Fred Kretchman stood next to his display of handmade bamboo fly rods and patiently explained his manufacturing process.

First he treats a length of seasoned bamboo with an open flame to get a dark brown hue.

“Like toasting a piece of bread,” said Kretchman, of Kittery Point.

Fifty hours of labor later, the fishing rod is complete.

Kretchman was one of 100 fine craft artisans peddling their wares Saturday at the Maine Crafts Association’s Portland Fine Craft Show along with hundreds of artists at the 51st WCSH Sidewalk Art Festival. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people were expected at the two events downtown on Congress Street, which was shut down to vehicular traffic for much of the day. The two shows gave the public a chance to talk to artists and artisans about their work and maybe take home a handmade basket or original piece of art.

Kretchman said he fell in love with fly fishing as a boy and taught himself how to make the rods by reading a classic on the subject by Hoagy Carmichael, son of the American singer and songwriter. Kretchman eventually became friends with Carmichael.


Meanwhile, demand for Kretchman’s fishing rods, which start at $1,500 each, took off and he was able to leave his job as a human resources manager to manufacture the rods full time at his business, F.D. Kretchman Rod Co. His work has been featured at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and Fuller Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts.

While Kretchman talked, Nancy Drown of Portland made appreciative noises. She said she found Kretchman’s fishing rods fascinating.

“And the Hoagy Carmichael connection is kind of like the cherry on top of it,” said Drown.

Other exhibitors also had interesting stories.

Roxane Chardon of Hollis, New Hampshire, worked at IBM until she discovered she had artistic talent after taking an art class. She quit her IBM job seven years ago and has been a full-time artist ever since. She takes her pastels of marshes and still lifes to about 20 art shows a year. She has been a finalist at the Portland Sidewalk Art Festival three times, placing second last year.

“I never get sick of them” she said of her paintings.


Jeri Holt of Windsor said at one point in her artistic life she went through a 10-year funk, after injuring her wrist as a wood carver. But digital painting gave her new life. For the past decade she has been turning out large mixed-media abstract works, painted on aluminum or copper panels.

Some of the artists say the festival is a great way to get positive feedback. Jeff Haase of Dexter asks people to point to their favorite pieces in his exhibit of oils. They usually point to one of the two large paintings of fishing dories with mooring balls floating atop a flat sea. But his own favorites, he said, are any of his series of fairies.

“No one says ‘this is horrible,’ and it can be kind of fun because we are all talking about art,” said Haase.

Lori Austill of Portland was showing abstract paintings of landscapes, dancers and nature scenes using paint made from beeswax mixed with pigment and fortified with dammar tree resin. The colorful works emit a faint beeswax scent.

A graduate of the Portland School of Art, now the Maine College of Art, Austill said although beeswax is her medium, “I am terrified of bees.”

A panel of five judges awarded prizes to the following artists in the sidewalk festival: Tim Gaydos of Lubec, first; Liz Hoag of Portland, second; Laurie Proctor-Lefebvre of Fairfield, third; and Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld of Portland, festival purchase prize.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.