“Do you know what that is?” Ernie Haskell Brooks asks, stroking his hand over a thick butcher-block counter top. “Cutting board” I respond, wondering if it is a trick question. He is pleased as he shakes his head. “A queen-size head board,” he answers.
The massive slab of wood, now mellowed with oil and cut marks from years of use, is the top of an island in the center of his home. Drawers with ornate fronts hang below and slide out to reveal knives, spices, and other kitchen tools, all within easy reach.
It is efficient, beautiful, and made entirely with recycled parts. The drawers came from a Singer sewing machine, and the counter base is made with wooden panels from an old hotel that was being torn down.
We are standing in Ernie’s home, and everywhere you look you see the eye of an artist, and a master of re-use. An old bootjack has been turned into a note pad, with a spinning roll of adding machine tape on a spindle. The windows came from a church in Bar Harbor.
“I built this house from bottom to top with material that was going to be discarded,” Ernie says. “Only the roof shingles were bought new. The whole thing cost less than $5,000.00.” The building is styled on a bow-shaped center-entrance cottage. The living quarters are warm and tight on the second floor, accessed by a pull-down set of stairs. Once aloft, the view over his property is astounding.
As far as the eye can see, there is stuff. A riot of flowering vines adds grace to what some might call junk, but for others is a treasure trove of Mount Desert Island history and a resource for windows, doors, knobs, hinges and statuary made in an era when craftsmanship was the standard.
Ernie’s home is a sample of his style. He made his life’s career designing and building restaurants, bars, and the occasional home kitchen. His signature work has defined dining establishments from Gloucester, Massachusetts to Bar Harbor, Maine. Old paneling was refinished to build the English pub-style bar at the Thirsty Whale, his hand-carved signs advertised the once popular restaurants Duffy’s Quarterdeck and The Maryjane, and his craftsmanship is still seen in what is now the Black Friar Inn and Pub. He became known as the man who put the bar in Bar Harbor.
That butcher block in the kitchen has had countless apples sliced and piecrusts rolled on it. That same surface served as workspace when he stretched the supple green leather he used for the tufted bench seats in the lounge at Galyn’s Restaurant.
There is a satisfying circularity to this. When Ernie first came to Bar Harbor, he stayed at a rooming house. The landlady told Ernie she would trade the secret of her blueberry pie filling for his perfectly domed apple pie recipe. That rooming house has since been transformed into Galyn’s. Ernie’s woodwork and design are now the stars of the upstairs lounge where he first laid his head in Bar Harbor, filled with visions of antique molding, and rebuilt English pubs.
Meet the artist at a retrospective of his work, including drawings and plans of kitchens and restaurants, paintings on burlap, and hand-carved signs.
4-7pm, free and open to the public, Saturday, October 25, 2014
The Otter Creek Hall, 82 Otter Creek Drive, Otter Creek (five miles from Bar Harbor)
207 288 4602 for more information
Apple Pie according to Ernie Brooks
Mound your pie dish with sliced, peeled apples. Measure them out by cup, and place in large bowl. Add a tablespoon of rice flour for each cup of apples. Add a few scrapes of lemon rind and a few scrapes of nutmeg. Add sugar, how much is your guess. Shake all the dry stuff together. Line your pie shell with a bottom crust. Add all the apples. In a small bowl mix some sweet white wine, juice from 1/2 a lemon, and five or six drops of vinegar. Dribble this over the apples. Drape the top crust over the apples. Bake a 425 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.