Elizabeth Duvivier and Meg Fussell. Photo by Gerri Smalley.
“Squam is an anchor in what has been a very ‘transition-rich’ decade of my life,” says weaver Christine Jablonski of the Squam Art Workshops. “My best friend and I have been attending together for seven years—we live on opposite coasts, so it’s our annual girl’s retreat. Squam is an inviolable pillar in our calendar.”
Jablonski and her friend are not alone in cherishing their time at this beloved retreat. Founded in September of 2008 by Elizabeth Duvivier, Squam has become a pillar of the artist and maker movement, a bi-annual place to escape from the busyness of everyday life and reconnect with one another and with ourselves. “I wanted to create a place where women could rest and have people make their meals and just focus on them,” Duvivier says of her initial motivation to create Squam. The event is now synonymous with rest, discovery, learning, friendship, and creative exploration, offering a series of classes taught by premier craft instructors accompanied by time to explore nature, eat well, and recharge.
The dock on Squam lake. Photo by Elizabeth Duvivier.
By December of 2016, as Squam headed towards its tenth year, however, Duvivier, 54, felt something shift in herself: she needed to rest and discover her own new path. “I knew I was done. I had to stop and take care of me. I knew even if I could crank it out a few more years, I had taken it as far as Elizabeth could take it.” She became concerned that without an infusion of new energy at the leadership level eventually the retreats would become tired and less successful. She made an announcement on the Squam blog that the September 2017 art workshop would be the final one. “I had no plan,” she said. “It had to end in order for a door to open for me.”
Upon hearing that the event was ending three different parties offered to buy Squam and Duvivier hired a broker to help sort through their offers. “I never was Creativebug or Craftsy. I never grew it into a truly commercial thing. That wasn’t the heart of Squam,” she says, yet at the same time she had used her background in corporate project management to keep the retreats organized and running efficiently. None of the offers felt true to the mission and vision of Squam. “Either they had lots of money, but not the heart, or vice versa,” she says.
The group at Squam, September 2017. Photo by Amy Gretchen.
Duvivier had enough energy for one more retreat in the spring of 2017. Among the teachers was Tif Fussell, whose company, Dottie Angel, is known for it’s vintage, thrifted, down-to-earth crafty style. “Tif is a dear friend,” Duvivier says, “so when she called to ask if her daughter, Meg could come spend the night a few days before I said yes.” It turned out that Meg Fussell, 25, had just finished nine-month intensive wilderness training at Anake Outdoor School and was moving to Ipswich, Massachusetts with her boyfriend. Duvivier asked Meg if she’d mind helping out stringing lights and setting up rooms for the event, and she happily agreed to lend a hand.
“She’s working alongside me and suddenly it hit me like a lightning bolt on the third day,” Duvivier recalls. “There she was teaching us songs, super organized, a great work ethic, and a knitter.” When Duvivier found out that Fussell didn’t have a clear career plan in mind, she figured there was a possibility Fussell might come to work at Squam. She pitched it, and Fussell agreed.
At the September event Duvivier allowed attendees to get to know Fussell on their own terms before announcing that she would be taking on the role of Events Coordinator in charge of planning and executing both the spring and fall retreats as well as the art fairs that take place at each. Duvivier shifted to the role of Executive Director role and retains full ownership of Squam. Prior to this point she’d employed administrative assistants and seasonal help for the events, but had never had a full-time employee to run the events.
Meg Fussell at Squam with Elizabeth Duvivier in the background. Photo by Amy Gretchen.
Jablonski was there for the announcement. “When Elizabeth announced in September that Meg would be helming Squam, my immediate reaction was, ‘Of course. That makes sense,” she recalls. “Maybe it was her Northwest outdoors training or her grounded, but ethereal nature that struck me initially—I don’t know—but she just seems to fit—a natural steward for this ship that Elizabeth had launched.”
Fussell has a big job in front, but says she’s ready. “Elizabeth began Squam with the thought in mind of ‘surely there is one other woman out there like me that feels isolated and disconnected’ and this is the thought that keeps me grounded: how can I continue Elizabeth’s legacy and contribute in my own way?” Fussell says. “My focus is to help at least one other woman continue to grow her creativity, find her spark, make new friends and find her place in this extraordinary community.”
Elizabeth Duvivier, founder and now Executive Director of Squam Art Workshops. Photo by Amy Gretchen.
“It feels like a big changeover,” explains Duvivier. “Meg is jumping on a horse that’s already moving.” Duvivier is mentoring her, while allowing Fussell to infuse new life and her own vision into the events. “This is a community gathering. I put up the ‘bat signal,’ but it’s the people who come that create what it is and who comes with Meg here remains to be seen.”
Fussell is dedicated to preserving the spirit that has made Squam such a beloved retreat, while also excited to infuse her own ideas into the existing program. “As you can imagine, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes and I’m getting up to speed on all that,” she says, “but what I see most clearly is that these retreats continue to be magical, year after year because of the wild hearts who make the journey to the lake, bringing their unique energy, courage and creative spirit to the circle.”