Putney Craft Tour
Thanksgiving Weekend: On Putney, Vermont’s Artisan Trail
By Katherine P. Cox
Liz Hawkes deNiord, a painter and ceramic artist from Putney, says to expect the usual and the unusual when you visit her studio on the 34th annual Putney Craft Tour in November. She could be talking about the tour itself, whose organizers are always striving to add something new and different to the venerable arts tour. Twenty-eight artists and craftspeople, including some new to the tour or returning after absences, will open their studios to the public Nov. 23-25.
A new feature this year is the welcome center at The Putney Inn, where visitors can stop to get maps, directions and to view the participating artists’ work, which will be on exhibit at the Inn. Weaver Dena Gartenstein Moses, an organizer who has been part of the tour for many years, says, “We have over 25 artists participating and realize that even if someone takes the whole weekend, it will be hard for them to see and do everything.” Veteran tour-goers, she says, “often have their favorites, but we wanted to give new participants an easy way to get a sense of what is being made and shown on the different stops to help them decide how to plan their time.”
There will be someone on hand to provide information about the tour, the artists and about Putney and places to stay and dine. Maps, coffee and restrooms will be available for those looking for a rest stop or a meeting place. Every artisan on the tour will have at least one piece exhibited at the inn, a preview of what’s in store at the studios.
As always, the annual Putney Craft Tour, held during the long Thanksgiving weekend, gives shoppers, visitors and collectors another reason to be thankful. Blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters, jewelers, weavers, woodworkers – even artisan cheesemakers –invite visitors to come in, discover, ask questions, sip hot cider and find that one-of-a-kind gift, for themselves or others. Part of the fun is meandering through the beautiful Vermont countryside, following the map to find these prominent craftspeople and view the works where they are conceived and created; in some cases, the settings showcase how to incorporate original pieces into a home.
Expect the strange, the elegant, funky and unusual, says Liz Hawkes deNiord. A potter and painter, she will have pots that carry three-dimensional paintings. Also in her studio will be candelabras, goblets, unusual vases, tiny, medium and large “painted” bowls, covered boxes, mugs, expresso sets, plates, coolers, pitchers, and hand-carved stoppers for vessels. “I also make sculptural installations, painted textured clay wall pieces and pots that marry form and function. My present favorite exploration is the thrown hollow ring form, playing with cutting and twisting and rearranging the parts. I try to keep a sense of play and discovery in creating my work,” she says. She was last on the tour in 2010.
Her studio in Westminster West “is two simple structures of rough local pine and hickory wood. In one space there is the wheel with the kiln in the other. The two buildings are connected by a spacious open deck that looks north to the woods and south to the gardens and meadow. It is 50 steps from the house, where I also have the painting studio. I mention ’50 steps’ because in winter I often carry ware boards loaded with pots along the snowy, slippery path into the house to dry by the wood stove and then later to carry them back out to finish and fire them.”
Also returning to the tour this year is Carol Keiser of Putney, who creates vivid painted tiles and paintings. Perhaps better known for her evocative tiles with their lush landscapes, dreamy figures, fanciful images, and colorful still-lifes, she says she has been concentrating more on painting recently. “My paintings are more expressionistic; magical realism. I try to put in things like stars, moons, the sun; things suggesting the cosmos and iconic elements that suggest something.” Much of her work is of places such as Italy, Mexico and Costa Rica and other locations where she travels. She will also have small drawings of nudes, done in gouache and Japanese brush ink in her studio, which is “like a small cottage,” she says. “People always go ‘wow! What a great place to work!’ There’s lots of light and color from the paintings and tiles.”
New to the tour is John Labine, who is also new to the area – he and his wife moved to Putney from Southern California a year and a half ago – but whose connections to the area go back to when he attended The Putney School in the early 1980s. A furniture and metalwork designer-builder, he will be introducing tour visitors to his lighting pieces, steel tables with blown-glass inserts, and some metal jewelry. Labine describes his work as “ornamental rationalism.” His forms, particularly the metalwork, are organic, but also functional, he says. They have a purpose; they’re not just ornamental, he says.
His studio is an old horse barn that he converted part of into workspace, pouring a slab floor, installing wood stove and adding more windows. He’s opening it to the tour-going public “to become part of the creative community here and to provide an avenue for exposure; to let people know what I do and to provide them access to my product. I’m hoping to generate business and meet more people in the community and have people come through and see what I do.”
Those connections are what it’s all about, both for the artists and the people who visit their studios. Hundreds of visitors 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 distinctive, original pieces for sale. Silver jeweler Jeanne Bennett, who has been on the tour for over 10 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 repeat customers that come back “to see what’s new and add to their collection.”
More than anything, she said, the tour is great entertainment. Driving the back roads and finding these places is an adventure in itself, she said, although the studios are well marked and maps provide clear directions.
For detailed information on the craftspeople, a map, and links to accommodations and restaurants, go to putneycrafts.com.