Sweet success
Jun22

Sweet success

Sweet success: With their goats’-milk caramels, Townshend farmers find their niche in the marketplace of locally produced speciality foods It’s no wonder Big Picture Farm’s silky caramels won the specialty food industry’s equivalent of the Academy Awards last year, and the awards keep coming: Pop one in your mouth — savor it — and you’ll understand that this is no ordinary caramel. Handcrafted from goat’s milk on a rugged, hill farm high above the village of Townshend, the super-creamy treats have brought farmers Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell swift success in an enterprise they launched barely three years ago. Conrad and Farrell met in 2000 at Middlebury College, graduated with bachelor degrees — he in art, she in English — and veered off for grad school: Montana and California, respectively. They returned to Vermont in 2008 and married in 2010. Farrell found work at Middlebury as an adjunct professor, and Conrad taught art after-school art, but those opportunities dried up with the faltering economy. As Conrad explains, the art market had collapsed. So they went to work at Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, making goat cheese. “We loved the rhythm and life of it there,” Conrad says. And they fell in love with goats. “We knew we wanted [them],” she says. They soon went to work at Peaked Mountain Farm in Townshend, where they gained more experience with goats and cheese-making, and bought a starter herd of three. Not a big stretch for them, as it turned out, as most of their friends were farming: “Starting new types of farms and doing exciting things in terms of food,” Conrad says. As the couple’s herd grew, and with so many others’ artisanal cheeses well represented in the marketplace, they looked for something they could make beyond cheese: a gift item that leveraged the best of their artistic skills, and the natural talents of their lovely goats. It was Conrad who proposed caramels. She’d been inspired by an English toffee she remembered sweetly from childhood. The pair went to work experimenting and taste-testing at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market, and unveiled their first product: a creamy sea-salt and bourbon vanilla caramel. “It took a long time to get it right,” Farrell said. Well, right is an understatement. They got it right to the tune of winning the prestigious sofi Award for Outstanding Confection, bestowed by the Specialty Food Association at the Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., in 2012. It’s a big deal. Between the Winter Show in San Francisco and the Summer Show in New York City, Specialty Food Association events bring in more than 40,000 attendees from more than 80...

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A country store and so much more

A country store and so much more West Townshend builds community by embracing multiple uses — including arts and music — for a revitalized general store The West River Community Project is dedicated to preserving and promoting the West River heritage in order to sustain a healthy future full of music, the arts, and local agriculture. It’s a work very happily in progress. The West Townshend Country Store, at 6573 Route 30, is up and running: the project-built cob oven is turning out around 45 pizzas every Friday night; its café is serving light, local-product meals on weekends; and its thrift store is a treasure trove of second-hand clothes, housewares, and bric-a-brac. Café walls showcase the works of local artists, usually in month-long exhibits. Concerts in the space pulse with vintage bluegrass and not-so-vintage everything else. And, of course, there’s even a post office. All the more impressive is that this revitalization of West Townshend has taken place only in the past three years. Largely the initial vision of West Townshend farmer, artist, mother, and board president Clare Adams, the project is breathing new life into what used to be a handsome general store but since its construction in 1848 was left to its own devices, facing flames and disrepair. Now with restoration and a bold new plan, its offerings radiate enthusiasm where it’s sorely needed in the West River community. The project leases it at a steal — $5 a year for 20 years — from its new owner, an angel if there ever was one. Also credit man for all seasons Robert DuGrenier, a glass blower, farmer, and the father of a young son. Next week DuGrenier begins designing new panels for the elevators in The (Paris) Hôtel Ritz. He’s also helping turn out his family’s Taft Hill Farm products on Route 30, and is president of the Townshend Historical Society. Adams and DuGrenier speak of The West River Community Project as a journey on the way to drawing out, preserving, and building on a sense of place for the West Townshend community. “We were in danger of losing the even the post office,” says Adams. That was the turning point for her. Something had to be done. Board vice president DuGrenier adds, “A sense of place is absolutely crucial” to community. And so they went to work. The village had served as a hub for Jamaica, Wardsboro, Windham, and Townshend, and just might fill that role again. Adams says there’s potential to connect to about 10,000 residents, plus drivers on busy Route 30. Many volunteers are backing this effort, as is an eight-member board of professionals...

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Workshops, Classes & Artist Residencies

Workshops, Classes & Artist Residencies Brattleboro Museum & Art Center 10 Vernon St., Brattleboro 11a-5p (Closed Tuesdays) brattleboromuseum.org, 802-257-0124 July 8-10: Summer Education Institute: Approaching Literacy through Images. Carving Studio and Sculpture Center 636 Marble St., Rutland carvingstudio.org, 802-438-2097 June 1-7: A Stone Sculptor’s Dream Vacation. June 7-9: What a Relief! with Tim de Christopher. June 10-14: Steel Sculpture with Joseph Montrov. June 17-21: Carving in Stone with James Zingarelli. June 24-28: Cold-Cast Sculpture with R. Elliott Katz. June 24-28: Sculpture in Stone with Carlos Dorrien. June 28-30: Kinetics, Robotics, and the Interactive Environment with James Durrett. June 29-30: Flint Knapping with Brad Salon. July 1-6: In the Jungle (ages 7-10) with Zoe Marr. July 6-7: Slate Lettering and Relief Carving Weekend with Frank Anjo. July 8-12: Stone Carving: Making Big Rocks Smaller — with Style with Frank Anjo. July 15-19: Bronze Casting with Glenn Campbell. July 19-21: Welded Steel Assemblies with John Tidd. July 20-21: Introductory Stone Carving Weekend with Ryder Ownes. July 22-26: Granite Sculpture with Gary Haven Smith. July 22-26: The Figure and Portrait in Clay with Christopher Gowell. July 29-Aug 2: Your Portrait in Marble with Steve Shaheen. Aug 5-9: Lightweight Armature for Mosaic Sculpture with Lizz Van Saun. Aug 8-11: Carve Animals and other Forms in Stone with Bill Nuff. Aug 10-11: The Art of Carving Limestone with Tim de Christopher. Aug 10-11: Striking an Arch Between Place and Artist, Technique and Language, with Meghan Rigali. Aug 10-11: Papier-mâché Sculpture with Anne Brisson. Aug 12-16: Architectural Carving with Allen Williams. Aug 19-23: Carving Wild Stones with Rick Rothrock. Fire Works Studio 38 Harlow St., The Sprinkler Factory, Worcester, Mass. thefireworksinc.net, 508-752-0444 June 22: Todd Wahlstrom and Aysha Peltz host a workshop for potters and pottery enthusiasts. Fletcher Farm 611 Route 103 S., Ludlow fletcherfarm.org, 802-228-8770 Summer: Workshops galore! See website. Gallery at the VAULT 68 Main St., Springfield galleryvault.org, 802-885-7111 June 29: Nightscapes in Pastel, with instructor Robert Carsten. July 8-12: Make a Circus Movie (ages 8 and up). July 22-26: Cartoon Camp II (ages 8 and up). July 29-Aug 2: Caroon Workshop (ages 10 and up). July 29-Aug 2: Young Adult Cartooning Workshop (ages 14 and up). InView Center for the Arts at Landgrove Inn 132 Landgrove Road, Landgrove landgroveinn.com, 802-824-6673 June 10-14: Portraits and Figures in Transparent Watercolor. June 14-16: The Art of Argentine Tango. June 17-21: Vermont in Watercolors. June 24-28: Painting Light and Color with Painting Knives. July 7-12: Look Again! Manuscript Writing for Children. July 18-20: Painting the Essence: Workshop in Oils. July 22-25: Vermont in Watercolor. July 21-26: Jump-Start Your Story: Writing for Children Manuscript Writing. July 29-31:...

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Nurturing the Arts: Three who bring the arts to life in Southern Vermont

Nurturing artists and the arts just comes naturally to Southern Vermonters. Dorset Theatre Festival Artistic Director Dina Janis is turning a local legend into a world-class performance venue on par with anything you’ll find in the Berkshires. In Grafton, Liisa Kissel continues crafting a go-to music festival that leverages the popular VSO concerts taking place every Fourth of July weekend in this picturesque town of 500. In North Bennington, Tony Conner left the corporate world behind and facilitates a world of painting en plein air with an annual competition that draws artists to our vistas from all parts of the country. Each of these visionaries, and so many others making Southern Vermont their home and their inspiration, know the arts are where it’s at in the Green Mountain State. And they’re spreading the...

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Farm tour

A six-month farm tour and culinary workshop series, “Real Farms, Real Food, Real Rutland,” aims to provide residents with greater access to local farms and local food. According to Elizabeth Theriault of Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, which is organizing the events, the program runs through September and promises fun, hands-on events for all ages. “Uncover some of the mysteries of how your food gets from the farm to your plate while sampling some of the freshest foods you’ll ever taste,” Theriault says. Better still, free transportation to all farm tours is provided. Upcoming dates include: June 29, Second Nature Herb Farm and Horticultural Services, 35 Mill Pond Rd., Wells, 10a-noon. Call 802-645-9346, visit greenworksvermont.org/members, or write secondnaturevt@gmail.com. Aug 10, Wellsmere Farm, 199 Route 30, Wells, 10a-1p. Call 802-645-0934 or write mmorey1025@yahoo.com. On tap: canning and preserving root...

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Behind the bylines

Summer 2013 issue: Behind the bylines In putting together this issue, the theme of connections came into focus in so many ways — connections among people and communities, connections among artists engaging in a common medium, connections between farmers and the rugged terrain of Southern Vermont. “A sense of place is vital to community, say the founders of the West River Community Project in West Townshend,” reports Thelma O’Brien , a former resident of that community who writes about the creation of the West Townshend Country Store and post office in a once-burned-out old building. Learn about this effort on page 9. Katherine Cox , a regular contributor to these pages, found connections of the two young farmers at Big Picture Farm to a delicious specialty food product. “It’s no wonder the silky caramels made at Big Picture Farm won the Oscars of the specialty food industry last June,” she writes. Her report on these goats’ milk candies appears on page 42. Allison Teague, a freelance writer and reporter, writes about three people who make it their life’s work to build connections in nurturing the arts, in a series of three stories that starts on page 20. “It never fails to absolutely floor me to discover the depth of authentic engagement and expression in these extraordinary yet humble individuals who quietly exist amidst our verdant hills and valley floors,” she writes. Joyce Marcel, a regular contributor who has a passion for chronicling the business of the arts, “fell in love with glass while writing this story,” she writes. Her glimpse into this important arts sector begins on page 28. And for Arlene Distler , another regular contributor, writing about the upcoming Red Grooms show (New & Notable, page 4) cultivated a connection to her days in New York City in the late 1960s, where she once met the acclaimed modern artist and his then-wife, Mimi Gross. “Tall, unruly red hair and a boyish face had the females among us aflutter,” recalls Distler, who also profiles artists Pat Musick and Jerry Carr beginning on page...

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Calendar: Garden Tours

Bennington Arts Guild 103 South St., Bennington benningtonartsguild.org, 802-447-0388 Thru June 3: New Works by BAG members show. June 7-July 1: Zentangle-inspired art in 2D & 3D. July 29: Contemporary ceramics & stoneware. Aug 2-Sept 2: Group show featuring exquisite glass works, jewelry and other items fashioned from recycled zippers and vintage fabrics and...

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Tony Conner, Visual Art
Jun22

Tony Conner, Visual Art

By Allison Teague Like many who take up the arts following a first career, Tony Conner needed only the right moment to act. When downsizing loomed in 2003, this former AT&T account executive leaped at the chance to paint full-time. He’s glad he did. But painting the rural landscapes of Vermont and New England, and tackling commercial work, is not all Conner, now a Bennington-based watercolorist and teacher, does — and many, many other artists are grateful to him for it. Conner is a founder, and the event director, of Plein Air Vermont, now in its fourth year. This year’s event runs Sept. 3-8 and gives artists four days in the open air to paint what they like among what Conner calls “exciting designated sites across the shires.” At the end of four days’ painting — in an expanded geographical area this year — the artists will exhibit their work. There’s a main competition offering 11 prizes totaling more than $6,000 in cash, merchandise, and purchase awards, and a “quick draw,” offering nine prizes totaling more than $1,200 in cash and merchandise awards. Conner (tonyconner.com) says that painting en plein air — outside, and without the aid of photography — is flourishing as an art form, and that this season’s competition is attracting some of the best in the field from across the country. He says he’s pleased to hear how appreciative the visiting artists are to find the beauty in the local surroundings, and their place in it. The event even functions as historical record: “It’s documenting the iconic buildings and landscapes of the area — providing a history of how things change,” he says. And it’s certainly true that Conner’s longtime connection to the Bennington community has brought it economic benefits. People come in from all over the country to take his workshops: particularly the plein air events. Not only to paint, but to admire the process. “People want to see the artist working and then to see the finished work … Many, many people want to know what art is and what people do to create it, to see the magic of it. To them, an artist seems like a magician — as if they’re pulling a painting out of thin air,” Conner says. And while they’re here, they shop, stop in for meals, stay over, attend other events, explore. “It must be having an effect” (economically), Conner surmised. Looking back, Conner said he wouldn’t have wanted to be an account executive forever. When he took his corporate buy-out, his severance and some training funds eased his transition to a new career in the arts. But,...

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Reaching for the stars

Nurturing the Arts: Dina Janis, Theater: Reaching for the stars By Allison Teague Dorset, in Bennington County, has nurtured performance theater since 1927, when residents staged a three-act play, “39 East,” in the Town Hall. It was received with such great enthusiasm that it spun out the Dorset Players, and a legend was born. Two years later the community raised funds for a larger space, the Dorset Playhouse. Let’s leap ahead, first to the 1970s, when Jill Charles and John Nassivera founded the Dorset Theatre Festival. DTF and the Dorset Players shared the playhouse, and by and by the community called for a serious upgrade, dreaming of siting a proper regional theater. In 1999 that’s what took shape: a $3 million restoration and expansion project that was completed in 2001. Now enter Dina Janis, Dorset Theatre Festival’s artistic director hired in 2009 to carry the work still further into the future. “When I came on board, they had been trying to live up to the new theater. It was quite a venue with full studios and beautiful seating. But no one had really been able to take it forward. It had been a period of six or seven years before finding someone to take over. They were in trouble,” she recalls. Janis lived in Dorset, was raising a family, and had been teaching at Bennington College’s drama department for 10 years. Her work with some of Broadway’s top writers, directors, and actors made her the DTF’s ideal candidate to elevate it into the ranks of world-class theater. It helps that she knows Vermont audiences. It helps more that she’s cultivated such striking, and effective, professional connections: Count among them the actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ellen Burstyn, Cusi Cram, José Rivera, Al Pacino, and Harvey Keitel. As a director, she’s intimately familiar with the plays of Theresa Rebeck, Sherry Kramer, Stephen Adly Guirgis, George Plimpton, and so many others. She was courted for the post for what the DTF said at the time was her breadth and depth of fresh air, energy, and context that lived up to the promise of state-of-the-art theater in Dorset. And she came on board familiar with the festival’s challenges — and with a big idea that would leverage her friendship with playwright Theresa Rebeck, who’d created and co-produced, with Steven Spielberg, the NBC musical-drama television series “Smash.” “[Rebeck] is one of the most successful American woman playwrights, and she thought I could really bring [Dorset] up to the level of a Williamstown [Mass.] or Berkshire theatre festival,” Janis said. So the two persuaded talent on Rebeck’s level to come up. The first year, DTF...

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Live performance as community
Jun22

Live performance as community

Nurturing the Arts: Liisa Kissel, Music: Live performance as community By Allison Teague It took the Grafton Music Festival only three years to rise to the status of go-to music festival, held in tandem with the annual visit of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra & Fireworks, itself a Grafton staple of the past 23 years. Grafton resident Liisa Kissel, president of Grafton Music Festival, Inc., serves with a board of three to get the job done. She explains that her lifelong love of music, something she shared with her late husband, informs everything she brings to GMF. “Just listening to the live performance, (and) to classical perfection is so beautiful and dramatic,” she says. She adds that she gets very emotional about the sound. “For me, it’s an essential part of being a human. Life would be so much poorer without it.” This year’s 5th Annual Grafton Music Festival is July 3-6 in a large tent on the ball field in the center of town, and is aimed at generating additional interest in beautiful, musical, Grafton. Samirah Evans and her Handsome Devils play Friday, 7-9p; the Starline Rhythm Boys — a rocking honkytonk rockabilly band — play Saturday from 2-4p, followed by the Compaq Big Band (we’re talking 15 horns and a cookin’ rhythm section) with local Alstead singer Rebecca Holtz from 6-8p. As with the Festival’s first year, organizers have scheduled a concert Sunday morning in the White Church, where the acoustics are perfect for classical, jazz, and swing. Anticipating some 400 visitors over the course of the event, Kissel says a flood of volunteers attests to how well the community has received the Grafton Music Festival. Every year she sees more return — and new ones are quick to tell her how much they enjoy the Festival. New on tap: a series of occasional expert talks on music, with live demonstrations. Seth Knopp, Yellow Barn’s artistic director, kicks off this “Open Ears” series June 18. “In Grafton we have a great natural soundscape … and composed music is an extension of the natural sounds. It’s just essential beauty, and a dimension to our lives which is very important,” Kissel says. “I think it’s another outlet for one’s emotions. We need to express who we are and what’s going on inside. Even if (those) emotions aren’t articulated, you need to be aware of your feelings and emotions and reactions,” she adds. Grafton itself takes center stage thanks to the Grafton Music Festival. Whereas in the festival’s inception, which incorporated a craft show with vendors, this year Kissel promises something a little bit different: a focus on food. Look for...

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Hot glass in cool Vermont

Hot glass in cool Vermont By Joyce Marcel If we’re going to talk about art glass, we might as well begin with Aldous Huxley. In “The Doors of Perception,” Huxley’s 1954 book on his mescaline experience, he theorizes that mankind’s “otherwise inexplicable passion for gems” might arise because precious stones “bear a faint resemblance to the glowing marvels seen with the inner eye of the visionary.” And if you can’t have gemstones, he suggests, colored or stained glass makes a lovely surrogate.   In other words, the sparkling, translucent, glistening, light-reflecting, highly colored and deeply emotional properties of glass refer, in some buried (or not so buried) way, to a “magical and transporting” primal emotion that we all can respond to. So many glass artists make their home in Windham County — about 25 — that you might think that all of us who live close to them are by now part visionary ourselves — or at least have gotten a contact high. Glass artists are people who have helplessly fallen in love with their medium. “I fell in love with glass 26 years ago,” said Brattleboro’s gifted glass artist and powerhouse marketer Randi Solin of Solinglass. Solin’s work is in the permanent collections of the White House and the American embassies in Algeria, Guinea, Praia, Guatemala, Paraguay and Mauritania. She is represented by about 75 galleries nationwide. Among her recent achievements, she won Best of Show at the Crafts Alliance in Chautauqua, N.Y. She also recently exhibited with the Architectural Digest Home show in New York City. “Glass seduced me with its liquid light, its texture and its heat,” Solin said. “Over time, I continued to remain interested due to the challenge. I always say, ’Glass takes advantage of an unfocused mind.’ I feel the struggle constantly engaging. I guess if I ever reach perfection I will stop — but for now the battle goes on.” Besides its visionary aspect, glassblowing is also sensual. Here’s how Putney’s Robert Burch of Brandywine Glassworks, a Vermont glassblower for more than 30 years, talks about his love affair with glass. “I was down in North Carolina, walking through the woods one night, and I walked by a tiny cabin. There was this roar coming out of it. So I wandered in and there was this guy blowing a glass bowl. I had walked in just as he was spinning it out. You use centrifugal force and spin the rod really quickly and the glass opens up. At that particular moment, the glass is really, really liquid. It’s flowing, it’s moving, it looks like a manta ray. It has incredible grace, a...

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Raising a ruckus in Southern Vermont
Jun22

Raising a ruckus in Southern Vermont

Raising a ruckus in Southern Vermont A show celebrating major themes of influental artist Red Grooms over 60 years — his first show ever in Vermont, and his first in New England in 16 years — opens in Brattleboro this summer By Arlene Distler And now, under the big top, in the center ring, Red Grooms, ringmaster of the human comedy, brings you jugglers, wild animals, acrobats, clowns, and trapeze artists; whole chunks of Manhattan, assorted city characters you are sure to recognize; and, finally, artists and their strange and assorted wares, all for your viewing pleasure! Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances, Brattleboro Museum & Art Center is mounting a major show of the work of “environmental installation” artist Red Grooms, a major figure in American art. The show, “Red Grooms: What’s the Ruckus?” focuses on three veins of his work: the circus, New York City, and art about art. Grooms, born Charles Rogers Grooms on June 7, 1937, rose to prominence during the fertile years of late 1950s, early ’60s New York, a time of great artistic and cultural experimentation. There was a restlessness among young artists, a movement away from the dominant Abstract Expressionist esthetic; a desire to be figurative, but also relevant to modern life. It was during this period the artists Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Lester Johnson, and Allan Kaprow all cut their creative teeth. It was a time also during which the art of film entered an experimental phase that pulled the curtain back on the work of Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, and Bruce Conner. In fact, it was while working on a film with Rudy Burckhardt and his then-wife Mimi Gross, that Grooms first glimpsed the direction he wanted his art to take. The short film “Tappy Toes” (1968), a stop-motion animation, was the first film in a series that included “Fat Feet” (1966), a classic of the genre. Gross and Grooms made set pieces for the characters to inhabit. It was at this juncture, Grooms has said, that he “realized I wanted people to be able to walk through my art.” Grooms was influential in “happenings,” an art form Susan Sontag called “animated collages.” She has described them as containing the “curious dualism of optimism and anarchy,” an esthetic that abides with Grooms’ artwork to the present. Distinctly, they eliminate the boundary between the artwork and its viewer. BMAC’s Mara Williams, curator for “What’s the Ruckus?” says she had considered the show for years. Moved things along considerably was Grooms’ daughter, Saskia, who lives in Southern Vermont, and advocated for getting at least a small showing of her...

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