Barbara Michelena in her studio in 2010. Family photo.

Barbara Michelena, an accomplished designer and founder of Craft Gallery in Rockland, died July 16 after battling cancer. She was 89.

Mrs. Michelena was remembered Friday as a visionary and champion of Maine’s fine arts community.

In 2010, she opened Craft Gallery, which she described on its website as “a curated collection of exceptional contemporary fine art and craft by artists working in Maine.”

For the past decade, the gallery has provided a platform for Maine’s craft artists to display and sell their work. In the off season, when the gallery was closed, she would visit local artist’s studios and pick and choose which pieces she wanted in her gallery exhibitions, said her son, Peter Michelena of Los Angeles.

“She would know how to pick just the right pieces,” her son said Friday. “She would create (exhibits) that would have a cohesive, flowing feeling to it. It’s one of the things people loved about the gallery … the way she would put everything together to really elevate the work and highlight the artist.”

This would have been her 10th season operating the gallery, but she decided to close it for health reasons.


Daniel Kany, an art historian and former freelance writer for the Maine Sunday Telegram, said in an email to Michelena’s son that he and Michelena had a lot in common and always had a lot to talk about.

“I never missed visiting Craft whenever I was in Rockland,” Kany said in the email. “To be sure, I peered in the window many times. But whenever Barbara was there, we always had a great visit. I liked her personally very much. She was also particularly welcoming to my boys, and I will never forget that. I am glad I knew Barbara. And I am sorry she is gone.”

She was a loving wife to Thomas “Peter” Michelena, and the couple raised two sons in Los Angeles.

The couple teamed up to form Michelena Design Associates, and the family had vacationed in Maine almost every summer since the 1960’s. In 1991, they retired and moved to Camden.

Mrs. Michelena immersed herself in the midcoast creative arts community. She got active with the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, where she developed “Work of the Hand,” a juried craft fair and fundraiser held every October.

“We all owe her a deep debt of gratitude for her being the champion of fine crafts in Maine,” George Pearlman, a longtime friend who creates pottery, said in a Facebook post.


“It was always clear that she believed in the art above all and her clarity helped me immensely in the huge solitude that I work in. Her unspoken respect and enthusiasm never needed to be spoken as her actions and the obviousness of her thoroughness said it all.

“We developed a friendship over the years and in our quiet way, we were both so proud of each other. I am sad to know I won’t be hugging her hello again and hearing her latest thoughts or seeing her newest collection of artists. I am grateful to have known such a rare, superb human that always buoyed my optimism and highest ideals.”

Mrs. Michelena’s husband died in the early 2000s, followed by her son Adam.

Mrs. Michelena was remembered by her remaining son as a loving wife and dedicated mother who was easy to talk to.

“For as independent as she was, she was very traditional when it came to her marriage,” her son said. “Outside of that, she was a force. Nothing would stop her from doing what she wanted to do. We really respected her for that. She was great mother and very supportive.”

Mrs. Michelena read The New York Times cover to cover. She had a meticulous home and garden. She was also interested in giving back to the community and was a regular supporter of the Knox County Homeless Coalition.

Around last New Year’s Eve, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had emergency surgery. She recovered, but the cancer returned. At the end, she was at her Camden home with her son.

“She went the way she wanted to go,” he said. “She could look out at her garden. Her friends were close by and visited often. She was lucid right up to the end. We were talking about old memories. She had a better memory than I have.”

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