Shaw Contemporary Jewelry
Contemporary and nontraditional jewelry
with a commitment to fabulous
128 Main Street, Northeast Harbor
Meet Our December Featured Business:
Shaw Contemporary Jewelry
Sam Shaw creates like he breathes. Rings, pendants, bracelets, earrings, paintings, sculpture, clothing, buildings, community. Sam sees potential for immense beauty in the world and helps realize it however he can, which is part of the reason he is MD365’s Featured Business for December. Read on to learn more about Shaw Contemporary Jewelry, one of Northeast Harbor’s most popular retailers for the past thirty years.
Sam’s artistic education began in his childhood. As a young summer resident of Mount Desert Island he spent much of his time outside, absorbing the natural beauty of the island’s woods, mountains, and shoreline. He travelled to India as a young man where he overcame language barriers and apprenticed with accomplished jewelers in the Mughal tradition. Sam completed his formal university training at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and set off on a career in jewelry. Sam opened Shaw Contemporary Jewelry in Northeast Harbor at what is now 147 Main Street before moving across the street to number 128, the gallery’s current location, in 1984. At the time, Sam was part of a cohort leading a new movement in American jewelry that was dedicated to transforming the commonplace into high art. Within the first year at his new location, Sam launched his Beachstone Collection, centered on elevating unfinished basalt and granite beach stones through contrast with minimalist, high-karat gold settings.
The success of the Beachstone Collection propelled Sam’s career forward but he never abandoned the friends and colleagues who were there at the start. Always reserving cases in his shop for the like-minded jewelers closest to his heart, such as Petra Class, Pat Flynn, Barbara Heinrich and Hughes-Bosca, Sam’s business grew and his craft matured. The guiding philosophy of their American Craft Jewelry movement extended beyond their professional work as jewelers to become a way of life, expressed through eccentric clothing, accessories, and participation in events like Burning Man, in the Nevada desert. In part thanks to the immersive nature of this peer support, Sam soon came out with the Twig Collection: delicate casts of birch branches in gold and silver that cradle brilliant colors and cuts of gemstones.
With the Beachstone Collection still garnering attention and generating orders for the shop, Sam needed to hire help in order to meet the demand. Bringing apprentices into his process, Sam compounded the impact of his creativity on the world by sharing his knowledge, instincts and vision with others. Some of these talented craftspeople who got started at Shaw Jewelry now have accomplished jewelry careers of their own, including Zoe Chico and our featured business from October, Lisa Hall Jewelry.
As Shaw Jewelry has risen in esteem over the years, Sam has become a powerful advocate on behalf of other local jewelers, artists and craftspeople. Since the gallery’s early years in the 1980s, Sam has displayed the artwork of others on his gallery walls, usually with a kickoff party at the start of each new exhibit. In 2001 the gallery launched the “MDI Open” exhibition explicitly for local artists. This first and longest show of the summer season, the Open gives resident artists of Mount Desert like Aaron Mitchell, Jeanne Perkins, Roberta Sprague, and around 45 others a chance to enjoy the gallery’s spotlight.
Today, visitors from around the world seek out the gallery in the hope of capturing some of the beauty Sam sees. Over the decades, Sam has amassed a collection of costume, glass bead, silver, and vermeil jewelry from other individuals, studios, and manufacturers that meet his standards of quality. Alongside his own work and that of his designer friends, these carefully curated “Samtiques” occupy an important place in the front room of his shop, catering to a wide range of tastes and budgets.
A born trendsetter, Sam has used Shaw Jewelry as both an outlet for his own creative passions and as a hub for the inspiration of others. The gallery is open all year and also has a website (https://www.shawjewelry.com/) to serve local and seasonal customers. In celebration of the season, Shaw Jewelry’s Christmas Sale makes a special offer to holiday shoppers: buy three items and the least expensive is free! While the jewelry is mostly geared toward women, there is also a selection of men’s pieces. Sam Shaw may be a master jeweler, accomplished painter, sculptor, and experiential artist, but investing in the people around him and the potential for beauty he sees in them is among the highest expressions of Sam’s creativity. If you aren’t familiar with Shaw Jewelry already please take some time to get to know Sam and this month’s featured business, either online or in person!