WEST BRATTLEBORO >> Windham County is so awash with artists and craftspeople that some people think there are more artists living in the woods than deer.
And on special occasions, residents and visitors alike are invited to visit some of these artists' studios and buy the beautiful objects — art glass, ceramics, furniture, wood carving, oil paintings and jewelry — that are made there. The first two weekends in October will be such a time. Three tours have collided and the art-buying public is much the better for it.
Brattleboro-West Arts — the group of approximately three dozen artists who live west of Interstate I-91 in Brattleboro — is joining this year with the state-wide Vermont Crafts Council for a studio tour on Columbus Day weekend. Coincidentally, this is also the national American Crafts Week.
The foliage should be on fire and art patrons are invited to drive around in the blaze and visit 14 artists from 11 studios and one gallery. All the studios will be open the first weekend in October. Half will be open for the second weekend as well. Check the listings below for which is which.
"It's the height of the foliage season, so it's a lovely time to drive around," said Naomi Lindenfeld. who has been a professional potter for 34 years.
"In general, there's something wonderful about being invited into someone's studio. All of them are easily accessible to people who come from points south. They are not spread out. A number of the studios will offer demonstrations of the work, and you can see work that's not available in other venues that are part of the creative process."
Visitors can start the self-guided tour by following the yellow signs posted at Exit 2 of Interstate 91 in Brattleboro. A map that includes all the participating Brattleboro area artists is available at any stop on the tour, or you can download a copy to your device at brattleboro-west-arts.com/VCCmap.pdf. For a complete list of tour stops statewide, visit vermontcrafts.com or pick up a guidebook at participating sites.
The artists look forward to the tours as much as the patrons do.
"It's stimulating to meet so many people who want to see what goes into the creative process," says fine furniture maker Jason Breen. "I invite people to touch and smell the wood — something you can't do on the web. Visitors get to engage with the art form with all of their senses. Really, the weekend is about inviting the public to forge a live connection with craft and craftspeople."
Brattleboro-West is joining forces with the Vermont Crafts Council because one tour is better than two, Lindenfeld said.
"It used to be some that people would do Brattleboro-West Arts and the state-wide one," Lindenfeld said. "The number of artists and patrons was growing, and we felt the need to put a limit on it, geographically."
However, one can never have too much art or too many artists, Lindenfeld said.
"How many in this area, who have the good fortune of having houses filled with wonderful art already, wonder how to make space for more?" she said. "Well, there are a number of us on the tour who make functional art. These are handmade objects that are intended for use can replace mass-produced objects that don't have much meaning with something of lasting quality that can bring much pleasure to their users on a daily basis. Meeting the person who made it, understanding how it was made and seeing the environment in which it is made can add a lot to the experience of living with those pieces."
There are other reasons to buy, as well.
"These pieces make nice gifts," she said. "If you don't have room, you can pass along things you've lived with for a long time and live with new things. Some people buy for gifting and re-gifting and to donate to charity auctions for fundraising. Everything has a story. It's not just an object. There are emotions attached to it. We hope to bring more people to the area who aren't as abundant in art as this area is. We also want to attract young people who are creating homes for themselves and decorating for the first time."
Participating studios will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, offering the public a chance to meet the artists, view the environments in which their art is created, see demonstrations of their processes and purchase finished works.
A few highlights:
— Josh Bernbaum of the JMB Glass studio will be offering a new selection of his popular "Mezza Filigrana" handmade drinking glasses, in addition to many other unique and not previously seen blown glass pieces. Furnace glass blowing demonstrations will be offered Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, as will demonstrations by Marta Bernbaum, who (time permitting) will offer guests the chance to make their own glass bead in her upstairs flameworking space.
— Also at JMB Glass, Jen Wiechers of Laughing Lizard Studio will show her encaustic paintings as well as her sterling silver, gemstone and Swarovski crystal jewelry. Wiechers describes encaustics as a collage-like ensemble of texture, color and form, embedded and revealed by layering beeswax, dammar resin, oil pigment and various found objects. She says she considers a painting finished only when she feels it reflects parts of herself: "I'd like to think that the incredible joy I feel when creating the paintings is captured in each of them."
— Fulcrum Arts will offer make-your-own glass and ceramics drop-in sessions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2. There is a $40 fee for each glass piece, and the fees for clay carving start at $25. Reservations are recommended but not mandatory. Email email@example.com for details.
— Naomi Lindenfeld will demonstrate her innovative technique of creating layers of colored clay and then rolling, pinching or throwing the clay prepared in this way. Much of her recent work is inspired by her mother's textiles and designs that Lindenfeld has infused into her clay work, creating pieces that are made to be used but also have a sculptural quality to them. In addition to the finished work available in her studio, she will offer discounted seconds and clearance pieces that result from the experimentation that occurs during her design phase.
— Painter Charles Townsend will show his oil paintings, pastels and monotypes, including landscapes of Vermont, the East Coast and France.
— Lesley Heathcote's current work focuses on animals, birds and landscapes of Vermont. Her medium is pastel which allows her to combine painterly layering of color along with detailed drawing. Working from reference photographs that she takes while hiking and exploring Vermont's natural world, she combines accurate rendering with deep feeling for the natural world. Colors are heightened, light and composition adjusted, to reveal a poetic vision. The work conveys the beauty and sense of wonder she feels for nature and the animal kingdom.
— Potter Walter Slowinsky makes teapots, bowls, pitchers, mugs, tea bowls and other functional forms using a process that has its historical roots in the ancient traditions of Japan. He built his wood-fired kiln himself. The ash from the wood fire slowly accumulates on the pots inside the kiln and then melts once the kiln is hot enough. In this way, the fire actually paints, or glazes the pot. The resulting surface is varied, subtle and organic.
Here is the complete lineup of tour stops in the Brattleboro area, listed in order of their site numbers on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2. Note: Sites with two numbers are participating in both weekends, with the second number indicating the site number for Oct. 8-9. The studios marked with * are those of Brattleboro-West Arts members:
*29/28 - Applewoods Woodworking Studio and Gallery: David and Michelle Holzapfel: 2802 Rt. 9, Marlboro
*30 - Matthew Tell Pottery: Woodfired pottery: 163 Potter's Hill Road, Marlboro
*31 - JMB Glass: Blown and flameworked glass by Josh and Marta Bernbaum: 119 Hescock Road, Brattleboro
*32 - Laughing Lizard Studio : Encaustic painting and jewelry by Jen Wiechers: showing at JMB Glass, 119 Hescock Road, Brattleboro
*33/29 - Charles Townsend: Landscape painting: 1854 Ames Hill Road, Marlboro
*34/30 - Jason Breen Fine and Custom Woodworking: 1197 Bonnyvale Road, Brattleboro
35 - Zak Grace Glass: Hand-formed and blown glassware and art: 446 Williams St, Brattleboro
36 - Lesley Heathcote: Pastels of animals, birds, and landscapes. 32 Larkin St, Brattleboro
37/32 - Vermont Artisan Designs: Gallery and tour information center: 106 Main St., Brattleboro
*38/33 - Orchard Street Pottery: Woodfired pottery by Walter Slowinski: 658 Orchard St., Brattleboro
*39 - Naomi Lindenfeld: Colored clay pottery: 330 Meadowbrook Road, Brattleboro
40/34 - Fulcrum Arts: Natalie Blake's ceramics and Randi Solin's glass: 485 West River Road, Brattleboro
For details about Brattleboro-West Arts, including profiles of member artists and information about this and other events, visit brattleboro-west-arts.com.
Visit americancraftweek.com for more information about coordinated arts events taking place Oct. 1 through 16 nationwide.