Archipelago Artist Spotlight: Dylan Metrano, La Nef Chocolate

Handmade with HE{ART}

Archipelago Staff
Posted 2024-04-26

In May of 2023, while installing our spring gallery show, Birds and Blooms, I discovered Dylan Metrano’s remarkable paper cutting work and learned of his role as co-founder of La Nef Chocolate. This popular and beloved Maine-made chocolate brand is aligned with Archipelago and Island Institute’s mission of supporting local artists and building community. Through La Nef, Dylan champions Maine’s art community by collaborating with visual artists to create package designs. Intrigued by Dylan’s entrepreneurial journey which has been supported by multiple Island Institute business development grants, I had to know more about his creative path and the origins of La Nef. Dylan welcomed an interview and showed me his home studio and the La Nef kitchen in Bath, Maine. 

Dylan Metrano in his home studio in Bath, Maine

In his studio, amid adorable cats, Dylan shared his artistic evolution—beginning with discovering paper cutting in the ’90s, inspired by artists Jad Fair and Nikki McClure. His style evolved over the subsequent years, and he began creating band posters, reflecting his dual love of music and art. Dylan regularly creates work for Tiger Saw, the indie rock band he founded in 1990. 

“I’ve always loved music” he said, “and this is a way to connect to that. The opportunity to do anything [music related] is exciting.”  

Dylan summered on Monhegan throughout his childhood and moved to the island in 2007 for seasonal work, returning for the next 13 years. He met his now wife, Mandy, an artist and island resident at the time, and continued to hone his unique style as an artist. After a successful exhibit in Lupine Gallery, his artistic career began to lift off. Seeking year-round work, Dylan and Mandy drew inspiration from local businesses like Monhegan Brewery and Monhegan Coffee Roasters.

“Inspired by beer and coffee we were thinking, what is something you could do year-round that would appeal to the tourists,’’ he explained, “And we came up with the idea for chocolate, everybody loves chocolate!” 

They took classes, found mentors, invested some money, and took a leap of faith. Drawing inspiration from Monhegan’s original name, Isle La Nef, they started La Nef Chocolate, and began selling their chocolate bars to shops on the island and at a few locations on the mainland, including Archipelago. Since moving to the mainland in Bath they have been able to expand their wholesale business and chocolate making is now Dylan’s full-time job. 

Dylan still makes time for his art. Birds are a favorite focus and the subject of the demo he gave me. “It’s not too fast [a process],” he said with a chuckle as he nimbly cut away the unwanted pieces. I watched mesmerized as he laid in first the bright yellow followed by a darker yellow, gray, and various whites until suddenly there was a 3-inch paper bird matching the one on his laptop screen.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” he explained, “the time just flies by. It’s fun to see it come to life.”  

After the demo, he gave me a tour of their garage-turned-chocolate-factory, where his worlds come together. Dylan matched two of his bird labels with their corresponding prints. As I perused the shelf of chocolate boxes displaying the artwork from artists across the state, I reflected on how Dylan has been able to combine his passion and talent for art (and for music – check out La Nef’s recent Download Bars series) with his day job as a chocolate maker.  

He participates in gallery shows and works on commissioned projects even as his chocolate brand grows. It is a good reminder for all of us creative people, who sometimes struggle to find time for creative outlets, that it is important to make space for the things that fulfill us and bring us joy. 

May we all be so lucky that we can combine a creative practice or hobby with our day job! Dylan sent me on my way with a small paper bag full of leftover chocolate bits and pieces. By the time I made it back to Rockland, my heart was feeling very inspired, and my stomach was feeling very full of chocolate.  

Shop La Nef Chocolate at Archipelago!

A treasure box full of Dylan’s past works ranging from his recognizable birds to portraits and more. 

About Archipelago

Archipelago, the Island Institute’s store and gallery, showcases Maine artists and makers whose work reflects the beauty and endurance of Maine’s islands and coast. A key element of the Institute’s small business program, Archipelago has provided over $5 million in income to artists and makers and advanced the careers of more than 1,500 Maine residents since opening in 2000. In addition, Archipelago staff spend over 400 hours a year mentoring artists to help increase their skills and knowledge for running arts-based small businesses. Learn more here.