It’s no secret that the creative economy is humming in Portland.

We see evidence of it everywhere, almost literally on every block in and around the peninsula. Whether it’s the artisans at Green Design Furniture on Commercial Street, the designers at Angela Adams on Congress Street or the many printmakers toiling away behind closed doors on Pleasant Street, Portland pulsates with creative energy.

This is a story about two folks making their living in the arts while putting Portland on the map — or chart. Charlotte Leavitt and John Guptill are the heart and soul behind Chart Metalworks, a robust little company that operates in cramped quarters on Custom House Wharf, above the venerable Porthole Restaurant.

The pair, who are engaged to be married, create handcrafted jewelry and accessories using cutouts of nautical charts. They take specific locations on the charts — a favorite island, significant bell buoy or some other point of interest — and turn those special locales into earrings, belt buckles, pendants, cuff links, tie tacks, lapel pins, zipper pulls and other items.

They frame the cutouts in silver or bronze, and finish the pieces with clear resin. In addition to giving the piece dome-like heft, the resin serves to magnify the chart, making even the smallest detail pop.

Leavitt provides the creative smarts for the company; Guptill offers the business sense. In truth, though, they both do everything. Theirs is a two-person operation, perched on the edge of the water from which they draw their inspiration. Leavitt comes from a family of sailors and fishermen, and has always been drawn to and is comfortable on the water.

In the past year, their business boomed. In 2008, Chart Metalworks had less than a dozen commercial accounts and $15,000 in sales, qualifying the company as a hobby operation. In 2009, they had almost 60 accounts, mostly in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Florida, and sales topped $100,000.

Except for taking time for a recent warm-weather vacation, the couple has been straight-out busy since the beginning of the year. Their business is, pardon the pun, off the charts.

Prices range from $80 for a bronze tie tack to $475 for a five-piece bracelet in sterling.

Leavitt began making jewelry in 2003 as a hobby. She enjoyed tapping her creativity to make things, and appreciated the compliments that she received.

Eventually, she began selling her jewelry on the side, mostly to pay for what she calls her “bead addiction.”

Before long, Leavitt seriously considered launching her own line of jewelry, although not necessarily with a nautical theme. Her first instinct was to make jewelry with a vintage look, and just before she was about to venture down that path, she paused.

Finally, she says, the nautical theme “just came screaming out at me.” She fell in love with the idea of using tiny sections of charts to personalize her line.

“They’re such aesthetically beautiful things to look at. People frame charts and put them up on walls,” she says. “I thought, ‘How can I use them in my jewelry?’ “

The idea works on a number of levels. Yes, Chart Metalworks’ line is beautiful and unique. But it’s also personal. People do love their charts, and Chart Metalworks is small enough that folks can custom-design their own pieces.

“It’s sentimental. People are always asking for a specific place,” Leavitt said.

It might be a family camp or the site of a first kiss or wedding. The company’s Web site (www.chartmetal works.com) allows people to select a design and choose a material and a specific location. It’s a classic DIY option, giving customers a firm hand in the final outcome of their piece.

Leavitt and Guptill are poised for growth. They received quite a bit of media attention during the winter, and are gearing up for what should be a productive spring and summer.

“We’re busy year-round now, and our goal is to grow to the point that we have to hire help. And then I’ll be in charge of the Caribbean operations,” Guptill says, with a bit of a laugh.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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