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The Arts

Open Studio Weekend turns 20

Vermont Craft Council’s annual creative extravaganza features nearly 260 artists statewide

The Vermont Crafts Council is celebrating its 20th Open Studio Weekend in Vermont when 259 artists and craftspeople throughout the state will open their studios to the public. Locally, 20 Windham County artisans from Londonderry to Readsboro will host visitors. The two-day event will be held on May 26 and 27 this Memorial Day weekend.

Visitors can expect to get to know some colorful people as they make their way to artisans’ workspaces.

“All the craft-persons opening their galleries to the public on the Spring Open Studio Weekend have interesting tales to tell,” said Martha Fitch, executive director of the Vermont Crafts Council, which is sponsoring the annual free event.

“You don’t become a glass blower or a pottery maker because it is the obvious career choice,” she continued.

“Each one of these artisans has followed an unusual path to his or her vocation. I believe that a big part of the joy people going on the tour will get is talking with these fascinating people and hearing their stories.”

She cited Robert DuGrenier, a glass artist in Townshend, who has designed awards for the movie, music, and theater industries, such as TV Land, ESPN, Nickelodeon and MTV.

Fitch said the tour is an opportunity for people to meet a wide variety of artists and craftspeople in their studios. Artists on the tour include glass blowers, jewelers, printmakers, potters, furniture makers, weavers, ironworkers, painters, sculptors, quilt makers, and wood carvers.

By seeing artisans in their own studios, visitors can learn first-hand about the creative process.

Evolution of craft promotion

In its early days, the Vermont Crafts Council attempted to entice out-of-staters to come to Vermont to buy crafts. This proved to be a challenge, because Vermont’s artisans were both scattered throughout small downtowns and in studios in farmhouses at the ends of dirt roads.

“Our state was particularly difficult because our artisans lived far from each other in rural areas,” Fitch said.

“However, we believed Vermont to be auspiciously located in a triangle of New York, Boston, and Montreal, so we saw the potential here.”

The council decided to invite visitors into studios, creating maps to guide them on their way.

“People who went to the event just had to [have] faith in our maps, and the now-famous yellow signs that dotted the Vermont landscape over Memorial Day weekends,” Fitch said.

“It is a miracle that so many people went. Thankfully, a few things happened over the years to make our enterprise now seem more viable, most significantly, the rise of technology,” she added. Participants can use online map applications and GPS devices to navigate from one studio to the next.

But Fitch said the No. 1 way people find their way through Open Studio Weekend is by following their printed maps and those yellow signs.

“This year, I have already received over 175 requests for the maps,” she said. “I find panicky emails crying, ‘Where is my map!’”

A 32-page booklet for the Open Studio Weekend providing a map and description of each participating studio is available at the Vermont Craft Council’s website.

Fitch said one exciting thing about this tour is that it constantly evolves.

“About 40 percent of the map changes each year as studios take a year off, and new studios join the tour,” she said. “This accounts for about 80 new sites every year and allows for new geographic clusters to emerge.”

The tour is a grand enterprise, covering the entire state. But visitors can limit their focus to a regional tour by clicking on a county map on the council’s website.

The Vermont Craft Council also provides free training for the artisans and craftspeople on how to promote themselves and use social media. Information about training and the tour is at www.vermontcrafts.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #153 (Wednesday, May 23, 2012).

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