ROBERT IVES is the director for religious and spiritual life at Bowdoin College. He gave a talk today in Damariscotta about the years he acted as a minister for the islands of Muscongus Bay.

ROBERT IVES is the director for religious and spiritual life at Bowdoin College. He gave a talk today in Damariscotta about the years he acted as a minister for the islands of Muscongus Bay.


What connects boat building, island living and education intersects in Robert Ives.

From 1973 to 1975, Ives lived on Monhegan Island, which he described as “a big rock.”

Ives, director for religious and spiritual life at Bowdoin College, founder of the Carpenter’s Boat Shop and a one-time lobsterman, gave a talk today in Damariscotta about the years he acted as a minister for the islands of Muscongus Bay.

He and his wife ministered to the community and taught students from kindergarten to grade eight. “The island had 75 people on it,” Ives said. “We had 14 children in our one-room schoolhouse.”

In the summer, the community swelled to 750.

“In the early 20th century they would have been called ‘rusticators’ or summer people. There were as many as 300 artists on the island, and they continue to come there.”

Ives noted that a “remarkable array” of American artists had spent time on Monhegan Island, including Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth, “who has a house out there. It’s a very special place.”

In 1975, Ives moved to Muscongus Island, also called Louds Island. There was no electricity or running water. Ives and his late wife were the only yearround residents.

“We would row ashore and serve a little church over in Sheepscot Bay,” Ives said, but for the eight months of the year they were alone on the island.

“We went clamming, we did lobster fishing; I did carpentry, I did boat building, pretty much anything to scratch out a living.”

It was on Muscongus Island that Ives learned traditional wooden boat building.

“As you see, I didn’t learn very well,” Ives said, raising his left hand to reveal a missing finger. “I learned from a Norwegian boat builder named Edvard Sailor.”

Sailor, who repaired boats for the summer residents, became a father figure to Ives, who had lost his own parents when he was 17.

“I loved sailing and rowing, but it was Edvard who really helped me with the more technical aspects of boat building, drafting and designing,” Ives said.

Sailor taught Ives traditional methods and how to use hand tools rather than power tools.

He said, “It was special, it was lovely, and it was of necessity because there was no electricity on the island anyway.”

Despite the hardship of living without modern-day amenities, Ives said, “I could move back there today. It’s wonderful because it’s a very simple, contemplative, beautiful way of life.”

Ives will speak about life on Monhegan and Muscongus islands, but will also include stories and some history of a number of other islands in the area.

“I’ve sailed there for nearly 40 years and I usually sail the islands solo, so they have a very special place in my personal life. I want to share that, and share the lives of the people who have lived on them.”

To live year-round on these islands without electricity or running water requires “an enduring kind of characteristic,” Ives said.

“You learn to take life as it comes. You’re very close to life and death out there, so when tragedy comes, you accept it and make your way through it.

“You don’t say, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ You just move forward, and you seek out the peace that I think God has created in this world.”

A graduate from Bowdoin College with a degree in art history, Ives grew up in Connecticut and moved to Portland with his parents when he was young.

He went on to earn his master of divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh.

“It was never my intention to be a minister, but I come from a family of ministry,” Ives said.

His father was a minister and both his brothers are in the ministry. Ives’ grandmother was the first woman to be ordained in Maine, in 1926.

He said, “I thought it would be good to go to seminary to better understand my family. We all had an interest in the quiet, contemplative, spiritual life.”

Ives met his late wife, Ruth, while in Edinburgh. They were both from Maine and Ruth longed to return to Maine and live offshore.

“We were going to go to Nova Scotia,” Ives said, “but a friend of ours who was a minister said, ‘Don’t leave Maine; Maine wants you. Consider a stepping stone toward Nova Scotia,’ and that stepping stone was Monhegan Island.”

“Muscongus is the Abenaki word meaning ‘shoals, rocks, and ledges,’” Ives said. “People don’t know the bay as well as others because it’s difficult to navigate. You have to use a chart and compass.”

Ives said the shoals that make it dangerous to sail also make it one of the best lobster fishing bays.

Today’s talk was part of the Chats with Champions series, sponsored by The First, at Skidompha Public Library.

ROSANNA GARGIULO is a Times Record correspondent who lives in Brunswick.

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