PUTNEY — The 41st annual Putney Craft Tour, the oldest continuing craft tour in the country, will take place today through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The tour did not spring out of a vacuum, but from the happy confluence of a number of trends including the back-to-the-land movement and the rise of American craft.
No doubt, Vermont's agrarian heritage created a culture of craft and an appreciation of the hand-made, which continue to this day. One of the founders is potter Ken Pick, who arrived in Putney in 1969 after receiving an MAT from Antioch-Putney Graduate School. But pottery was never far away from his heart, and in about 1973, he began to earn his living from his craft. "There are still five or six of us here who were here from the beginning," Pick said in a press release. "We banded together in one location before we evolved the tour concept."
In 1982, on the fourth annual tour, there were 16 artisans working in 13 studios. The tour was advertised as the Annual Holiday Craft Tour, Open House and Seconds Sale, and the practice of going from studio to studio or "over the river and through the woods," was established, inviting the public into the space where work is created to learn about the craft and talk to the person who made it. "This year there are 22 artists on the tour. It's never been more than 28," Pick says. There was a conceptual agreement that that size was good. We wanted to bring in new young people who arrived in the area." He adds that the date of the Thanksgiving weekend was chosen carefully —"it's the start of the gift-buying season.
"And, because it's Thanksgiving, people are here visiting family from all over the country," Pick said. "People come from all over the New England states. Most are actually non-Vermonters. They come from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and even from overseas."
Connections are what it's all about, both for the artists and the people who visit their studios. Thousands of visitors move through the studios over the course of three days and engage with the artists, the real draw of such tours, as well as the distinctive, original pieces for sale. People say it's much more interesting and exciting to see something in a studio where it was created and to speak to the artist who made it than to see a piece in a shop or gallery.
Putney also reflects the power of the creative economy. According to Pick, it's not just the crafts studios that benefit, but also area B&Bs, stores, restaurants, and retailers. He says shop owners report that the tour drives their biggest weekend sales of the year. And for the past four years organizers have been partnering with other cultural entities in Putney, including Sandglass Theatre and Next Stage Arts, to put on special performances during the tour. "We're promoting it as Putney Craft Tour's Craft, Culinary and Performance Weekend. People love it," says Pick.
On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Next Stage Arts Project and Twilight Music will be featuring contemporary folk/singer/songwriters Antje Duvekot and Marr Nakoa. For tickets and details, go to: nextstagearts.org.
Sandglass Theater will be offering a piece about belonging, memory and inter-generational dialogue. "When I Put on Your Glove," performed and created by Shoshana Bass, is a puppetry, dance and spoken word piece that explores a daughter's relationship with her father's work and how an art form endures and transforms as it is handed to the next generation. Performances will take place Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Sandglass Theater. For tickets and more information, go to: sandglasstheater.org.
The tour includes wine and cheese tastings as well as demos. Visitors may start at The Gleanery Restaurant, 133 Main Street, for info, maps, and a preview exhibition of the artisans' works. Lead sponsors include Basketville, Four Columns Inn & Artisan Restaurant, Hidden Springs Maple, Putney Food Co-op, and the Putney General Store.