PUTNEY — It's official. The State of Vermont Executive Department issued a proclamation stating Nov. 23 to 25 is Putney Craft Tour Weekend in Vermont. The Putney Craft Tour, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018, is the oldest continuing crafts studio tour in North America. The proclamation, signed by Governor Scott, was presented to four of the six founding artists, Judy Hawkins, Bob Burch, David Mischke, and Ken Pick by Representative Mike Mrowicki, Windham-4 (D) in an informal gathering at Pick's studio.
Mrowicki, said, "This is a grassroots event that makes this area special. These talented people keep that quality of life that is what keeps us here."
Timed to coincide with Thanksgiving weekend, this annual event attracts thousands of visitors from the area and out-of-state, many of whom return year after year to purchase unique gifts, add to a collection by a favorite artist, or take in educational demonstrations. These visitors make connections with the artists, crafters, and artisans and their work in a way that they can't by purchasing items in a shop or gallery.
Named a Top Ten Vermont Winter Event by Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the tour had humble beginnings in 1978 in Margot Torrey's dining room when Torrey, a woodcut artist, and blacksmith Ian Eddy, and painter Hawkins, and glass blower Burch, and potters Mischke and Pick organized the first Putney Artisans Festival. By its fourth year, the tour included 16 artisans working in 13 studios. Forty years and few name changes later, 25 working studios are on the tour that still leads as the model by which other art communities base its tours.
For 2018, studios include photography, winemaking, steampunk, a creamery, weaving, stained glass, glassblowing, pottery, jewelry, painting, cheese making, and others that will be participating, in addition to special guest Cold River Furniture, for an adventure traversing back roads in search of the well-marked studios in and around Putney, with the help of maps providing clear directions.
For patriarch glassblower Bob Burch of Brandywine Glassworks, the tour has become a family affair. Imparting his passion for the arts, his daughter/glassblower Caitlin Burch and son/ceramic artist Ryan Burch have chosen a path similar to their father's and also participate in the tour.
Bob is a self-taught glassblower, an art he fell in love with after investigating a cabin he spotted emitting a strange glow. He witnessed a guy spinning glass out and in, mesmerized as molten glass undulated like a stingray gracefully moving through water. He was hooked.
Today his studio is filled with brilliantly colorful perfume bottles, paperweights, hearts, vases, and sculptural pieces.
Participating in the tour since its inception, Bob said the tour has always been a more intimate and personal way to connect with customers and collectors, still is, but with a lot more people. In the studio, you can feel the heat, smell the honey of the beeswax that coats the tweezer used to turn and shape the pliable molten glass with the aid of gravity.
"It's really nice for a customer to see where something comes from, and as an artist, we can have an impact on your life. The best part," he said, "is seeing the kids get excited, and people can take something home, a nice time to shop for Christmas. They get double joy. First buying it, then the joy of giving it."
He does demonstrations every 15 minutes and accepts requests for items.
And, he inspires people with his mantra to do what you love.
Aggie Baker wrote, "My youngest son Shawn became very interested in glass making. A colleague at work mentioned glassblowers on the Putney Tour and we packed the family in the car and headed up the day after Thanksgiving 15 years ago. We visited Bob Burch's studio and Shawn was hooked. He went on to study glassmaking at Alfred's School of Art & Design and we have returned to the Putney Craft Tour nearly every year since then."
Always experimenting, Bob has been working with new colors. For the tour, he has been making beautiful cobalt blue and purple lampshades with a crescent moon and stars that let the light escape.
There will be hot cider and vanilla wafers, and maybe a bonfire if the weather cooperates.
Ceramic artist Ryan Burch
Ryan Burch has been blowing glass in his dad's studio for as long as he can remember, it has always been a part of his life. His dad instilled in him that art was something that should be appreciated, valuing the handmade. While a student at Brattleboro Union High School he discovered the joy of working with mud, drawn to the tactility of clay. It was something that he could touch, unlike molten glass. He followed his passion and went on to earn a BFA with a concentration in ceramics at Alfred University, School of Art & Design in Alfred, N.Y.
Today he teaches ceramics at Vermont Academy, creating functional ceramics geared toward food and drink at his studio on the campus. For the most part, his work is thrown on a wheel, from rich clay for pieces earth tone in color. In the Putney Craft Tour he plans to include work in slab building, a practice of folding and bending into three dimensions, working with surface then stamping, adding glaze and texture.
Ryan said, "Ceramics gives me the most satisfaction. Hard to say one thing, but the fact that I can envision in my mind and create and introduce it into someone's life, a person's life have an influence on their life that brings them joy. It is a connection between me as a maker and someone as a user."
He will set up a showroom in his parent's dining room, next door to his dad's Brandywine Studio.
Caitlin Burch Glassworks
For Caitlin Burch, glassblowing was always there, always accessible. She picked up her dad's passion for the art, and today they often participate in craft shows side-by-side.
Working professionally since 2002, primarily with jewelry, and also pieces for the home, her techniques include offhand glassblowing like her dad and lampworking.
As a second generation glassblower, she learned a lot from her father, but she is also self-taught.
Her lampworking work is done in her new studio in Putney, not too far from Brandywine Glassworks. In this technique she uses borosilicate glass, similar to pyrex, that requires different manipulation than that of the offhand technique, melting glass over a stationary torch rather than in a furnace.
It opened up a whole world of colors for her, for which she has become known, describing her work as "painting colors with flame." But she still heads to her dad's studio when she wants to practice offhand glassblowing.
Dad said, "When she got serious about the business, she already had years of experience so she was really good."
"It is delicate work, but it's wonderful, it's my meditation," Caitlin said. "I feel so fortunate to have this livelihood. Like a child, it is always there. I'm always excited about new ideas, it is part of my family's life. We do it because we love it."
Bob Burch added, "It feels wonderful to have inspired my children. They are both very good at what they do. I steal her (Caitlin's) ideas," he confided.
Potter David Mischke
David Mischke hosted open houses at his pottery studio back in 1974 to 1977, before the Putney Craft Tour existed. Sending out 500 invitations to his friends and customers. He served cookies and punch (with vodka) on the big day. Prior to the advent of studio tours, Mischke said, artists tended to keep to themselves in the tradition of European Craft Guilds, with the mindset that artists were in competition with one another and didn't want others to see what they were doing. But Mischke's open studios gave the founding artists and idea as they brainstormed how to raise support for their livelihoods.
The first tours were done in September until Mischke noticed the number of out-of-state cars on the road during Thanksgiving weekend and saw the potential, suggesting the group change the dates. The tour blew up after that in volume and in money.
Mischke built a larger studio to accommodate the larger crowds that now numbers 500 to 700 people each day to see and buy his functional stoneware pottery, distinguished by beige/brown exteriors and bright blue Chung glaze interiors, noting that he earns more money from the tour than he does from the lucrative League of N.H. Craftsmen Fair held in Sunapee, N.H., and, he doesn't have to pack everything up. The added benefit of the craft tour is that it opens up sales for the whole year.
Mischke's pottery is unique, drawing from his art background and the decorations are getting more intricate these days. He selects people with drawing skills to work for him and trains them on in a process he learned using wax and etching that keeps the colors in place. In preparation for the tour, he and his assistant Kat O'Brien are using that process on plates mugs and lamps and shades, with a birch tree design, something he discovered is quite popular.
But the best thing about the tour he said, is the relationship developed with people who keep coming back. A studio tour is more personal than a craft show, it is more personal. And, it is lovely to be able to take home handcrafted items.
Ken Pick Pottery
Pick got his start in pottery at Antioch-Putney School. In 1968 he was majoring in pre-med when he observed a friend taking pottery. Pick said, "I gotta try it," and got his hands in the clay. "It just resonated with me. My interest in art was waiting to manifest.," he said. He went on to get a ceramics degree and took workshops and set up his studio in an old tobacco barn. He said it felt like a return to the sandbox.
In the early days, there was so much to learn, he worked on simple pots. He is now known for his high-fired colorful ceramic sculptures, often large. To hold his extremely large sculptures in place, he invented what he calls a platter flip in order to flip them over to work on before firing them in his hand-built kiln. Today, he enjoys the satisfaction of a job well done.
When he and his fellow Putney artists began meeting for a tour, there was a certain amount of resistance to working collaboratively rather than alone.
One-time member Ian Eddy said it "It's like herding cats."
They modeled the open houses after Mischke's open house and took ideas from existing craft fairs and events like the League of N.H. Craftsmen Fair and Asparagus Valley. Pick said, "I was aware of studio tour Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail that suspended the tour for a time, giving the Putney tour the distinction of being the longest running craft tour." Now organizations come to the Putney Craft Tour group for advice.
"It's amazing to me that this is still vital in our town after 40 years," Pick said. "We have had to evolve with the marketplace. Now there is more competition, we can't take it for granted."
He added, "It's nice to see the tour include performance and restaurant as a community event," referring to the Gleanery Restaurant and Sandglass Theater's involvement in the weekend events. "It gives it a larger connection to the community."
Judy Hawkins knew she wanted to be a painter at the early age of 13. In the early days of the tour that she helped organize, she showed her one-of-a-kind, hand-woven, and hand-dyed silk paintings, but suspended her participation after a few years as it didn't fit into her life with demands of children, recently married, and teaching special education at several area schools left her little time to prepare. She did, however, maintain her passion for painting.
In the early '90s, she switched to oil painting and opaque gouache watercolor, sparked by a class at River Gallery School with Rick Campman.
"It was one of the most liberating experience. He had a way that helped you lose your self-consciousness. A big thing for me. I can now do it on my own," Hawkins said. "The process of weaving and dying wasn't immediate enough whereas with painting you could dive right in. Painting suits who I am a little more."
Her playful paintings of the natural world make magnificent use of color and composition, reflecting her constant observation of the subtleties in the landscape. Her spontaneous approach to painting is unique. It is not planned, instead, she plunges right in, painting those subtleties of trees, skies, and water, that she kept stored in her mind, relying on her intuitive sense of what is working and what is not. She often works on two or three paintings at a time. If one is not working the way she likes, she doesn't push it, experience has taught her the solution will come at another time, but because she still wants to paint she moves onto another one.
She was an active member of the Windham Art Gallery, a hot spot in Brattleboro in an artistically rich community that closed in 2009. She reminisced about the exciting shows held there.
As the children grew up, she brought up the subject of rejoining the tour. Her work now was considered fine art rather than a craft, so there were long discussions if fine art qualified to be in a craft tour. She was invited to be a guest artist that year, then invited to join full time after skipping a year, and the tour began to re-brand itself as an arts and crafts tours that have included many painters and artisans over the years since.
"I work for me, my painting style is changed since I can't stand now. I found that in sitting my work is getting tighter, and smaller brushes, trying to find a way to express what I want more intellectually, planning and internal dialogue. It is adventuresome. If I'm not learning something every time I put brush into paint and paint onto canvas, I don't feel like I'm growing."
Printed cards of her paintings are for sale as well as her paintings.
Cold River Furniture
This year's special guests are furniture maker Peter Maynard and multi-media artist Marcie Maynard. Peter is a modern furniture maker well versed in traditional construction techniques and methods, designing and crafting custom furniture from fine hardwoods. He has been named one of five of the country's best furniture makers, and he recently won "Best in Living with Craft" at the annual League of N.H. Craftsmen, the oldest and largest craft show in the country. His custom work is found in high-end homes like Park Avenue, and in the Metropolitan Museum.
The first 30 years of his career he could be found in his woodworking shop creating his interpretations of classic fine furniture, high-quality, and custom-made for designers and collectors, a skill he learned in an apprentice shop for high-end furniture.
For the last 20 years, he has been doing more in creating his own style, an interpretation of arts and crafts, a mission-like style that is not so angular, with more interesting and curved lines, and decor of his own design. His accent work is done by hand. He doesn't use a router, with rare exceptions, putting the human hand to his work to distinguish it from manufactured pieces.
His beds, sofas, bureaus, tables, and chairs range in styles from art nuevo to classic fine. He does commission work in whatever style a customer requests.
He and his wife Marcie, who manages the business end of things, live in South Acworth, N.H., in the vicinity of the Cold River, hence the name for the business. They maintain a showroom on Westminster Street in Bellows Falls that houses a variety of styles of his finished pieces. Peter said they rarely sell any of the furniture in the showroom there, but instead it is the source of inspiration for customers seeking custom-made furniture.
The furniture displayed in Bellows Falls give examples of the high degree of detail and expertise in Peter's work. The room is full of beautiful examples of intricate carvings, inlays, veneer work, and complex joinery, and pieces such as ladder-back chairs that marry classic style with modern arts and crafts, revealing beautiful grains in oak and birds-eye maple. Peter's furniture is built to be passed down from generation to generation.
One striking piece that should not be missed is his Chinese Lattice Table that he crafted over 30 years ago. Made of rosewood that is no longer available, it is trimmed with intricate joint work consisting of 280 pieces. Although he has never sold that one, it garnered him a commission job at the Metropolitan Museum 30 years ago, and another commission job 15 years later.
Lately, Peter has been inspired by the iconic Bauhaus design, currently building a custom credenza designed with a Bauhaus influence, made of zera cote wood that his customer found at a lumber yard.
A visit to coldriverfurniture.com shows his three lines of furniture, the Cold River Collection, based on the principles of the arts and crafts movement; Classic Fine Furniture that displays Peter's technical expertise in traditional woodworking techniques; and the Gallery Collection, contemporary pieces, all Peter's designs.
"We are excited to part of a community of craftsmen and artists. We have a location in the Putney Community Cares on Kimball Hill Road (next to Noyse House)," Marcie said.
When Marcie is not managing the books for Cold River Furniture she may be found working on her paintings in oil, pastels or on her monotypes, many plein air, representing what is going on in front of her, from dramatic skies to the winding Connecticut River.
Marcie majored in art at Umass Amherst where she learned printmaking, drawing, painting, and sculpture. She has shown her work in a number of galleries and had a gallery in downtown Bellows Falls at one point before 911 took its toll on art galleries.
A look around the art-lined walls of the showroom she shares with Peter, the styles fluctuate from abstract to tonalism, some from her imagination, most are landscape inspired, and a few still lifes.
Peter said, "They all have a sense of place, they invite you in."
She said she likes to be exploratory, especially when working in monotypes.
"I like that working on a plate, it opens you up to the freedom to be more exploratory than on canvas. The image is reversed, so results are not always what was intended, so there's a sense of excitement and surprise. The indirectness of it is experimental and so exciting," Marcie said.
Lately, she has been branching out with abstracts, some of which were the featured in the October art show at The Restaurant at Burdicks in Walpole, N.H.
While they have participated in numerous shows for Peter's work, this is sort of a coming out for Marcie.
After approaching the Putney group several times before and finally being accepted, she said, "I'm really excited about it. I've been painting since I was a child. And I'm looking forward to people learning about what Peter does and the exposure. It is unusual what he does, no others seem to know traditional technique. He is one of a kind."
Marcie will be selling matted prints and monotype prints and oils on paper in a gift price range.
Putney Craft Tour
Over the years over 100 artists have been involved in the tour, averaging 25 a year. There are three new artists this year.
Pick said, "I think people will find here a wide range of work, functional to decorative in a wide range of prices. There is always a good smell of hot cider in the air, and it's fun to see how surprised visitors are to see my large sculpture in the yard."
Erica Noyes from Boston said, "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!"
Making this a community event for the last four years, the Putney Craft Tour has partnered with Sandglass Theatre and Next Stage Arts as "Putney Craft Tour's Craft, Culinary and Performance" weekend. "People love it."
Sandglass Theatre will present, "When I Put On Your Glove," a puppetry, dance and spoken word piece that explores a daughter's relationship to her father's work. The show addresses universal questions of belonging, childhood, fear of loss, death and the complicated nature of navigating generational artistic legacy. Performances are Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Sandglass Theater, 17 Kimball Hill. Tickets are $16 students/seniors and $18 general. Reservations in advance are recommended and can be made by calling 802-387-4051 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next Stage Arts Project and Twilight Music present an evening of contemporary bluegrass and folk music with The Lonely Heartstring Band and The Stockwell Brothers on Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill. Tickets are $20 in advance, $24 at the door. For information, call 802-387-0102. Advance tickets are available at nextstagearts.org, Turn It Up in Brattleboro and Putney Food Co-Op in Putney.
There will be wine and cheese tastings as well as demonstrations. Visitors may start at The Gleanery Restaurant, 133 Main St. for information, maps, and a preview exhibition of the artisans' works.
The tour takes place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lead sponsors include Basketville, Four Columns Inn & Artisan Restaurant, Hidden Springs Maple, Putney Food Co-op, and the Putney General Store.
For more information about the artists and the tour, visit putneycrafts.com.
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261