Black Friday business good for Putney artists

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PUTNEY — Ken Pick's pottery studio was a busy place Friday.

Very busy.

Pick, one of the founders of the Putney Craft Tour, posed for pictures, helped customers find the right gift, and even gave directions to the bathroom.

Pick is probably one of the best known artists on the tour. His abstract modernistic pieces, which range from large sculptures to vases and teapots, have been written about in the New York Times.

Pick and a small group of Putney artisans started the craft tour 41 years ago as a Vermont antidote to the commercialism of the Black Friday of Big Box Stores.

He and others believed that opening artists' studios and showing people what was available for holiday gifts would be a big boost to the local economy.

"It brings people to town," he said.

Pick said the tour has proved just that: on Friday, Pick's studio was a busy place, with plenty of transactions being conducted on the sunny, if not mild, late November day.

He said the tour was important to the life of his business: it generates interest, providing both immediate sales, as well as future purchases.

Earlier Friday, he said he had sold one of his $1,500 ceramic benches - after someone had been eyeing one for 10 years.

Two giant kilns, run by propane, are in the back of the studio. The kilns reach 2,400 degrees to fire the stoneware. "I built it myself and it's evolved," he said, adding that he would change it to accommodate different pieces.

Not bad for a man who came to Putney 50 years ago to go to go to Antioch New England graduate school to become a teacher and felt the "magic" of making pots. He's been earning his living from his brightly-colored, modernistic pieces since 1973.

Pick was one of 22 artists on this year's artisans' tour, which included potters, weavers, painters, winemakers, cheesemakers, glassblowers, jewelry makers, spinners, woodturners, photographers, even a drum maker. The tour often includes artists from neighboring Westminster West.

Pick and other artists said the tour was big business for them, but also for other businesses in Putney - restaurants, stores and even arts organizations.

This year, the tour included live performances both Friday and Saturday evenings at Next Stage Arts and Sandglass Theater.

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The Putney Craft Tour has been copied all over the state, according to organizers. It was the model for the popular statewide Vermont State Craft Tour, which is held on Memorial Day weekend. "Putney did it first," said Lynn Barrett, who helps promote the tour. The artists themselves organize the tour.

Putney resident Cecily Carroll, a painter herself, was visiting friends and neighbors on the Putney tour, said it was amazing that an artist like Pick, who is known nationally, if not internationally, opened his studio and personally greeted people. Other towns, she said, had followed Putney's example, and had established local artists' tours.

Deborah Lazar is an artist and photographer whose studio is tucked away on a back street in Putney village. She's been on the tour 11 or 12 years, she said.

Lazar said she spent weeks getting ready for the tour, cleaning up and reorganizing her study and turning it into a gallery to best show her paintings and photographs to the public.

She said she and her husband have devised over the years an ingenious way to hang the dozens of paintings on the ways - and provide a neutral, gallery-like backdrop.

Lazar first came to Putney to attend Windham College, now closed, graduating with a degree in studio art. "It's where I learned how to hang a show," she said.

Lazar had created a wall of waterfall paintings, "Chase Brook to the Rock River" and "the East Putney Brook," that she said shows the flow of water from one painting to another.

She paints New England landscapes "'en plein air," as well as still lifes of exuberant summer flowers or fruit.

Sandy Harris of Spofford, N.H., and her friend, Carolyn Issak of Keene, N.H., came through the door, well-acquainted with Lazar's work. Harris had purchased paintings from Lazar before. A painting of pears caught Isaak's attention and the two women talked with Lazar about paintings she had done at Lake Spofford -- and would be doing.

Dena Gartenstein Moses, a weaver, has her studio and weaving school, Vermont Weaving School, set up in the original Putney Elementary School at the corner of Signal Pine Road and Westminster Road. Moses' work features handwoven and colorful chenille 'wearables' - shawls, capes, hats and scarves.

Moses has been part of the tour for 16 years. "Not true, I did it one year in the 1990s," she said in the hubbub of getting her upstairs studio ready for visitors. Moses has been at her current location for 11 years, and said she bought the building a week before the tour in 2008, and still participated.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful tour for handweavers," said Moses, who said the tour also generates future business for her weaving school.

"Living in Putney, it's the thing," she said. "People know I'm here," she said.

People come not just from Vermont and neighboring towns in New Hampshire, she said, "but from all over and everywhere in between."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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