PUTNEY — With an extraordinary collection of artisan talent, the Putney Craft Tour stands out among art excursions, and this year’s 43rd annual open studio tour on Thanksgiving Weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — is no different. While last year’s tour was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s artisans are looking forward to welcoming visitors into their studios again, while keeping safety at the forefront. Tour-goers will be asked to remain masked at all times.
Some artisans will have displays or tents outside in addition to welcoming folks into their studios. Potter Ken Pick, one of the founders of the tour, says that his fallback plan is to put up a tent or display that he can use as a way to minimize time indoors. This way, people who are uncomfortable coming inside can still interact with his functional and sculptural pottery.
On the tour this year are 19 artists, including glass blowers, potters, jewelers, weavers, painters — even artisan cheese- and winemakers. This includes two new artisans — Susan Jarvis and Clare Adams.
Jarvis says she transforms the histories and stories of objects, people and places into beautiful, complex paintings, sculptures and custom mosaic tilework. She will have ceramic tiles, sculptures, holiday ornaments and oil paintings for sale at Overhills Studio on the first floor of historic Overhills in Putney (stop 9 on the tour).
Visual artist Clare Adams says the way light and color change with the daylight and the seasons is essential to her art. Adams will be a guest artist exhibiting at the Putney Mountain Winery, stop 1, which in addition to wine tasting, also features a preview exhibit of all of the artisans’ work, along with maps and brochures.
As the oldest continuing craft tour in the country, what is the secret to its success?
“Connections are what it’s all about both for the artists and the people who visit their studios,” Pick says.
Visitors and locals move through the studios over the course of three days and engage with the artists. People say it’s more interesting and exciting to see something in a studio where it was created and to speak to the artist who made it.
Silver jeweler Jeanne Bennett, who has been on the tour for many years, appreciates the feedback she gets. “It’s nice to get the work out in public. I’m up in the woods and I love hearing everyone’s feedback.” Bennett, like most of the artists, has repeat customers that come back “to see what’s new and add to their collection.”
More than anything, the tour is great entertainment. Driving the back roads and finding the studios is an adventure in itself, although the studios are well-marked and maps provide clear directions.
Erica Noyes from Boston says, “I have been coming on the tour since I was in high school. (I graduated in 1994.) I grew up in Maine, but have family in Vermont, so that is how I started attending. I went to Bennington College, so it was easy for me to do the tour those years. I live in Boston now, but try to make it up every year with my husband. I tell everyone that it is the best event of the year!”
Putney also reflects the power of the creative economy. “It’s not just the crafts studios who benefit, but area B&Bs, stores, restaurants and retailers.” Pick says. “Local shop owners say it’s their biggest weekend because of the tour.”
And, Pick suggests, it’s worth making a weekend out of it. “Make it an experience. Enjoy the rural environment and take the tour in a leisurely fashion. You can’t do it all in one day. Spend at least a couple of days and enjoy the rich community of artists.”
In fact, for the last eight years, the tour has partnered with other cultural entities in Putney including Sandglass Theater and Next Stage Arts to put on special performances at night. This year, Putney’s Next Stage will present “Zoo Story,” Edward Albee’s one-act masterpiece that first catapulted him onto the world drama scene, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Starring John Hadden and David Stern and directed by Sandy Klein, the show portrays an isolated young man desperate to interact with other people. More information is available at nextstagearts.org.
Sandglass Theater’s offering, “A Rafter of Crankies,” will feature Sandglass co-founders Ines Zeller Bass and Eric Bass, as well as local crankie creators Brendan Taaffe and Anna Patton. Performances will be held at Green Mountain Orchard, on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5 & 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available online until Friday at noon, and if not sold out, will be available at the door (cash or check only). Visit sandglasstheater.org for more information.
Landscape painter Judy Hawkins thrives on the excitement generated by visitors to her studio in Westminster West, just outside Putney. “It’s been wonderful for me. It’s partly about sales — sales are good — but it’s wonderful to have that interaction with people. It’s opened up a part of me that has become part of my (creative) process. It’s helped me grow as an artist. It’s about the conversation; I explain what I’m doing; why I paint the way I do.”
And while there are other art and craft tours, she said, “This is different. There’s a magic that happens here. There’s a little bit of fairy dust that makes the magic happen.”
Lead sponsors include Hidden Springs Maple, Putney Diner and the Putney Food Co-op. For a complete list and background of artisans on the tour including images of their work, and any updates regarding COVID as it relates to the studios, please go to: putneycrafts.com