Never underestimate the creative potential of a job interview. In 1995, Watershed Co-Founder Chris Gustin interviewed Lynn Thompson (then located in Tennessee) for the organization’s executive director position. Understanding that fundraising would be an important part of the job, Thompson considered ideas that might impress Gustin. “I had it in my mind that gardening and farming were important in Maine, so it seemed logical to combine food and ceramics,” recalls Thompson. And, as a former English teacher, it was only natural to draw on words from Shakespeare for inspiration. “My salad days, when I was green in judgment” — from Antony and Cleopatra — evokes thoughts of fresh, new endeavors and seemed a well-suited title for an event that celebrates garden bounties and ceramic plates inspired by Watershed’s pastoral surroundings.
When Thompson got the job and relocated to Maine, she decided to launch the first Salad Days picnic in August when Watershed’s board would be meeting on campus. She asked a young artist in the first residency session of the season, Yoshiro Okuma (“Yaz”), to stay through the summer and make 100 plates. Guests would choose a plate and enjoy a picnic lunch for $10 per person. Board members, staff, and resident artists were also asked to contribute to a pottery sale. The goal was to raise $1,000; but this first Salad Days raised $5,000!
Over the years, the event slowly grew in size. In its fifth year, Delta Airlines’ flight magazine ran a story about the event and Watershed was overrun with picnickers. Five hundred people showed up to claim 400 plates and this new participant level set the bar for years to come.
Today, Salad Days has become the organization’s most successful community fundraiser. Watershed annually welcomes more than 600 people to the event. Each Salad Days artist-in-residence is selected by a jury to make 550+ plates for the celebration.
To mark the 25th annual Salad Days on July 13, 2019, Watershed invited the Salad Days Artist alumni to return to campus. Each artist was asked to make five limited edition “reimagined” plates in honor of this milestone. Eighteen of the artists accepted the reimagined plate challenge. The new plates were featured alongside the original plates in a special exhibition and sale during the 25th Salad Days event. Additionally, twelve past Salad Days Artist alums returned to Watershed for the weekend. They enjoyed a reunion with Lynn Thompson, sharing stories and reflections about the impact of the Salad Days residency on their work and careers.