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An after Thanksgiving Day tradition returns to normal after being modified in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic as people head out to see artists working on their craft during the annual Putney Craft Tour on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. The studios will be open to the public all weekend.

PUTNEY — The Putney Craft Tour, the oldest craft tour in the country and now in its 43rd year, returned Friday after a one-year virtual hiatus forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The tour, founded in 1978 by a group of like-minded craftspeople in response to the commercialism of Black Friday, has grown and expanded, and now includes 19 stops, showcasing such diverse local artistry as handmade cheese, wine and liqueurs, and local yarn as well as pottery, jewelry, landscape painters, jewelry makers, weavers and glassblowing.

PURCHASE PHOTOS

A case could be made that the Burch family of Putney is the first family of the famous craft tour: father Robert Burch was one of the founders of the event, and his Brandywine Glassworks studio on Great Meadows Ridge is one of the magnets of the tour.

The warmth of the glass furnaces on a cold and rainy day drew a constant stream of neighbors and visitors alike Friday, as they watched Burch make his spheres, hearts and vases, and take advantage of his seconds sale of near-perfect glass artworks.

Next door in the Burch family kitchen, son Ryan Burch had set up a temporary shop to sell his ceramics. And a handful of miles away, daughter Caitlin Burch was welcoming people to her studio, where she also blows glass like her father to make paperweights and vases, but also transforms glass rods into beads, which is made into her distinctive hand-blown glass jewelry.

Both Burch children grew up helping their parents, Bob Burch and Nancy Gagnon, with the busy weekend at the end of November.

Ryan Burch, who is the artist in residence at Vermont Academy in nearby Saxtons River, said he always helped his parents with the glass studio and during the hectic time of the three-day tour.

But he said it was the tactile clay, not glass, that spoke to him, and after graduating from Brattleboro Union High School and Alfred University in New York state in 2015, he eventually returned to Vermont, to Putney and the tour.

“This is my biggest show of the year, 1,000 people come through here,” he said, wrapping a teapot.

On the rainy Friday, Burch was busy wrapping his ceramics for a steady stream of collectors and the curious.

All but his unique fish salt cellar are created on his wheel in his Saxtons River studio, he said. The fish salt cellar, which can also be used as a planter, combined his two great enthusiasms — fishing and ceramics.

“I love to fish,” he said, noting that most of the fish sculptures were of trout, but the coloring varied. “It’s a hand-built sculpture.”

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By Friday noontime, people were busy asking him to wrap up pitchers, vases, plates and mugs.

Ryan Burch said last year’s virtual tour was just as strong for him financially as an in-person tour, and he said Friday was a steady stream of both local people and out-of-region visitors.

“I have a Ryan gallery,” said Nancy Paulson of Alton, N.H., who said she only visits the Burches during the tour. She had suggested that Burch start making a covered vegetable casserole dish.

Across the yard, in his glassblowing studio, Robert Burch was explaining the process to a group of masked crafts fans. He had just finished a paperweight, and he placed it in his “oven” so it could cool down slowly from the current 1,000 degrees. A quick cool down could destroy the piece, he said.

He said he still feels the “magic” of creation, and he said he experienced it earlier in the day. The glass was leading the way toward its creation, he said. “Glass has a tendency to be very honest,” he said, noting its inherent transparency.

He said the tour is a big help financially, and helps him sell a lot of his seconds — those works he doesn’t deem perfect. He sells his paperweights, hearts, perfume bottles and vases to galleries all over the country, thanks to the help of his wife, Nancy Gagnon.

Robert Burch said the tour founders originally held open houses. He said with a very modest advertising budget (“Maybe we sent some postcards”), the tour was launched. Only he and potter Ken Pick remain of the original crew, as another longtime member and potter David Mischke, died earlier this year.

In addition to his son, Ryan, and daughter Caitlin, another daughter is also an artist. Anna is a photographer in Burlington, and she does all the photographing of her father’s work, he said.

Caitlin Burch lives a couple of miles from her parents’ home and studio, and she has a small glassblowing studio as well, but unlike her father, she only opens her studio on the tour weekend. She said she has been a member of the craft tour for “a long time,” and she said her work was accepted by the tour’s jury in 2004.

She learned glassblowing from her father but is self-taught in what she calls her “colorwork,” turning the rods of borosilicate glass into beads, and then into jewelry. “It’s a challenging thing,” she said.

“It’s my joy, it’s my meditation,” she said. “I am so thankful to have this as my profession.”

She said she has been a full-time glass artist — jewelry and objects — since 2002, and she relies on the large craft shows in the Northeast to sell her work.

Another generation of Burches is already participating in the tour, she said, with her 9-year-old son, Jonathan, selling handmade bookmarks, and another son, Nathaniel, selling his handmade Christmas ornaments.

Jonathan said he plans on being a glassblower when he grew up.

The tour continues Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tour headquarters for information, including a list of artists and maps, is at the Putney Winery in downtown Putney. For additional information, visit putneycrafts.com.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.