WEST BRATTLEBORO -- Place and process, work and wonder, art and life are fused so seamlessly at Walter Slowinski’s homesite on Orchard Street that you would think all of these elements had been thrown together in his wood-fired kiln, heated to 2,400 degrees and taken out as one beautiful organic thing.
But that only happens to Slowinski’s pots, which he fires in his wood-fueled kiln, letting the burning wood deposit ash on the pottery affecting the glaze and color. Slowinski trusts this process to finish the work he started with his hands, and sometimes he adds a found-wood handle to his teapots, further enhancing the happy nexus of the intentional and organic.
To top it all off, a visit to Slowinski’s studio a few weeks ago came with a peach plucked from a tree in his orchard and split open right then and there for eating ... delicious. The generosity extends to a CD, "Front Porch Swing," which he just made with his pal, guitarist Bill Conley and given out for a listen.
With Slowinski on clarinet, the two swing amiably through standards like "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Ain’t She Sweet." Recorded on home equipment and captured with the same friendly organic feel of everything else at the Orchard Street site.
That experience, multiplied 14 times and extended to equally evocative locations up the hills and country roads of West Brattleboro and Marlboro, is what awaits visitors to the fifth annual Brattleboro-West Arts Open Studio Tour, which takes place this weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, 20 artists and craftspeople will show their work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., each day at 14 locations, Visitors will have the chance to view, buy and learn about a diverse selection of art and craft items, including blown glass, pottery, metalwork, paintings, sculpture, woven baskets, woodworking and jewelry. Some participating artists also will give demonstrations of their techniques.
"It’s such an incredible opportunity to see somebody’s working environment, to see their tools, their space. ... It brings you a much deeper appreciation of what goes into making something," said potter Naomi Lindenfeld. "It’s a nice mixture of neighbors and people that I know and people I’ve never met before. ...It’s kind of this surprise. You never know who’s going to walk through your door."
The Open Studio Tour is a time for some of the artists to sell their work but more than that, it’s a chance for the artists to show off what they make and where they make it, a chance to teach people a little bit about what goes into making something by hand.
Glass artist Josh Bernbaum, who will demonstrating his work, with his wife and fellow glass artist Marta, at their studio on Hescock Road, said he has already noticed a shift in people’s understanding and appreciation of hand-made artisan objects.
"More and more I’m getting questions about my techniques and processes. More and more people are having an understanding of technical skills," Bernbaum said. "A mass-produced thing at a big store buyers don’t think about. It’s directly opposite to what happens in our studio. To see that everything is made from scratch, by hand, encourages folks to think about it."
This year’s Open Studio Tour has a theme of wood, chosen because that’s the traditional gift of fifth anniversaries. It’s also chosen because wood runs through so many of the BWA artists’ work, whether as source of inspiration, subject matter or material.
Woodworkers David and Michelle Holzapfel of Applewoods studio in Marlboro create furniture or sculptures using trees with a storied past -- ones that exhibit irregular dogleg growth patterns, swollen burls caused by a virus in the wood, or spalted grain that is streaked dark by mineral deposits and bacterial intrusion.
Slowinski and fellow potters Malcolm Wright and Matthew Tell make their work in wood-fired kilns. Silversmith Chris Lann of West Brattleboro incorporates sterling silver replicas of local twigs and leaves in a line of jewelry. Marta Bernbaum creates glass beads and sculptures that are a tribute to the resilience of trees that often thrive in harsh environments. And Lindenfeld has been influenced by the trees and leaves she sees out her window.
"It’s interesting to see all the many ways all of us connect with wood," she said.
The artists and craftspeople of Brattleboro-West Arts first connected with each other in 2009. Their numbers have expanded, and they conduct monthly meetings which blend the sociability of a potluck dinner with discussion of topics related to life as a working artist. It has helped stitch a group of artists working separately into a collective group and connect them with their neighbors.
"I’ve always felt that between the West Brattleboro Association and Brattleboro-West Arts it’s really helped to create more of a sense of community in this area," said Lindenfeld.
And that includes you. A map of the self-guided tour is in brochures available at any stop on the tour, as well as in various businesses in Brattleboro and surrounding towns. The brochure is available at www.brattleboro-west-arts.com. Also on the website, get a preview of the tour’s offerings, past and present, in BWA’s new video, "Things Made with Wakened Hands," which was produced by Rolf Parker-Houghton of Stanzas of Light.
The stops on the tour (in the order they are listed on the map) include:
* Potter Walter Slowinski, 658 Orchard St., West Brattleboro.
* Potter Naomi Lindenfeld, 330 Meadowbrook Road, West Brattleboro.
* Photographer Gene Parulis at the Mahalo Art Center, 972 Western Ave., West Brattleboro.
* Painter and metalworker Ron Karpius, 259 Greenleaf St., West Brattleboro.
* Painter Janet Picard, 495 Marlboro Road, (Route 9), West Brattleboro.
* Architect and painter Stephen Lloyd and basket maker Jackie Abrams, 362 Sunset Lake Road, West Brattleboro.
* Silversmith Chris Lann, 1420 Sunset Lake Road, West Brattleboro.
* Glass artists Josh and Marta Bernbaum, 119 Hescock Road, West Brattleboro.
* Potter Matt Tell, 163 Potters Hill Road, Marlboro.
* Painters Petria Mitchell and Jim Giddings and author/chef Susie Crowther, 447 Stark Road, Marlboro.
* Potter and sculptor Malcolm Wright, 88-90 Turnpike Road, Marlboro.
* Painter Charles Townsend, 1854 Ames Hill Road, Marlboro.
* Multimedia artists Tim Segar and Cathy Osman, 2604 Ames Hill Road, Marlboro.
* Woodworkers David and Michelle Holzapfel at their Applewoods Studio, 2802 Molly Stark Byway (Route 9), Marlboro.
In conjunction with the tour, the Chelsea Royal Diner will host a Localvore dinner buffet on Saturday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. In addition to sampling a selection of locally produced foods, the public will have a chance to share a meal with BWA members and the community at large.
Visitors to any tour stop can enter a drawing to win one of two prizes made by participating artists. Josh Bernbaum donated a pair of his blown glass ornaments, valued at $45 each, and Jackie Abrams is offering a woven vessel titled "A Woman of Many Cultures," valued at $650. The prizes will be on display at their respective sites during the tour.