PUTNEY — With an extraordinary collection of artisan talent, the Putney Craft Tour stands out among art excursions, and this year's 43rd annual open studio tour on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 26, 27, and 28) is no different.
While last year's tour was virtual due to COVID-19, this year's artisans are looking forward to welcoming visitors into their studios again, while keeping pandemic safety at the forefront. Tourgoers will be asked to remain masked at all times.
Some artisans will have displays and/or tents outside in addition to welcoming folks into their studios.
Potter Ken Pick, one of the founders of the tour, says that his fallback plan is to put up a tent/display, both as a way to minimize the number of people indoors and as a destination for people who might be uncomfortable coming inside yet want to interact with his functional and sculptural pottery.
The 19 artists on the tour this year include glass blowers, potters, jewelers, weavers, painters - even artisan cheese and wine makers.
Two new artisans - Susan Jarvis and Clare Adams - will open their studios this year.
Jarvis says she transforms the “histories and stories of objects, people, and places into beautiful, complex paintings, sculptures, and custom mosaic tilework.” She will have ceramic tiles, sculptures, holiday ornaments, and oil paintings for purchase at her Overhills Studio, on the first floor of historic Overhills in Putney (stop #9 on the tour).
Visual artist Clare Adams says that the way light and color change with the daylight and the seasons are essential to her art.
“When working on paper I began to feel limited, and turned my attention to fused and stained glass,” says Adams, a guest artist exhibiting at the Putney Mountain Winery (stop #1).
In addition to a tasting of its products, the winery also features a preview exhibit of all of the artisans' work, along with maps and brochures.
“Connections are what it's all about both for the artists and the people who visit their studios,” says Pick, of the oldest continuing craft tour in the country.
Visitors and locals move through the studios over the course of three days and engage with the artists, the real draw of such tours, as well as the artwork for sale. People have described seeing something in a studio where it was created and speaking to the artist who made it as a more interesting alternative to retail shopping.
Driving the back roads and finding the studios can be an adventure in itself although the studios are well marked and maps provide clear directions.
Silver jeweler Jeanne Bennett, who has been on the tour for many years, appreciates the feedback she gets. “It's nice to get the work out in public. I'm up in the woods, and I love hearing everyone's feedback.”
In addition to first-timers, Bennett, like most of the artists, has customers that return “to see what's new and add to their collection.”
The creative economy at work
The Putney Craft Tour also reflects the power of the creative economy.
“It's not just the crafts studios who benefit, but area B&Bs, stores, restaurants, and retailers,” Pick says. “Local shop owners say it's their biggest weekend because of the tour.”
And, it's worth making a weekend out of it, suggests Pick.
“Make it an experience. Enjoy the rural environment and take the tour in a leisurely fashion. You can't do it all in one day. Spend at least a couple of days and enjoy the rich community of artists.”
Landscape painter Judy Hawkins says she thrives on the excitement generated by visitors to her studio in Westminster West, just outside Putney.
“It's been wonderful for me,” she says. “It's partly about sales - sales are good-but it's wonderful to have that interaction with people. It's opened up a part of me that has become part of my [creative] process. It's helped me grow as an artist. It's about the conversation; I explain what I'm doing, why I paint the way I do.”
And while there are other art and craft tours, she said, “this is different.”
“There's a magic that happens here,” Hawkins said. “There's a little bit of fairy dust that makes the magic happen.”