them to her studio the following morning.

Mark's hopeful branches page {left} and my page representing island permanence {right}

Larry's strong primal page {left} and Jane's sweet growing garden page {right}

Reconstruction will be costly but the library {a community landmark}, is extremely important to the Island's residents. This past winter, a newspaper ad for an architect brought 14 candidates to Swan's Island for interviews and a tour of the island's architecture. The board selected Bar Harbor architect Stewart Brecher. Support has come from many places including book drives in Rockland, Northeast Harbor and Lewiston. And, now the fundraising continues with the New Pages preview and auction events. If you can't make either event, please consider a donation. The people of Swan's Island would greatly appreciate it!

please click to donate

The Swan's Island Educational Society provides library and historical collection services for the community of Swan's Island.


  1. What a lovely way to take a tragedy and create something beautiful from it.

    Tricia - Avolli

  2. These are beautiful- and tell a story-one of tragedy and rebirth. We had a bad fire at our local library late last winter- just heart-breaking. Thankfully it re-opens next week.
    Perhaps I'll look for some lost, worn pages and be creative. Lovely post here.


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