• Craft tour brings communities together
     | November 29,2013

    Participants in the Putney Craft Tour gather around a sign marking its 35th year. This year’s event begins today and runs through Sunday.

    PUTNEY – Thirty-five years ago a group of Putney artists and craftspeople decided to do what hadn’t been done before: invite people into their studios to see them at work.

    The 35th annual Putney Craft Tour – which has been expanded geographically to include artists in Westminster, Westminster West and Saxtons River – starts today and runs through Sunday. This year, the studios of 26 artists are open to the public, allowing the curious an inside look at the creative process for painters, potters, glassblowers, fabric artists, blacksmiths and even a cheesemaker.

    Margot Torrey of Putney was one of a small group of artists who started the tour 35 years ago. Several of the Putney artists would have Christmas open houses, she said. Others would have “seconds” sales, and serve refreshments and there would be some demonstrations.

    “It was lovely to the see the process,” she said this week.

    Torrey, who has since retired from the craft tour, said that the artists originally held a group show in downtown Putney, but rejected that format for the more intimate visit to the individual homes and studios.

    “There were all these wonderful people in Putney,” she said. “It’s just really exciting to see where people work and how they do it. It adds so much to the value and appreciation if they’ve seen the location where it was created.”

    The Putney Craft Tour has billed itself as the anti-big-box-store holiday shopping experience.

    Ken Pick, a well-known Putney potter, was also one of the first organizers. He said the artists certainly depend on the tour to sell their work, but he said it also helps connect the artists to the community and vice versa.

    “In the beginning, it first started with an open studio. As time went by, because this area is so rich in artisans of all kinds, people looked around and said, ‘Why don’t we combine our resources and do a show together?’”

    “It’s been wonderful for multiple reasons. It’s terrific to do sales right out of the studio. People can see so much more. And above and beyond the finances, it’s a wonderful way to be in the community, for people to see what we’re doing,” he said.

    And the Putney tour isn’t necessarily for just traditional artists. For the past couple of years, Vermont farmer and sheep-cheese maker David Major has been included on the tour.

    “He’s an artist,” said Pick, noting that people can tour the Vermont Shepherd cheese caves as part of the weekend tour.

    “We think of them as artisan cheeses; there’s a sense of craft in making those cheeses,” Pick said. “We don’t have a rigid concept of who’s on the tour.”

    He said that the tour features many different media, such as painting, fabric, glass and clay. “It’s a wonderful variety,” he said.

    “There are wonderful busy times and sometimes slow moments. A lot depends on the weather. Usually we get a really good turnout,” he said. “There’s a festive feeling to it all; usually there’s some hot cider on the woodstove and some food.”

    Pick said that about half the people who go on the self-guided tour are from the area, and others come from Boston, Hartford and New York. “At least 50 percent of the people are from out of state,” he said.

    Pick doesn’t do a live demonstration, but he says people will definitely understand the process that go into his pottery.

    One artist who does do live demonstrations throughout the weekend is blacksmith artist Ian Eddy, whose studio is just outside of Saxtons River.

    Eddy said he used to live in Putney, and when he moved his studio to Saxtons River, he asked to be included in the tour. “They ‘grandfathered’ me,” he said.

    Eddy said he learned his craft by doing and experimenting, and he said he believed that a demonstration is a valuable learning and teaching tool.

    Eddy said he chooses his demonstration to take a item from start to finish, so people have a better appreciation of what goes into making a piece.

    “I think the best thing, one of the prime aspects of this particular tour, is the education end of it,” said Eddy, who mentioned the work of two other artists on the tour, Bob Burch, a glassblower, and Karlene Raper, a quilter and dyer. “It’s so rewarding for people to go. You don’t get that in a box store or other retail,” he said.

    Pick said that the tour also includes information about places to stay in the Putney area, as well as performances in Putney over the weekend, including a showing of a new documentary film by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, “Central Park Five,” and a performance by the Sandglass Theater.

    “Putney is alive this weekend,” he said.

    For more information, including a map and list of artists, as well as the evening performances, check www.putneycrafts.com.

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