sheep in boat

The Story Behind the Sheep in the Boat

A Tale of Islands, Sheep and Blankets

Swan’s Island is one of my favorite year-round islands here along the coast of Maine and thus it was with special pleasure that I first responded to the news that special friends were buying the fabled Swan’s Island Blanket company.

To me, there’s something very compelling about sheep and islands. It has been said that sheep are made for islands and islands are made for sheep. This all primarily relates to the (hopeful) absence of predators on the “right” islands and the fact that on islands there is a generally diminished need for any sort of fencing as sheep are not swimmers and will avoid the water whenever possible. Once an island is cleared of forest cover, sheep are natural “lawnmowers” and the islands graced with their presence generally have a lovely tended appearance; think of the Hebrides or, more locally, some of our own islands here on the coast.

Tumblehome by Peter Ralston

“It has been said that sheep are made for islands, and islands are made for sheep.”

Allen Island by Peter Ralston

Sheep Shuttle

How do you get a flock of sheep onto an island? In the process of helping Betsy Wyeth reclaim historic pastures and build a village on Allen Island, off Port Clyde, we brought sixteen sheep from a nearby island to act, essentially, as lawnmowers on the new fields on Allen. In the course of that day in 1983 I made these two photographs as we transported the sheep between islands.

Clearing - Peter Ralston photograph

“We brought sixteen sheep from a nearby island to act, essentially, as lawnmowers.”

Pentecost- photo by Peter Ralston

A Handshake and a Blanket

I was both honored and pleased when asked by the Swan’s Island Blankets crew if they might use Clearing on the beautiful boxes holding their blankets. I was especially delighted when our handshake agreement included a couple of their blankets which continue to keep us comfy through all seasons of the year.

Adventures, islands, friends and neighbors, working to help each other…….all parts of our lives here. The sign that you see driving into Maine from the south sort of says it all: The Way Life Should Be.

Peter Ralston
Photographer, neighbor and friend

The Swans Island Heritage Throw comes in our distinctive linen presentation gift box.

Note from Michele Orne (Swans Island Creative Director and Partner):

The Most Iconic Maine Image of All Time

Who knew at the time of that simple barter arrangement that years later, in 2017, Peter Ralston’s image of the sheep in the boat would go on to be voted the #1 most iconic Maine image of all time by Down East magazine. To quote Brian Kevin, author and managing editor, “Peter Ralston’s stories have stories,” and so it is with Clearing. Read the Down East article and learn more about the full story of Clearing on Peter’s website. We promise you’ll be entertained.

To this day, Peter’s iconic image continues to grace the inside of every linen box that houses a handwoven Swans Island throw, wrap, scarf or baby blanket. It continues to capture the essence of Maine and of Swans Island Company — some sturdy vintage equipment, a hint of fog, a few sheep and a good dose of yankee ingenuity all rolled up into one incredible image. It continues to elicit joy and comments from all who see it. We often hear from our customers that they love our boxes as much as the products within and that is in no small part because they adore that image of the sheep in the boat. Almost thirty years later, we are still friends with Peter and his wife Terri. We can’t thank him enough.

Visit The Ralston Gallery

Peter and Terri have a wonderful gallery in downtown Rockport, Maine. We encourage you to visit there when you’re in the neighborhood. If you’re lucky enough to stop by on a day that Peter is in, he’s sure to grace you with more enchanting tales of how his award-winning images came into being. If you can’t make it to Rockport quite yet, we highly recommend that you to visit Peter online at Subscribe to his newsletter and your inbox will be greatly improved! It’s authentic and rich and full of well-penned wisdom and wit. Oh, and there are a few unbelievable photographs that you may like to purchase there as well.

Michele Orne
Swans Island Creative Director and Partner

Peter Ralston portrait

photo credits: Peter Ralston,  © Ralston Gallery / Peter Ralston 2022

23 Central Street
Rockport, Maine 04856
(207) 230-7225
SUMMER HOURS (June thru October): Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm or by appointment.
WINTER HOURS: Most days by chance, or appointment.