Artistic habitats: artists open their homes and studios
May11

Artistic habitats: artists open their homes and studios

By Steve Noble In 36 years as working artists in Vermont, Roger Sandes and Mary Welsh have learned to share their cozy, cluttered 432-square-foot studio, with each other – and with the ghosts of oxen past. Set in an old barn built around 1810, their studio, perched on a small hill overlooking the Rock River in Williamsville, was once part of a wool-carding mill that served local farmers during Vermont’s sheep-shearing heyday in the early 19th century. In the summer, when the river slowed to a trickle, oxen were used to power the mill. To shoe them, the oxen needed to be lifted by sling. On a visit to their studio, Welsh pointed out the place where the ox slinging used to take place. “That’s one of the interesting things about this place,” said Welsh. History is important to Sandes and Welsh, who have learned a lot about their hometown and its past since they first moved there in 1978. “We’ve always lived in historical houses,” said Sandes, pointing out that they once lived in a house in New York City that used to belong to Aaron Burr. While history does figure in their work as artists – Welsh’s collages contain historical images; Sandes’ paintings often reference art history – this side of them only reveals itself when you visit them and hear their stories. Getting to know artists as they really are is one of the many pleasures of the Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour, a weekend-long event in which 18 artists and craftspeople in South Newfane, Williamsville and Dover welcome visitors to see where they work. While meeting customers and selling work is part of the event for these high-caliber professional artists, the Rock River Open Studio Tour, which takes place this year on July 19-20, offers visitors a chance to witness the happy intersections of place, passion, inspiration and perspiration reflected in their work. There are several opportunities for people to encounter artists in their natural habitats. In addition to the Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour, there is the Vermont Crafts Council’s statewide Open Studio Weekend on May 24-25 and Brattleboro-West Arts’ Sixth Annual Open Studio Tour in September. Counterpoint to the fluorescent-lit cubicle farms where most of us work, these studios reveal a lot about the artists themselves. And that is a big part of the charm. Case in point is the small barn that Sandes and Welsh share. Though admittedly not perfect, it has served them well over the years. Filled with color studies and sketches, paint-spattered work clothes, material for collages and equipment for building frames, the studio presents itself as...

Read More
Slow Living: Stimulating the senses to connect emotionally and spiritually
May11

Slow Living: Stimulating the senses to connect emotionally and spiritually

Slow Living. It’s the name of annual conference in Brattleboro, the Slow Living Summit, taking place this year June 4-6, presented by Strolling of the Heifers. And this year, it’s offering a unique and intriguing new format that combines the traditional spoken words of conference presenters with simultaneous interpretive contributions from a variety of artists. But first, what does Slow Living mean, exactly? “Slow” embodies the ideals of organizations like Slow Food and Slow Money, along with their accompanying ideas: living sustainably, enjoying the moment, contributing rather than extracting, being mindful, and so many of the ways we live, breathe, think, and feel in an interconnected way. But the Summit’s organizers say that “Living” is an important part of the Summit’s name, also. “Living” should be mindful and purposeful, but also celebratory and filled with beauty, joy and gratitude. Defining what is meant by living well, or by a life well lived, is as relevant today as it was to the ancients — and as difficult. Combining these words, “Slow Living” means a more reflective approach to answering how we live, work and play as human beings on a fragile Earth. When we Live Slow, we give back and become more strongly connected to the Earth, to our communities, to our neighbors and to ourselves. So how might we share these ideas, make connections, build this new story, and engage in a Slow Living culture? The Slow Living Summit aims to enable participants to drink in these many ideas, ways, and connections. And this year, the organizers want to invite participants to grow into Slow Living not just cerebrally — in a thinking way — but emotionally and spiritually as well — in a “feeling” way. Orly Munzing (Strolling of the Heifers founder and director) and Linda McInerney (actor and producer who founded Old Deerfield Productions) are friends. They dream together whenever they are together. McInerney recalled when Munzing told her about her idea for the Summit: “I thought it was an amazing idea. What a great way to build upon expanding this community of folks who have the intention of living sustainably and holistically. I loved the idea. “But then when I attended the Summit I had to be honest with Orly. The ways that the Summit communicates these amazing ideas only used one channel, that of thought, of the left and logical brain. It seemed that there was much that was being overlooked and that to offer ideas through power point and talking heads was to miss out on deeper communication. “I felt that a major human element was missing: art. We all are artists and our creativity...

Read More
Back from the brink: Three years after Irene, Whetstone Studios spring back to life
May11

Back from the brink: Three years after Irene, Whetstone Studios spring back to life

By Arlene Distler The Whetstone Brook curves along the southern edge of Brattleboro from the west, emptying into the Connecticut River. For a while Williams Street follows it, dotted with private homes and a business or two. Somewhat out of the way, the spot was perfect for a plumbing supply house, F W Webb. And it is perfect now as a budding outpost for the arts, alternative health practices, and community space. At the entrance a low wall made of stone and brick greets tenants and visitors. This piece of functional landscaping made by the in-house mason, Jim Seery, features masonry embedded with rusty tools, mirrors, colored glass and other found objects. The side of a propane tank nearby has been covered with flowers painted in primary colors, the handiwork of tenant Sage Feldman. Clearly this is a place where creativity reigns! The blackboard at the door lists eight studios: massage therapist, art therapist, a meditation center, artists and artisans. The Whetstone Studios is quintessential Brattleboro, with its mix of alternative culture, social activism, and the arts. Almost demolished by Irene three years ago, the Whetstone Studios has sprung back to life, thanks to the ingenuity, fortitude, and determination of owner/landlord/visionary David Parker. Named for the babbling brook that runs behind the Whetstone, when Irene hit in 2011 the brook raged over its banks, inundating the first floor of the building. The torrent undermined its foundation and caused half of the wood frame structure to list precariously off its moorings. So dramatic was the sight that it became ground zero for CNN reporters that had come to town, serving as the backdrop to newscasts. Fortunately, Parker’s credentials feature a very fortuitous skill: that of building restoration and woodworker. His workshop, on the ground floor, was a total loss, with his lifetime collection of hand and power tools swept away. Somehow he got back to work and his great respect for the enriching properties of wood is evident throughout the renewed interior of the Whetstone Studios. Pieces of ornately carved furniture from India are set in diverse spots throughout the building, lending an exotic flair. Stained glass windows on the second floor invite the light to take on hues of red, yellow, and green as it passes through a scene of waterfall and lush vegetation by the artists Ric Newman and Liza King. Several of the original tenants have left since the storm, either due to damage or other circumstances. Frabjous Fabrics, wholesalers of brightly dyed yarns, suffered the most damage. Above them was a painting studio and a meditation room. These spaces were condemned and the whole south side...

Read More
Original Chicken: Local farmer keeps traditional breeds alive and thriving
May11

Original Chicken: Local farmer keeps traditional breeds alive and thriving

By Erica Ludlow Bowman Collectors come in many colors. They are humble hobbyists and erudite enthusiasts, gatherers of festive pants, cultivators of fancy plants, and all that comes between. At Taft Hill Farm in Windham, Vermont, they are keepers of the genus Gallus. Their flocks are descendants of the junglefowl, close relatives of the original chickens. They are in a league of their own. As curator of Taft Hill Farm in Windham, Vermont, it’s Kermit Blackwood’s job to maintain the stewardship of “cultural heritage and cultural monument” lines of chicken landraces and breeds. It is also his responsibility to help educate people about their lineage and significance in the context of sustainable agriculture.  “To be a chicken collector,” Blackwood says, “is to be a cultural historian.”  The story of these traditional chickens is completely aligned with the story of the human experience. It’s reasonable, Blackwood explains, to correlate events in the history of the domestication of the chicken to trends in maritime trading, culture, and human migration. Take, for example, the Bekisar, hybrid of the red junglefowl from the Vietnam region and green junglefowl from the Lesser Sundas Islands. Its hybridized traits included a sea-worthy drought tolerance and an unusual, rhythmic crow that could be heard over crashing waves. Early Polynesian voyagers hoisted the Bekisar roosters in baskets on poles so that they could help with navigation.  Their strange crow announced flying birds, indicative of jet streams, and provided audible signals to keep the convoy together.  By way of trade routes, Bekisars were spread along the Pacific.  Its descendants lay the green tinted eggs. Similarly, Blackwood relays a “suspicion” among ethnographers that the Chinese had been first to arrive in Mexico (before the Europeans). This is based on the prior existence of a peculiar “black-boned” breed of chicken called the Huastec or Mexican silkie, which is clearly related to the Chinese silkie but unknown to the Polynesians or South Americans. Black-boned fowl were developed in ancient Eastern Asia for medicinal purposes thousands of years before Europeans knew of them. Telltale traits of chicken breeds can even revive forgotten histories, Blackwood adds.  Consider the Lakenvelder chickens, attributed to the country of Germany but not to the Jewish culture that developed and perfected them.  They were, in fact, developed by peoples of the Levant, the first culture to select and breed chickens specifically for egg production and incorporate eggs into dough. ​After the Holocaust, credit for the breed seemed to have been mislaid but the significance of this ancient breed as an egg producer lives on. The chickens of Taft Hill Farm are developing their own cultural history. Originating from lines that existed before the evolution of industrial farming in Europe and America, these birds are descendants of indigenous, semi-domestic fowl...

Read More
Green from gold: Human urine as a resource for sustainability
May11

Green from gold: Human urine as a resource for sustainability

  “When folks discover that recycling their pee can create rich soils, save water, and prevent pollution, they can get very excited. People are signing up right and left.” The Rich Earth Institute, a non-profit research and demonstration organization founded in 2012, is turning human urine to liquid gold. Lush, green hay thrives where this nutrient-rich source of fertilizer is applied by local farmers. Why human urine? Because it contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K in fertilizer parlance), says Kim Nace, cofounder and Administrative Director of the Institute, and these ingredients are what’s most needed to grow crops.” Our current “waste” management practices flush these nutrients into our rivers and groundwater where they become pollutants. But as Buckminster Fuller said, “Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” The value of the N-P-K in animal manure has long been evident to farmers, but human urine is equally potent. At the intersection of agriculture and the sanitation industry, the Rich Earth Institute is leading the nation in a groundbreaking, community-scale urine recycling project, and the results are drawing national and international attention. Using urine diverting toilets, waterless urinals, and urine-collecting portable toilets at public events, people in Southern Vermont recycled 3,000 gallons of liquid gold in 2013. The 2014 collection target is 6,000 gallons and two more farms will be participating in the expanded research project. The Rich Earth Institute is partnering with Best Septic of Westminster VT for collection and transport of the urine. “People involved with this project have changed their thinking,” reports Nace, “When folks discover that recycling their pee can create rich soils, save water, and prevent pollution, they can get very excited. People are signing up right and left.” “A year’s worth of urine from one adult contains enough fertilizer to grow 320 pounds of wheat,” Nace continued, “enough wheat to make a loaf of bread nearly every day for a year. If we were to collect and sanitize the estimated 300 billion pounds of human urine produced in the United States each year, we could reclaim the equivalent of over eight billion pounds of chemical fertilizer.” Regulated by the Watershed Management Division of the Agency of Natural Resources in Vermont, the Rich Earth Institute completes a sanitizing process prior to applying the urine to the hay fields. Storing the urine above 70 degrees for 30 days, or pasteurizing it kills pathogens from any stray fecal particles; both methods have been tested. This year, the Institute is receiving EPA funding to research the persistence of pharmaceutical residuals from urine in soils,...

Read More
Spotlight: Newest Welcome Center introduces visitors to Vermont artists’ work
May11

Spotlight: Newest Welcome Center introduces visitors to Vermont artists’ work

The newest Vermont State Welcome Center located in the middle of the interchange of routes 7 and 9 in Bennington has amazing views, a gorgeous interior, and an abundance of facilities for the public. In addition to the display cases and other information kiosks the Welcome Center also features an Art Wall. Each month a different artist is on display. Artists who have been featured include photographer John Giblo and artist Linda Durkee. Upcoming exhibits feature Matthew Lerman (May 7 – June 4); Leslie Heathcote (June 4 – July 2 and Tony Conner (July 2 – July 29). The Center has also featured the artwork of patients at the Vermont Veterans’ Home. Future plans are to display artists from the Southern Vermont Arts Center of Manchester. Every month the Gallery is refreshed and includes information about the artist and available works of art. Artists who are interested in exhibiting their work should call 802-447-2456 to talk with the operations manager, PJ DeVito about including their work in a display. Other opportunities also exist including setting up an easel and painting on the site. The good news for travelers is that the Welcome Center has exits going in all four directions – you can easily get to anywhere from the...

Read More
Wonderland of Innovation: A space for makers gets some takers
May11

Wonderland of Innovation: A space for makers gets some takers

Ever imagine what it would be like to have access to a large space just for tinkering and making things with all of the hi-end equipment you might need like Laser Cutting and 3D printing? Burlington has developed just such a maker space for artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and artisans. It’s called Generator and is 5,000 square feet of studios, tools, classroom and lounge located in the Annex of Memorial Auditorium. It also connects computer application developers to the city’s high-speed gigabit Internet network. Makers of all kinds, novice or professional, can sign-up for membership, rent a studio space, or take a class. Generator’s objective is to foster a hybrid hive of activity that creates a fertile environment for innovation, creativity and idea fulfillment. Monthly membership starts at $50, giving access to tools and workspace. Studio membership starts at $100 a month and includes a private workspace. Classes for adult and teens programmed and managed by Burlington City Arts, will begin this month (April). Burlington City Arts Executive Director Doreen Kraft called Generator a “wonderland of innovation.” Generator’s long list of partners includes Burlington City Arts, Champlain College, the University of Vermont, Burlington College, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Community and Economic Development Office, and Burlington Telecom. Champlain College is also planning to open its own maker space in the city’s South End next month. “I’ve been engaged in community activism in Burlington for almost 25 years now,” said Michael Metz, president of the Generator board of directors as well as a Burlington City Arts board member. “I have never been involved with a project, with an activity, with an event, involving so many different aspects of our community.” The Memorial Auditorium Annex is a temporary location for Generator; ultimately Generator and Burlington City Arts would like to form a “community creative center” on Pine Street. Before that happens, Generator has to arrive at a sustainable business model — the organization’s goal is to require fundraising only to fund community outreach and education. “We really do see this is a beta test site,” Metz, president said during a news conference. “Burlington’s a pretty small community to have a maker space along the lines of … the other 30 or 40 in larger cities that are successful. Some are not. So it’s an issue of scale. We’re feeling our way.” Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said Generator could “create massive new opportunities” for...

Read More
Spotlight: Roots on the River
May11

Spotlight: Roots on the River

Bellows Falls, June 5-8 — http://www.vermontfestivalsllc.com/ James McMurtry to Headline Roots on the River XV This year’s featured artist is James McMurtry, a Roots favorite with locals. McMurtry, an Austin, Texas, based singer and songwriter has been closely involved with curating the lineup in concert with Ray Massucco, concert promoter. Thursday will see the opening of the festival at 33 Bridge with Haley Reardon, an amazing teenage singer/songwriter who enchanted a lively local crowd this year in Bellows Falls. Also on Thursday’s schedule is folk duo Second Hands.Friday has a sprinkling of free concerts in Bellows Falls during the day around the Square and at the farmers’ market. This year, look for The Meadows Brothers, Rebecca Holtz and The Once Hollow, and Caitlin Canty. In the evening, under the Big Tent, the show begins with Sean Rowe, popular alternative folk singer-songwriter and musician. Carolyn Wonderland will take the stage next, leading the way for McMurtry’s first appearance of the festival. Saturday is jam-packed with the show kicking off with McMurtry’s son Curtis. Following that will be Heather Maloney, Poor Old Shine, and Roger Marin’s performance; Marin has never missed Roots—also on the lineup, JD McPherson and The Black Lillies. As the afternoon winds down, The Bottle Rockets, return to Roots to the delight of their local following. The show will round out with McMurtry finishing off the evening with his second performance. The series concludes on Sunday with an all-acoustic show at the 225-year-old landmark Rockingham Meeting House, featuring festival favorite Mary Gauthier, and a second appearance by Canty. The evening will draw to a close at Pleasant Valley Brewing in Saxtons River with The Meadows Brothers and Holly Brewer. Roots on the River Festival is volunteer driven and staffed. The festival is smoke-free and family-friendly, with a special staffed children’s tent on the Saturday of the festival. There is limited seating under the big tent, so plan to come early or bring a small lawn chair or blanket. Vendors will be on-site to provide food and...

Read More
Spotlight: A Midsummer Night’s Prowl & Auction
May11

Spotlight: A Midsummer Night’s Prowl & Auction

July 19, 7 p.m. — Colgate Park, Route 9 West, Bennington http://www.catamountprowl.com or call 802-447-3311 Get your cattitude on! Vermont’s elusive mountain lions, the catamounts are awakening from hibernation and the Catamount Prowl will be let loose this spring and summer beginning May 18 at Colgate Park in Bennington, Vermont. This is a great opportunity to check them out before they are auctioned off at the Midsummer Night’s Prowl and Auction Gala on July 19 at 7p at Colgate Park. The evening affair will feature the Taste of Vermont, live entertainment, specialty desserts and the live auction of the catamounts. Tickets are $50/person. Different businesses sponsored the cats and local artists were invited to create personalities for them. The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce organized this street art project. Previous Chamber of Commerce art festivals in Bennington have raised significant funds for a number of charities as well as for the artists who receive 25% of the gross at the auction. Bennington’s Street Art projects are designed to raise funds for future community reinvestment, visitor attraction and to support local artists, support collaboration with local schools and youth, drive traffic to sponsor businesses and increase community...

Read More
Spotlight: Manchester Antique & Classic Car Show
May11

Spotlight: Manchester Antique & Classic Car Show

June 7 & 8 — http://034f961.netsolhost.com/wordpress1 Top 20 Vermont Event—Yankee Magazine —The premier Antique and Classic Car Show in Manchester & the Mountains celebrates 28 years of the best antique and classic cars, food vendors and flea market in the northeast! The show will be on the Dorr Farm on Route 30, just north of Manchester Center—a spectacular setting surrounded by the Green Mountains. Thousands of spectators and hundreds of car collectors turn out each year to enjoy an exciting array of vintage vehicles. This great family event offers activities for all ages plus great food, silent auctions, 50/50 raffles, tractor rides and strolls on the show field. Awards will be given to first and second place winners, special awards and first place in the “best of” categories. The Tailgate Competition will take place and judged on Sunday as well as the judging for “Best of the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, 70′s and...

Read More
A new partnership blossoms among colleges in Southern Vermont
May11

A new partnership blossoms among colleges in Southern Vermont

Ellen McCullough-Lovell, president of Marlboro College, one of the institutions involved, said “the pact not only expands opportunities for students. It also reflects the colleges’ commitment to economic and work-force development.” The partnership is part of a multi-town effort to create better wages and job opportunities — and to keep young people from leaving Vermont. The idea is that internships will help students gain workforce experience and build connections with area employers. Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College plan to open a shared campus this fall in the Brooks House in downtown Brattleboro. The redevelopment of the Brooks House is a critical project for downtown Brattleboro but also for southeast Vermont. “The conversion of the Brooks House to predominantly commercial/educational uses is great for the region as it provides a convenient educational hub in the heart of downtown,” says Pat Moulton Powden, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. “This makes it more convenient for adult students to access the educational resources but also the shops, bookstores, restaurants and other commercial activity for their educational and personal needs.” The building is being renovated after a devastating fire in 2011. The two statewide colleges are among the six that have joined the Windham Higher Education Cooperative. The others are Marlboro College, Union Institute, Landmark College in Putney, and Brattleboro’s School for International Training. A haven for secondary education It is worth noting that Southern Vermont is also blessed with a variety of specialty schools for the younger generation Hilltop Montessori School (120 Summit Circle, Brattleboro, Vermont) is student-centered; Montessori curriculum serves children from toddler to teenagers, 18 months through grade 8. The campus consists of 43 acres of fields, trails, a pond and a newly built arts barn and classroom facilities. The Montessori approach recognizes every child’s natural desire to learn which is supported in a thoughtfully prepared learning environment, with the guidance of a specially trained teacher. For more information (802) 257-0500 or visit our website at http://www.hilltopmontessori.org Oak Meadow offers a flexible, affordable independent school experience for children in kindergarten to grade 12. Their creative, experiential homeschooling curriculum can be used independently or by enrolling in their fully accredited, teacher-supported distance learning school. Oak Meadow was founded in 1975 by a group of parents and teachers seeking to reignite their children’s spark for learning. Celebrating its 53rd year, The Grammar School, located in Putney, is a fully accredited independent co-ed day school for 120 motivated and engaged learners in preschool through 8th grade. TGS cultivates in each student a lifelong passion for learning through an integrated program that provides an excellent academic, artistic, athletic and ethical foundation....

Read More
Talk of the Arts: Growing the arts in Vermont
May11

Talk of the Arts: Growing the arts in Vermont

By Steve Stettler Vermont is rightly proud of its identity as a farming state, today’s superb “Vermont-made” line of food products being just the latest manifestation. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find that the same striking if challenging landscape and the rugged individualism and sense of community that grew out of it have also provided fertile ground for artists. Think Robert Frost and Bread Loaf, David Mamet and Atlantic Theater, Rudolf Serkin and Marlboro…  Top-flight artists have historically found inspiration in the Green Mountains, joining or establishing institutions to share that magic.  Indeed, “growing the arts” is now a promising economic engine for Vermont’s future. While urban exposure makes art more marketable, its creation is often better supported in a rural setting.  In Weston, once our artists adjust to peace and quiet, nights lit only by stars, and spotty cell service, they begin to appreciate what they can accomplish when they are not relentlessly bombarded by the outside world. And, perhaps because Vermonters are used to the skill and patience it takes to make and grow things, we find that they are ideal audiences for work in progress. For these reasons, we at the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company began a commitment to the development of new work back in 2007. Since that time we have produced 4 world premieres, 8 New Musical Awards, 7 Artist Retreats, and numerous readings, residencies and workshops serving hundreds of artists. This summer, both of our stages will feature new musicals by Broadway composers and recent plays by award-winning writers affiliated with our company. Most exciting, we are now in the second half of a campaign to complete a year-round campus for play development in Vermont. We believe that our state has been underappreciated and underused as an incubator for the arts, and we are working with local, regional and national partners to see that change. By the summer of 2016, the 5-acre Walker farmstead in Weston will be home to a new studio theatre that will provide an intimate and flexible space for the development of new work on a year-round basis.  Weston’s expanding programs – including an annual new play festival and a series of retreats curated by national figures – will share the space with visiting ensembles, theatre companies and commercial producers who will benefit from all that Vermont has to offer. It is so meaningful that, like many Vermont treasures, this is all happening on a farm. As we plant the seeds of creativity, we honor and preserve a great tradition in a new way. And the next time that someone “from away” asks me what we do up...

Read More