As winter’s arrival is forecasted in the muted grays and browns of the landscape, residents may feel split about whether they feel the scene is bleak or beautiful. However, for Rachel Alexandrou, scientific illustrator, wreath maker, and local forager, each season presents its own opportunity for nourishment, both for the stomach and the soul.
Alexandrou, a Waldoboro resident who grew up in Wiscasset on Federal Street, enjoyed the amenities living close to a downtown waterfront area afforded.
“Wiscasset was fun, and I could walk downtown to look at the sunken ships and buy treats at Treats,” she said.
However, Alexandrou’s acumen for identifying local flora was something she didn’t develop until she and her family moved to Alna. Alexandrou, who was a young teen at the time of the move, suddenly had the storefronts of Wiscasset replaced with the plants of Alna.
“That was hard because then I didn’t really have anywhere to go anymore walking wise,” Alexandrou said.
Her walks in Alna came out of necessity in the face of boredom and depression, but in this new landscape there was a bright spot: foraging.
“I found foraging because I guess I hadn’t much else to do, and so, on my walks I started to look at the stuff I found,” Alexandrou said.
Alexandrou, who has always worked in gardens, said she walked Dock Road most frequently.
“I remember going to the banks of the Sheepscot River,” Alexandrou said. “Every year I would go and learn more about the banks.”
Alexandrou attended the Maine School of Science and Mathematics before attending Hampshire College in Massachusetts. She finished her horticulture degree at the University of Maine with a minor in studio art in 2018.
During her time at the University of Maine, she worked as an artist in residence at the Damariscotta River Association, where she led drawing workshops for children ages 5-11, teaching them the identifying features of local flora and how to draw them. The DRA would later merge with the Pemaquid Watershed Association to create Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust.
By 2020, Alexandrou had published works such as “Emotional Foraging: Recipes for Every Apocalypse” and “Foraged Feasts” and had selected artwork and chapter illustrations of her work printed in “The New Farmer’s Almanac” in its 2015 and 2018 editions.
Alexandrou has also received numerous grants and residencies for her art, foraging, and gardening, such as two project grants from the Maine Arts Commission in 2020 and 2021 and gardener in residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Center in Jefferson in 2018.
For all of Alexandrou’s plant-related endeavors, she works under the business moniker “Giantdaughter.”
The name is from a character she came up with when she was 22 and used to draw as a way to cope with her anxiety.
“I had a lot of anxiety, like the type of anxiety where you think you’re having a heart attack,” Alexandrou said. “So, I made up this character in my notebook, and I drew it like a comic about myself and I called her ‘Giantdaughter,’ and how she was plagued by anxiety, and somehow that helped.”
When it came time to find a name for her plant related business ventures, Giantdaughter seemed like the best fit, symbolic of how her love for plants helped ease her anxiety.
“I still I have anxiety, but I think all the foraging and the plants are a way I can handle and deal with life, and be happy,” she said.
Alexandrou believes there are likely other foragers in Lincoln County, but what she does is multifaceted with teaching and making art.
Alexandrou, from spring to fall, hosts plant identification walks throughout the state, putting together what she calls foraged feasts that she’s cooked from foods she’s harvested throughout the year.
These feasts, she believes, are an intersection of art and food.
“These feasts are walking feasts where people get to walk from table to table, each exemplifying an ecosystem from which the food was foraged,” she said.
While foraging is a mainstay passion for Alexandrou, it also manifests as an art adorning the walls.
Alexandrou is a popular wreath maker, putting together around 200 this season in her Rockland-based studio, and sells them at different locations up and down the Maine coast.
In Lincoln County the wreaths can be found in limited supply at The Waldoboro Inn, Treats in Wiscasset, The Alna Store, and The Good Supply in Bristol.
“It’s really made this time of year special,” she said.
Like the flora along the paths of Alna, Alexandrou found teaching and art naturally, and in the last few years has leaned into both, hosting wreath making workshops and foraging classes.
“It’s really important to learn the landscape. I can’t imagine the world not knowing what the plants are doing,” Alexandrou said.
Alexandrou said that spending time with the landscapes of Maine has taught her many lessons, but one of her favorites being about change.
“Change is natural,” Alexandrou said. “Being with and around plants of every season has made me less afraid of change.”
Alexandrou, like the seasons, is always in motion, and when she finds moments of downtime she likes to clear her head on the open road.
“I love driving, it’s a real sense of freedom and I can think clearly,” she said. “I love motion, I love being in motion, it’s almost meditative, and also, I get to see more plants.”
For more information about Alexandrou’s upcoming workshops, available wreaths, exhibitions, and other projects, find her on Instagram or go to giantdaughter.com.
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