Stained glass by Julia Brandis

Julia Brandis, stained glass


Weaving by Dena Gartenstein

Dena Gartenstein, weaving


Pottery by Susan Wilson

Susan Wilson, pottery and sculpture


33rd Annual Putney Open Studio Craft Tour

Forged keys by Ruth wplk

Ruth wplk [sic], metalworking and jewelry

With an extraordinary collection of talent, the Putney Craft Tour stands out among art excursions, and this year's open studio tour is no different. Bursting with an eclectic variety of artists and craftspeople nestled among the hills and valleys of this charming Vermont town, the 33rd annual Putney Craft Tour, a prototype for open studios around the country, held during the long Thanksgiving weekend (November 25-27, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), gives shoppers, visitors, and collectors another reason to be thankful. Many of the studios are off the beaten path, affording a great opportunity to enjoy Southern Vermont's natural beauty that inspires these artisans.

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 along the back roads, 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.

With 27 artists and craftspeople spread out over a 12-mile radius, it's worth making a weekend out of it, suggests Ken Pick, who creates evocative functional and sculptural pottery and is one of the original members of the group that gathered to organize the first tour.

"Putney rocks," said weaver Dena Gartenstein. "It's got so much art and crafts to choose from and it's high quality." The annual open studio craft tour has helped put Putney and surrounding towns on the map, with hundreds of visitors moving through the studios over the course of three days and engaging with the artists -- the real draw of such tours -- as well as the distinctive, original pieces for sale.

Josh LeTourneau, a glass blower who has been part of the tour for a decade, also enjoys the interaction with visitors to his studio. "Watching the reaction [to a glass-blowing demonstration] from an individual for the first time is as rewarding as a commission," he said. "More than half of my crowd comes to buy a piece, but a lot of people come back for Christmas gifts, hire me for commissions, or just grab a business card for a future birthday present or wedding gift."

Hawkins with studio visitors

Judy Hawkins talks about her work with studio visitors.

Those connections are what it's all about, agree other participants on the tour, both for them and the people who visit. Silver jeweler Jeanne Bennett, who also has been on the tour for 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."

Landscape painter Judy Hawkins thrives on the excitement generated by visitors to her studio in Westminster West, just outside Putney. "It's been wonderful for me. It opened up a part of me that has become part of my (creative) process. It has helped me grow as an artist. It's about the conversation -- I explain what I'm doing, why I paint the way I do."

For Hawkins, the bond that develops between the craftpeople and the visitors is what makes the Putney Craft Tour so meaningful. For Gartenstein, it's also about community: "I feel part of this bigger whole." And while there are other art and craft tours, she said, "This is different. There's a magic that happens here. There's a little bit of fairy dust that makes the magic happen."

For detailed information on the craftspeople, a map, and links to accommodations and restaurants, go to www.putneycrafts.com.

Copyright 2011, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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