Arts/Entertainment, Local News

Vermont’s handmade movement highlighted in 30th anniversary of Open Studio Tour

May 28-29 —More than 150 Vermont artisans are opening their studios over Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to take part in the 30th anniversary of Vermont’s Spring Open Studio Weekend. And you’re invited.

This year’s tour promises to save the game for artisans. Like everyone else relying on live audiences for their livelihood, during the spread of the pandemic artists saw galleries, craft shows, and exhibits abruptly cancel their seasons or close their doors.

Courtesy Karen Deets
Karen Deets (above) has been working with stained glass for 45 years

In 2022, the Vermont Crafts Council was fortunate to receive two grants to help promote the tour throughout Vermont and beyond, said executive director Martha Fitch.

When Fitch, who was present at the tour’s inception 30 years ago, looks back across the decades, at how much has changed. Of course, back then there was no Internet. There were no smart phones. There was no 9-1-1 network in Vermont, and oftentimes rural roads lacked signage. The tour at first offered no event map booklet to guide the way. Tourgoers, she says, simply would go to the town center and ask directions. “Needless to say, the tour itself has come a long way.”

Nowadays, Open Studio Weekend gives shoppers, visitors and collectors the opportunity to plan a tour to visit the studios of glassblowers, potters, metalworkers, jewelers, weavers, painters, woodworkers, photographers, book artists, printmakers, felt makers, dyers, basket-makers and rughookers.

Folks are invited behind the scenes into the unique locations where each artist’s works are made. They travel through rural villages to visit rustic studios down back roads, or high up into the hills, which offer spectacular views. Many studios have lush gardens and landscaping; some studios are tucked away in the woods, or along the river’s edge. Here, visitors can ask questions, view demonstrations and purchase original handmade artwork from a wider selection than is available online or through galleries. Many artists will accept custom orders and offer seconds and discontinued designs for sale on this weekend.

Courtesy Karen Deets
Stained glass by Karen Deets

In addition, visitors can also take in more than 20 participating small galleries and art centers that exhibit and sell the work of local artists. Each small gallery has its own collection of local work. Several of these centers will feature groups of artists and themed displays and special sales for the weekend. And, almost always, there are snacks and refreshments to tide everyone over.

While Open Studio Weekend celebrates the creations of artwork and the work life of Vermont artists with a focus on the studio, including workspace and materials, the event aims to illustrate both that creating art requires an investment of time, specialized tools and equipment, and that the process is open and rewarding. Indeed, the history of craft traditions in Vermont provides a window into past community life that always celebrated itself by bridging forward, appealing to a new generation seeking a grounded connection to handmade, functional artwork that’s used and admired in everyday life.

In Vermont this was a strong component of the “back to the land” movement of the 1960s and 1970s when many of the founding and following participants in Open Studio Weekend set up their studios. Over the past 50 years this rich migration has continued, especially now as a new generation embraces hand-made, repurposed, utilitarian, local and limited production work, these artists are joining Open Studio too.

Courtesy Vermont Crafts Council
Jeanne Amato of Sharon finds inspiration in landscape prints. Her work will be open to the public this weekend.

Part of the fun of the Open Studio experience is planning one’s route through the Vermont countryside at the end of May, as the creative life and everything supporting it transitions from spring to summer. Visitors can find: A handy printed map booklet, available at many Vermont information centers and rest areas and online. Also available online: a Google map updated with tour suggestions, artist pages and other resources to help you plan, experience, and savor the 30th anniversary of Vermont’s spring Open Studio Weekend. There are 14 different loops mapped to see as many studios as possible.

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