We Were an Island

The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam

Peter P. Blanchard

Anyone visiting the innumerable islands that hug the coast of Maine has wondered what it would be like to live year round on a “rock” bounded by the sea, essentially cut off from the world, with life’s priorities whittled down to the most basic necessities. In 1949 Art and Nan Kellam set off to find their own isolated piece of paradise and eventually settled on a 550-acre island known as Placentia, near Mount Desert Island. They would live there year round for nearly forty years. In this beautifully illustrated volume—based on Nan’s personal journal and the “Big Book,” to which both Art and Nan contributed private correspondence and archival materials—Peter P. Blanchard III re-creates the story of their island years. He shows their singular devotion to each other, finds tantalizing clues to their reasons for seeking isolation from the rest of the world, and considers the mental and physical toll of such an unusual lifestyle on the individual and joined psyches of the couple. The narrative is beautifully enhanced by historic photographs and by David Graham’s recent color photography. While evoking the alluring beauty of Maine’s rugged coast, the book celebrates the Kellams’ courage and determination to follow a distinctive life path. We Were an Island paints a sensitive and sympathetic portrait of a relationship that endured, even prospered, in isolation.

Cloth: $29.95
ISBN-13: 9781584658603
Pages: 212 | Size: 8 in. x 8 in.
Date Published: May 11, 2010


  • If you’ve ever been in love, you’ve probably turned to your sweetheart and said something like, ‘Darling, you’re my everything.’ Perhaps you’ve daydreamed with your significant other about ‘getting away from it all’-buying a boat, moving to Sweden, moving to Galesnjak-somewhere you could live in harmony, just you two and the big blue sky. But Eve can’t unbite the apple: it’s civilization and other people and ‘I’ve got to work late again tonight, honey,’ and that’s life forevermore. And would you really move to nowhere with your someone if you could? Here’s a tale of two people who did: Art and Nan Kellam, who married in 1935 and moved to an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine in 1949, where they remained together until 1985. The story has been told before: in a wonderful 2003 Times article and in a series of photographs of the Kellam’s homestead, taken by David Graham. But neither of these was complete. In ‘We Were an Island,’ Peter P. Blanchard III uses Nan’s journals, the manuscript of the unfinished book she and Art were writing about their adventure, and their letters and family photos to weave a narrative that is at times touching, at times daunting, at time strangely relatable. Art and Nan led a relatively austere existence, chopping wood, cutting paths through the forest, growing vegetables, rowing to the mainland if they needed special supplies-but what comes through in ‘We Were an Island’ is how inconsequential all this is. The substance of the story is their relationship, which is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever been in one. Art and Nan had nicknames for each other and made-up words only the two of them knew; they left notes on the door when they stepped out so that the other wouldn’t worry; they bickered; Art read aloud to Nan each night.

    The New Yorker
  • This is a perfect gift for anyone who has feelings for one or more of Maine’s 3,000 islands . . .. It is a grand addition to the Maine library.

    The Working Waterfront
  • A new book looks back at the lives of Art and Nan Kellam, who in search of simplicity and solitude, bought an island in 1948. For nearly 40 years, they were the sole inhabitants of the 550-acre Placentia, 2 miles off the northeastern coast of Maine. Before they died, they entrusted the property to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy. In ‘We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art & Nan Kellam’ (University of New England), Peter B. Blanchard weaves excerpts from their journals into a narrative of two lives closely tuned to nature.

    Boston Globe
  • Source material also came from the Kellams’ so-called Big Book, which Blanchard described as a collection of private correspondence and archived materials to which both Kellams contributed. ‘[The Big Book] was an eloquent statement of where they were and what they were doing, particularly of their first year,’ Blanchard said. ‘They had a conscious idea of getting out their story eventually, but they were never able.’ ‘We Were An Island’ includes archival photographs of the Kellams and recent photographs of Placentia Island shot by David Graham.

    Bangor Daily News
  • The author met Nan late in the Kellams' history on Placentia, and his telling lays the ground for the Kellams to share their experience as it seems they intended.

    Friends of Acadia Journal

About the Author

Peter P. Blanchard III

Peter P. Blanchard III is a long-time conservationist and environmental activist, and the founder of Greenwood Gardens, a New Jersey nonprofit organization dedicated to horticulture and environmental education. He owns and manages two Maine islands as nature reserves. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Orion Society, which produces Orion, a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to the issues of nature, culture, and place.

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