Patricia Arvidson mixed basic soap ingredients—oil, lye and water—with her own additions, such as clay from the Deer Isle clam flats and essential fragrance oils, to create Island Soaps. Then she wrapped the bars in paper, labeled them with her own drawings of Maine scenes and sold them, alongside her paintings and gift items, from her home business, Island Soap & Gallery.
That was in 1984.
“It was really unheard of,” Arvidson said of her home-based soap-making business. “Now it’s everywhere.”
Twenty-nine years later, packed boxes and yard sale items brought in from the rain surround Arvidson. She sold her business in June to Giselle Bridges of Sedgwick—“she’ll keep Island Soap alive”—and is moving in September to Minnesota, where she grew up. Her mother will move out of assisted living and move in with Arvidson. “I just feel I need more time with her,” said Arvidson.
Living in Deer Isle and working as a nurse at Island Nursing Home, Arvidson turned to soap making as a way to stay home with her daughter Jasmine. She’d learned the craft in New Hampshire, from a book picked up at a library sale, and at first made soap for her family. A friend suggested Arvidson turn the practice into a business.
“I just started making soap, and when I thought I had something saleable…” She shrugged. “I sold my first [bars] to Periwinkle Gift Shop in 1984.”
At Island Soap’s peak, Arvidson was making 450 bars a week to keep up with demand. She sold to local stores and stores from Florida to California, filled mail order requests and sold to customers at her home store.
“They contacted me,” she said of her out-of-state customers.
Arvidson’s favorite is her pine tar soap. “It’s very soothing, slightly antiseptic,” she said. “Either you love it or you hate it.”
Her inspiration for her clam flat clay soap came in the middle of the night, she said. She has a couple of “very pure” spots in Deer Isle where she digs her clay. “It’s kind of a nuisance. You have to take the mud and bring it home and clean it.”
And ginger-peach soap is the one to keep by the kitchen sink, she said.
Arvidson is bringing a supply of Island Soaps with her to Minnesota, but when it runs out, she’ll still have a legacy of her business.
“I’m taking my sign with me,” she said.