Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Tony and I am the man behind the curtain at Rocky Top Soap Shop. I live in a small town without a traffic light in coastal Maine with my girlfriend Allison (a.k.a. NatureMandalas). Our property is located on a mountaintop dotted with large boulders, pine trees and wild blueberries. I am an avid gardener, enjoy drinking a really hot cup of tea, and spending time with my dogs.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I have been in pursuit of a simple, self-sufficient, handmade life for years. Most of my time outside of the soap shop is spent gardening or planning next season’s garden. I like to think of it as a creative collaboration with nature. I enjoy seed saving, canning, composting, plant propagation, building greenhouses and raised beds…anything to do with providing a self-sufficient, reliable, organic food source.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
“All This On Soap.” It’s a running joke that we have had for several years now. Allow me to tell the abbreviated summation: After convincing Allison’s parents that they needed a puppy that we had rescued, we decided to meet half-way for the drop off, which happened to be an accordion store that was having a successful sale/event. While talking to a young relative of the owner, he looked around him, spread his arms wide and announced proudly, “All this on accordions.” His smile was contagious, and the saying left an indelible mark on the event.
I will forever remember his expressive face and the enormous sense of pride he had. It has always reminded me that if you find something you love, no matter how obscure, and dedicate yourself to it whole-heartedly, success is inevitable.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from nature and time spent in solitude in the Maine landscape.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade means being able to see the maker in his or her creation. Whether it’s a charming imperfection or an emotional response to the work, it’s about receiving more than the physical object from the experience.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
Most of my inspiration comes from gardeners and herbalists — people like Elliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch, Matthew Wood, James Green and Rosemary Gladstar. I admire their deep connection and knowledge of the natural world that surrounds us all.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I think I always knew in my heart that I was a creative person. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I began to embrace the idea that I could live a creative, handmade life. Once I came to Maine it all began to make sense.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is quickly evolving from sporadic, if not erratic, spurts and small explosions to a more structured workflow. I think of my soapmaking in three different stages: brainstorming, research, and production. Brainstorming is constant. It no longer keeps me up at night, but is always moving forward.
Once an idea has started to gel, I begin the research. I enjoy limiting my palette of possibilities to those derived from nature. It’s not much of a limitation when you get down to the nuts and bolts, but it keeps the process focused. If at all possible, I choose combinations that are not only beneficial, but also naturally colorful. Once I have boiled down my ingredients to their simplest combination, it’s off to the soap pots for testing. This is where it all comes together.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
The greenhouse I completed last year.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I have found the best thing for me to do is set my intentions on a positive solution and then step away as quickly as possible. If the weather is good, I’ll go outside and check on the garden, take a walk on the property, take the dogs for a walk down the road, or hang out in the greenhouse for a while to soak up the heat and oxygen-rich air. In the winter, I might head to the kitchen to cook a meal or a batch of cookies. And if nothing seems like the right thing to do, I find sitting peacefully in silence does wonders.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
When I think of the future, I think of the soap shop being in a separate building on the property, surrounded by the farm I have always wanted to build. There will be a couple more greenhouses, raised beds for perennial and annual food crops, larger gardens of medicinal herbs for my soaps and our personal health, a chicken coop with several laying hens, and a little straw bale house at the other end of the property to serve as our personal retreat. Regardless of all these things, I hope that I am happy and healthy, living a simple life with my partner Allison and a menagerie of both domestic and farm animals.