FREEPORT — Where Martha Stewart failed, Deena Prestegard is succeeding.
The Freeport self-starter devised a way to craft Maine cranberries into a striking seasonal emblem: the holiday wreath.
Unlike the domestic doyenne, whose cranberry wreath attempts were documented as withering on the vine in her attempt to make the decorations in 2007, Prestegard has built a business around this timeless seasonal symbol.
“It’s an acquired skill. It may look pretty simple, but it’s not necessarily easy,” the 53-year-old said in her kitchen, where bins of just-harvested berries are pressed into stunning red rings.
Her love of cranberries is so strong she decided to make a business out of it. Similar to eating sustainably, Artful Cranberry is about decorating with seasonality in mind.
“You can make an evergreen wreath any day of the year. You can only make a cranberry wreath this time of year,” said Prestegard, an artist and entrepreneur who moved to Maine from Massachusetts in 2008.
Her newly launched site Artfulcranberry.com sells wreaths from 10 to 26 inches in diameter with names such as peace and goodwill. “Words that spread joy and happiness,” she said.
They range in price from $85 for a small circle to $445 for a trio of red wreaths.
Topped with a burlap bow and fastened with birch bark, it’s an updated New England approach to holiday style. Each one is shipped with a note that says “Created in Maine just for you.”
Sales have been brisk.
“It’s so special,” said Kelly Irwin, a customer from Falmouth who purchased a cranberry wreath for her mother-in-law in New Jersey this year. “It’s not like giving your average wreath. It’s a conversation piece.”
To get the conversation going takes perseverance. This is no slap-dash craft project. It can take up to four hours and a thousand cranberries to make one wreath.
“With cranberries, every one is different. I think that’s part of the mesmerizing quality of the wreath,” said Prestegard, who inspects each one for the right hue. “They look like rubies to me, they look like gems. They glisten, they shine.”
Artful Cranberry, whose employees include Prestegard and her husband, Patrick Whalen, is using only Maine-grown cranberries. To make the 100 wreaths in their collection, they drive to Turner to buy cranberries from Ricker Hill Orchards.
In the increasingly competitive cranberry industry, every sale counts. Especially this year when Wisconsin is starting to dominate the market.
“I have 50,000 pounds of cranberries and I’d like to be sold out of them by now,” said Harry Ricker, who helps run the farm and orchard. “Anything that takes cranberries off of me is welcome business.”
So far this year Prestegard and Whalen have visited the farm three times. It doesn’t make too much of a dent, but “all of our customers are good customers,” said Ricker, who has an acre of cranberry bogs.
To Ricker and Prestegard, cranberries are not just a Thanksgiving condiment.
“I hope to create a demand for Maine cranberries through wreath sales,” she said. “We’d like to use them as a poster child for sustainability.”
So goes the cranberry queen’s message: Think seasonally. What’s growing here this time of year should be reflected in your diet and decor. Not just on your plate, but on your door.
“I’m contrasting it to the ‘I want it now,’ ‘I want it as much as I want it,’’ ‘I want it every day’” attitude, she said. “That isn’t getting us to a good place, certainly not in accord with our natural environment. This is more of an awareness builder.”
Freeport artist Deena Prestegard with one of her finished cranberry wreaths.
Patrick Whalen washes and sorts cranberries by size in his kitchen in Freeport. Once they are dried, his wife, Deena Prestegard, will turn them into colorful wreaths.
Deena Prestegard’s cranberry wreaths are only made at this time of year, when the berries are fresh.