PUTNEY -- Simply put, the Putney Craft Tour embodies everything that’s good about Thanksgiving Weekend. And it’s the antidote to everything that isn’t.
The oldest such event in the nation, the 34th annual Putney Craft Tour runs this Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and features 28 artists, artisans and craftspeople in the village of Putney and scattered throughout the surrounding hills and dales, who welcome friends, neighbors and visitors from afar to their studios.
On a holiday weekend which evokes such powerful feelings -- of home and hearth; of families coming together to share a meal and make memories; of gratitude for the blessings we have, especially the people in our lives; of traditions preserved and evolving -- the Putney Craft Tour contains all of that. Its very nature is equal parts "We Gather Together" and "Over the River and Through the Woods."
"It’s a wonderful event. We always enjoy opening our studio to the public, and people really appreciate seeing a piece being made," said Nancy Gagnon of Brandywine Glassworks, the studio she shares with her husband Robert Burch, and always one of the most popular stops on the tour, drawing some 600-700 people over the weekend. "We get so much positive energy from the people. ... It’s just an exciting time."
And a busy time. All throughout Putney, artists and artisans are scurrying about, cleaning and setting up their studios as showrooms, finishing pieces, popping corn and preparing cider, stoking stoves and generally making ready to receive visitors.
"It is sort of like preparing a Thanksgiving dinner," said blacksmith and tour co-founder Ian Eddy. "A lot of time and effort is required."
So, the Putney Craft Tour feels a lot like how Thanksgiving is supposed to feel.
Sadly, for many, Thanksgiving Weekend has become synonymous with the retail feeding frenzy known cynically and sarcastically as Black Friday. Big box stores open at midnight, malls are packed to the gills, people even get trampled to death in their quest to beat others to the latest trendy toy or high-tech gadget imported from China.
The Putney Craft Tour is the antidote for all this. Presented with an array of works from blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters, jewelers, weavers, woodworkers, painters, artisan cheesemakers and more, tourgoers can enjoy "out of the Big Box" shopping in a weekend that will never have the word "black" attached to it. It is the ultimate localvore experience -- local goods, bought from the person who made them, right at the place where they are made.
"The essence is that when you see something that’s made by hand, it’s what separates it from something that you find in Wal-Mart that’s made by a machine. When you pick it up and look at it, there’s a spirit of the maker that’s involved," said Eddy.
"It makes it more personal. We’ve lost a lot of those values over the years. These things aren’t made in China. They’ve got heart and soul in them," said Carol Keiser, one of the founders of the tour and a presence on it nearly every year of its existence. "I think we started a trend. Now it seems like there are craft tours everywhere."
Maybe, but the Putney Craft Tour is the original and still has what it always did -- high-caliber, juried work in a variety of media, styles, genres and even flavors.
Still, there are changes every year -- new participants and new twists. This year is no exception.
A new feature this year is the welcome center at The Putney Inn, where visitors can stop to get maps, directions and to view the participating artists’ work, which will be on exhibit there. It’s something other tours do, and it gives tourgoers a chance to see the work of all the artists since it’s unlikely they’ll be able to visit all 28 studios.
Tour members suggested the welcome center to Randi Ziter, inkeeperess and longtime fan of the tour -- she jumped at the chance.
"I think it’s the opportunity to bring people together and celebrate a sense of community. There’s always been a great response ... but there’s never been an opportunity to bring spirits together," Ziter said. "I think it really exalts what Putney feels is one of its strengths and that is the depth of its creativity. This really brings it to the forefront."
Yes, the Putney Craft Tour is a showcase for its participating artists, but it also is a chance for Putney to put its best foot forward, to get on the maps of people who otherwise haven’t discovered Putney.
When tour member Liz Hawkes DeNiord went around to communities on the other side of the state and over the border in Massachusetts, she encountered an interesting question.
"People would say, ‘Where’s Putney?’" recounted DeNiord, who was happy to answer the question and make the case for people to come. "It’s a real town. It’s got ups and downs. The town really needs people to come. ... People love coming up here, and I think the craft tour is a highlight."
In addition to the new welcome center and new visitors to the town, this year’s tour also has some new faces. Metalworker and designer John Labine is gearing up for his first tour. He and his family just moved to the area 18 months ago from southern California, but Labine is no stranger to the area -- he attended The Putney School in the 1980s, where he studied blacksmithing with Eddy. After success with a custom design and fabrication business in California, Labine and his wife began to look for a better place to raise their two young children. Labine suggested Putney, and his wife responded "Fantastic!"
Now "living the dream" on a farm in Putney and selling food from the Taco Barn at the farmers’ market, Labine is pleased to join the tour.
"Being new to the area, I really wanted to gain a little bit of exposure and inroads to the artisans and artists in the community," he said.
Labine plans to show people how he does his work. "I’m planning on just having it like any other workday," he said.
A lot of the artists on the tour will be showing visitors not only what they make but how it’s done. At Brandywine Glassworks, Robert Burch is kind of like a rock star, as big crowds gather around him to watch him practice his pyrotechnic craft.
"I’d like to be able to watch some demos, too," said Eddy, echoing the frequent lament of artists on the tour whose only complaint is that they’re too busy welcoming visitors to go on the tour themselves.
The artists on the tour include:
* Ian and Jenny Eddy, Pleasant Valley Forge, Saxtons River, decorative and functional hand-wrought iron, 802-869-2828 or www.ianeddyblacksmith.com.
* Jeanne Bennett, Westminster West, handcrafted silver jewelry, 802-387-4274 or www.putneycrafts.com/bennett.
* Carlene Raper, Colorquilts, Westminster West, hand-dyed cotton fabrics, quilts, pillows, notecards, 802-387-8505, www.colorquilts.com
* Judy Hawkins, Westminster West, landscape painting, artist printed cards abd archival giclee prints, 802-387-4854 or www.judyhawkinspaintings.com.
* John Ewald & Peggy O’Toole, Tileworks of Westminster West, sculptured handmade tile, 802-387-6661 or www.putneycrafts.com/ewald.
* Nancy Calicchio, Nancy Calicchio Art, Westminster West, Vermont landscape paintings, 802-387-5784 or www.nancycalicchioart.com
* Zach Weinberg, Fire Circle Studios, Westminster West, metal artist, 802-387-5061 or www.firecirclestudio.com.
* David Major, Vermont Shepherd Cheese, Westminster, artisan cheese, 802-387-4473 or www.vermontshepherd.com.
* Noriko Isogai, Westminster, fine wood carving, 802-722-3487 or www.putneycrafts.com/Isogai.
* Josh Letourneau, Westminster, freestyle hand-blown glass, 802-732-8066 or www.putneycrafts.com/letourneau.
* Maggie Lake, Vermont Botanical, Putney, framed botanicals from preserved plant specimens and archival giclee prints, 802-376-5985 or www.vermontbotanical.com.
* John Labine, Define Design, Putney, custom design and fabrication studio, 802-536-5038 or www.definedesign.com.
* Liz Hawkes DeNiord, Putney, clay and paint, 603-209-7386 or www.lizhawkesdeniord.com.
* Carol Keiser, Art Tile Studio, Putney, painting on tiles and canvas, 802-387-5774 or www.carolkeiser.com.
* David Mischke, Hickory Ridge Pottery, Putney, decorated functional pottery, 802-387-4168 or www.davidmischke.com.
* Nathaniel Hall, Everyone’s Drumming, Putney, custom-made drums and percussion instruments, 802-387-2249 or www.everyonesdrumming.com.
* Ruth wplk, WPLK Sculpted, Putney, metalsmithing, custom jewelry, sculpture and education, 713-248-9670 or www.wplksculpted.com.
* Ken Pick, Ken Pick Pottery, Putney, colorful, functional pottery, stoneware sculpture and furniture, 802-387-5995 or www.putneycrafts.com/pick.
* Abijah Reed, Putney, woodworking, 802-387-2803 or www.abijahreed.com.
* Susan Wilson, Putney, functional pottery and ceramic sculpture, 802-536-4641 or www.putneycrafts.com/wilsons.
* Dena Gartenstein Moses, Dena Gartenstein’s Handwovens, Putney, handwoven tencel and rayon chenille wearables, 802-387-2656 or www.vermontweaver.com.
* Green Mountain Spinnery, Putney, natural fiber yarns and knitting patterns, 802-387-4528 or www.spinnery.com.
* Edel Byrne, Edel’s Art Glass, Putney, stained glass panels and candle holders, 802-387-2115 or www.edelbyrne.com.
* Robert Burch and Nancy Gagnon, Brandywine Glassworks, Putney, hand-blown glass, 802-387-4032 or www.robertburchglass.com.
* Caitlin Burch, Putney, lampwork jewelry and handblown glass, 802-722-4568 or www.caitlinburch.com.
* Cathy McKenny, Ibiwisi Alpacas, Westminster, Alpaca farm yarns and products, 802-722-3116 or www.ibiwisialpacas.com.
* Julia Brandis, Julia Brandis Glassworks, Westminster, stained glass panels and lamps, 802-722-4585 or www.putneycrafts.com/jbrandis.
For more information, visit putneycrafts.com.