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Terry Sylvester

A hand-tinted photo of the Cotton Mill, site of an annual Open Studio and Holiday Sale that keeps growing every year.

Special section

The more, the merrier

Cotton Mill Open Studio and Holiday Sale expands to include dozens of outside artists and craftspeople

The 16th annual Cotton Mill Open Studio and Holiday Sale takes place on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Cotton Mill complex on Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro. For a complete list of vendors and exhibitors, and a schedule of performances, visit thecottonmill.org.

BRATTLEBORO—Like a living Advent calendar — but better, because all of the doors open at the same time — the Cotton Mill presents its open studio and holiday sale event on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6 and 7.

Elsie Smith, one of the 24 tenants of the renovated industrial mill building who will open their doors for the event, says that throughout the rest of the year, it’s somewhat of a mystery what goes on behind her neighbors’ closed doors in the 145,000-square-foot building.

Smith says one of the joys of the weekend is that “you get to peek through the doors of everyone’s studio and see all sorts of crazy stuff happening.”

Some of that “crazy stuff” will happen in Smith’s third-floor space at NECCA (the New England Center for Circus Arts), where she is co-founder and artistic director.

“We’re having two recitals on Saturday, and two sample classes on Sunday, and all ages, from 1{1/2} to 102, are welcome. We like to tell people that even if they’re older than 102, we’ll find something for them to do,” says Smith, reminding attendees all NECCA events are free that weekend, including Sunday’s hula hoop jam.

Change is good

This year’s open studio weekend continues on the trajectory set during last year’s event, which differed from the previous events, mostly due to the addition of Flo Nestor.

Last year, the retired Brattleboro schoolteacher was hired to take over, because “all the tenants were too busy to organize the sale,” said Nestor.

After receiving the tenants’ approval, Nestor decided to open up the open house by inviting 32 additional outside artists and vendors.

“I visited fairs, talked to people, and through a juried process, invited others to join,” she said.

Nestor’s aim was to add variety to the event, because “different people have different flavors of what they like.”

The tenants were involved in the process, and Nestor made sure to find vendors who wouldn’t compete with them. When she invited Rich Gillis of Mystic Metallurgy to participate last year, he agreed to bring items different from those that tenant James Takaki offers.

According to Nestor, Takaki said, of bringing in another metal-work artist, “The more the merrier!”

Opening up Open Studios seemed to work.

“Last year was very successful. Of all the outside vendors who came in 2013, all but two are returning, and new ones will be there, too,” Nestor said.

In 15 years, the weekend event has come a long way.

In 1999, Randi Solin opened her studio during the winter holidays to provide a way for the public to visit her Solinglass Studios, see how she creates her internationally acclaimed blown glass art, and purchase pieces. She was the only tenant who did so.

As time progressed, other artists joined in, including her studio-mate, ceramic artist Natalie Blake.

Blake is one of a handful of former tenants returning to participate in the festivities.

Ushering them in

This year, Nestor’s arrangement of the event encourages attendees to enter through the front door on the west side of the building, near the large parking lot on the south side. This way, they can pick up a program guide and schedule, detailing every performance, demonstration, and open studio.

In the reception area, guests can also buy tickets to one of the two raffles. The second raffle is free; the prize is a large gift basket filled with edible goodies. Both raffles’ prizes were donated by participants.

Chef Tristan Toleno at Entera Artisanal Catering will be serving food all day long.

The entire first floor of the building will offer comestibles, including granola, caramels, cheese, and gluten-free energy bars.

Dar Tavernier-Singer, who with her husband John Singer owns and operates Tavernier Chocolates, one of two chocolate makers who will offer samples of their handmade creations, began working with chocolate from her home kitchen several years ago.

Singer’s experience as head coffee roaster for Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company taught him how to “coax subtle flavors from various origins and terroirs as well as how to locate the best beans from around the world.”

On the second floor, more food awaits, including Nan Stefanik’s unique Vermont quince products and Dianne Hinaris’s imported Greek olive oils, among other treats.

They are joined by former tenants Kristina and Kelt Naylor of Sidehill Farm Jams, who recently moved and expanded into The Book Press on Putney Road.

At the Vermont Jazz Center, Director Eugene Uman encourages attendees to stop by to hear student performances throughout the weekend.

Tenant Debra Ty of a Center for Caring will offer chair massages. Ty will also sell her recent book In Good Hands: A Guide to Seeking and Receiving Massage.

Ty will also offer interactive demonstrations of the MELT (myofascial energetic length technique) method, which she describes as a “[do-it-yourself], hands-off massage technique anyone can do at home using small balls and roller mats.”

The second and third floors house a variety of artisans offering jewelry, clothing, housewares, and fine art.

Interactive events there include the circus events; musical performances at the Open Music Collective; dance performances and a historical fencing demonstration at SoBo Studios; and a holiday marionette show at the Bluebird Theater.

One interactive event on the third floor that doesn’t necessarily involve performance is at Brian Mooney and Vaune Trachtman’s Storymatic Studios.

The original Storymatic, created from Mooney’s work teaching writing classes and workshops at Marlboro College and The Putney School, is a game and a writing prompt. Players use Storymatic “to have some laughs at a party, and you can use [it] to explore serious artistic and personal material,” according to its Facebook business page.

The weekend event acts as a personal celebration for Storymatic Studios.

“We just moved into a new studio on the third floor, where Solinglass used to be,” Mooney says. “We’re excited to show people the new space, and we’re also really looking forward to showing people our newest product, Rememory. [It] came out in September, and we’re already going into our second printing.

Mooney shares the opinion held by other tenants, including Ty, Smith, and Nestor — who has her own fabric arts studio in the building — that the the Open Studio event is their opportunity to show the public that the Cotton Mill is a special place for building a business and a community.

“I went to Open Studio several years ago and immediately thought, ‘I want to be in that space,’” he says. “The building has such incredible creative energy.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #282 (Wednesday, November 26, 2014). This story appeared on page C2.

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