Long before Etsy, before the kitchen-craft explosion, before, in fact, the Old Port was cool, there was Abacus Gallery. The Portland location is the second of four locations statewide (it opened in 1984) and has, for all that time, been one of the premier venues for artisans and craftspeople from around the country to sell their wares. They carry a large selection of jewelery, eclectic art, useful home goods (especially pottery and wooden-ware) and artistic kick-knacks of all sorts.
In particular, they’re known for a wide selection of prints by Maine-based artist Dana Heacock (including an annual calendar), unique metal sculptures by Richard Kolb, and sculptures, cards, and prints by Brian Andreas. Not all their artists are Maine-based, but their selection of gifts does have a definite Maine vibe, and the helpful staff is extremely knowledgeable about the artists and can easily steer you to Maine-related products if you’re looking for a remembrance of your visit.
The Portland store has three separate areas. The main floor, as you walk in the door, is mostly dedicated to jewelry. If you walk to the back of the main floor, you’ll step up into an area that is focused on prints, cards, and pottery, with some wonderful quirky art-pieces as well.
Take the stairs downstairs, and you’ll come to my favorite part of the store. The basement showcases all manner of housewares, as well as the awesome and quirky metal sculptures. Although the downstairs space is small, it’s well laid out and easy to browse. Abacus has a reputation for having only higher-end items, but in my experience this simply isn’t true. They offer items at a wide variety of price-points, and with an equally wide variety of esthetic appeal. They also carefully curate their offerings, ensuring that their inventory always covers a broad spectrum, so it’s pretty easy to find a gift for anyone you can think of. For me, they’re my go-to store for purchasing unique wedding gifts, but when friends are in town they almost always find something that speaks of “Maine” to them to take home.
Abacus Gallery is located at 44 Exchange St in Portland, Maine. Their winter hours are Monday – Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, and Sunday 11 am – 6 pm. They have a website, which offers bios of their artists and on-line sales. They also have stores in Boothbay Harbor, Ognuquit, Kennebunkport, and Freeport.
Still having trouble finding them? Here’s a map!