Stuart Kestenbaum uses a sports analogy when he talks about his work as an arts administrator.

“I sometimes feel I can see the whole field,” he said.

Kestenbaum, 63, recently announced he was leaving as director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle. It is a post he has held – and loved – since 1988. “It’s a long time to be in one place, but it’s never felt old to me,” Kestenbaum said.

Before Haystack, he worked for the Maine Arts Commission and the Children’s Museum of Maine. He’s also a poet, and has just begun serving as chairman of the American Craft Council.

His diplomatic demeanor and common sense management style have made Kestenbaum the face of Maine arts.

During Kestenbaum’s 27 years at Haystack, the school has emerged as an international destination for artists and creative thinkers to learn skills, investigate materials and technologies, and explore ideas related to art and creativity. It serves about 1,000 students a year who come from across Maine and across the globe for workshops, residencies and conferences in a retreat-like setting on a remote section of the Deer Isle peninsula.


But mostly it’s a place where people come to connect – with their inner selves, with friends in the field and with nature.

Kestenbaum’s quiet presence led the way, said his friend, Warren Seelig, who has taught at Haystack and served on its board.

“He’s just such a humble and relaxed but focused guy,” Seelig said. “He is able to connect with all kinds of personalities, and he treats people really well.”

Kestenbaum begins most sessions with a poem, either something he wrote or something related to the topic. Humor is a big part of his management style.

At dinner – Haystack is renowned for its food – Kestenbaum stands near the center of the dining room, dings a bell and says a few words, almost always in a voice just soft enough that people have to pay attention to hear him.

Replacing him will be a monumental challenge, Seelig said. “He’s the source of it all and always has been,” he said.

Kestenbaum is leaving because the time is right.

“Haystack has been my constant companion for 27 years. I love it there,” he said. “But I’d rather people say, ‘Too bad he’s gone’ than, ‘He’s been there too long.’ “

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