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The Commons
Photo 1

The Arts

Radiant at 25

Rock River Arts Open Studio Tour marks a quarter-century milestone

The Rock River Artists 25th annual Open Studio Tour is slated for Saturday and Sunday, July 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information, contact Roger Sandes at 802-348-7865 or Chris Triebert at 802-348-7440. A longer version of this piece appears in the current issue of SO Vermont Arts & Living.

Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017). This story appeared on page C2.

SOUTH NEWFANE—The arts thrive along the winding, craggy Rock River in southern Vermont. Witness the Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour: What started as a humble cooperative among Williamsville, South Newfane, and Newfane artists now heralds its quarter-century mark.

In 1993, photographer Christine Triebert, then new to South Newfane from a career in Boston, noted a cluster of area artists all producing extraordinary work in a variety of media from studios tucked away on the banks, in the woods, and along dirt roads lacing the area.

She cast the notion of an artists’ open studio, and soon she and co-founder Carol Ross launched the tour as a one-day offering that drew a largely local audience.

Twenty-five years later, Triebert tells us, the participating artists, the tour event, and her own work have grown and evolved significantly.

“New artists have joined, some have retreated, and others have rejoined. Throughout, the RRA has been a collection of established professional artists working consistently in their field who welcome visitors from within a boundless radius to learn about the art that’s spawned along the Rock River,” she says.

In that time, the RRA tour has matured into a full weekend event with a strong web and social media presence and connects with a much broader audience than it did at its inception. Guests delight in unique, behind-the-scenes looks at the location where each artist works.

In part because many tour visitors return year after year, Triebert tells us, being part of a group that is committed to producing a top-notch show every summer charges her up and gives her the impetus to push herself to create something unique for each tour.

Regional awareness

Triebert also notes the event has brought an awareness to the region as an artist-rich community.

“Before the RR artists, there wasn’t much known of the uniqueness of the Rock River region beyond its famed swimming holes. I think the name ‘Rock River Artists’ gave a new face to this area as both a unique geographic locale and a strong, cohesive community populated by many creative individuals.”

And, she explains, that community identity resonates.

“The arts are an extremely valuable and quantifiable aspect of economic life anywhere they are allowed to thrive. Visual and performance artists create a vibrancy in a community by the very nature of their creative endeavors. Artists bring visitors, participants, and dollars to the regions in which they do their work. The arts are a dynamic force behind much of what makes a community and a region feel good, lively, and complete.”

A sample of photographer and Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour co-founder Christine Triebert’s new work: pinhole photographs of local landscapes, collected with a homemade tin-can camera and developed in a wash of coffee and vitamin C.

According to founding member (and collage artist) Mary Welsh, the quarter-century mark naturally invites reflection.

“We’ve all had ups and downs — artistic, financial, and personal — but one constant we can count on is that mark circling the third weekend in July every year. How lucky is that? And how many places with a population this size have as many ‘fellow travelers’ who get it?”

The reward on that weekend in July isn’t insignificant either, Welsh notes. Over the years, it has yielded several very good friendships from farther afield.

Many RR artists have used their arts and crafts to help the community as mentors to students at Leland & Gray Middle and High School; by mounting art shows at local nursing homes; and by adjudicating Student Art Month competitions. Collectively they have raised much-needed capital and supplied the muscle for the renovation of the historic South Newfane Schoolhouse.

Other founders include raku potter Richard Foye, printer and painter Roger Sandes, potter Matt Tell, and custom furniture maker Dan DeWalt.

Artistic evolution

It’s DeWalt who reflects that 25 years ago he wouldn’t have recognized as his own the work he produces today.

“While artists always evolve, develop, and push boundaries, I am grateful for the inspiration and criticism of my fellow Rock River Artists that kept me exploring and growing,” he says.

Artists on the 2017 tour include Rob Cartelli, functional pottery; Ellen Darrow, pottery; Dan DeWalt, custom furniture; Chris Ericsson, furniture and jewelry; Georgie, oil painting; Richard Foye, raku pottery; Richard Gillis, wrought iron; Caryn King, painting; Steven Meyer, painting; Leonard Ragouzeos, painting and drawing; Roger Sandes, painting and prints; Deidre Scherer, thread on fabric; Matthew Tell, pottery; Christine Triebert, photography; and Mary Welsh, collage.

Visitors are encouraged to start their RRA Open Studio Tour at the Old Schoolhouse in South Newfane village, where participating artists present a group show. Pick up a map of studio locations and begin a self-guided tour of the studios, all within short driving distance of the Schoolhouse. Admission is free all weekend.

The Schoolhouse, a classic 19th-century structure that once housed a one-room village school, is itself worth a visit. To find it, take Williamsville Road off Route 30. At the end of the road, just over the old stone bridge, take a left. Drive along clapboard-lined Dover Road through a covered bridge and past riverside homes. At the fork in the road, look to your left — there’s the Schoolhouse.

Were it not for modern vehicles, you’d feel yourself thrown back a hundred years or more — but the work to be found inside and along the tour is fresh, innovative, inventive, and rich.

Just as it will be a quarter century hence, we expect.

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