Lisa Flanders: A Jewelry Artist's Journey to Brattleboro
I am honored to have been invited to share my work and my story with the wonderful community that has become so dear to me over the past two years.
I was born and raised just outside of Boston and spent my college years living and working in the city while attending Boston University. What began as a winter vacation to Florida in 1980, however, gradually stretched to 27 years, as I first got a job, then got married, had children, and became completely rooted there.
I enjoyed many wonderful life experiences during that time, including raising and homeschooling my children, the evolution of my spirituality, and cultivating our glorious, fragrant Southern garden. While in Florida, I also found my artistic calling as a metalsmith after a chance meeting with master jeweler Richard Beardsley while buying a vintage Volkswagen from him. Seeing his extraordinary work inspired me to take a jewelry class with Lucinda Moran at the University of Florida's Reitz Union. Lucinda then encouraged and assisted me in setting up my own studio, and I went on to have the privilege of being a member of the Gainesville Artisans' Guild, the second-oldest artists' cooperative in the country, for nearly 20 years.
But somehow Florida -- the climate, the topography, the culture -- was never truly right for me, and my homesickness and yearning for New England only intensified as the years passed. Thus, as my children grew older, I began to seriously consider how I could finally return.
The move was in the planning stages for several years, as there seemed to be a million details to get in order -- not the least of which was convincing my daughter and son (in college and high school there, respectively) to accompany me. But they had loved their vacations to Boston, and we were all very excited about embarking on a new, adventurous life in the city. As the plan was slowly taking shape, however, my daughter welcomed her first baby. That changed everything and, as much as we loved Boston, it seemed clear that we would need a healthier, non-urban environment in which to raise a child.
As synchronicity would have it, Brattleboro -- a town I'd never even visited before -- began crossing my radar.
First, an acquaintance at a dinner party recommended the book Your Life as Art by Robert Fritz. In the book, I read biographical information that described the author's life and work in this corner of Vermont. Then, seeking to escape the oppressive summer heat one July day (by sitting in front of the air conditioner with a book set in the northern winter), I perused the mystery shelves in the tiny High Springs public library and came home with one of Archer Mayor's novels (a writer I'd never previously heard of), which vividly described the sound of snow crunching underfoot in the intense cold of the Brattleboro winter.
Thus the cosmic hints continued (such as the travel guide suggestion of the Brattleboro Food Co-op as a great place for vegetarian food while on a road trip) and, as the town began to seem more and more fascinating and viscerally attractive, I sent away for the Chamber of Commerce literature and began to do Internet research in earnest. I then discovered Brattleboro's standing as a great art town, and it became absolutely clear, on a deep inner level, that this was the right place both for our family and for me as an artist. All that remained was the formality of an in-person reconnaissance trip, which I planned to do after getting my historic High Springs house ready to sell and listed with a realtor.
But then, just six days after putting the house on the market, I had a contract with an eager buyer who wanted to close in 25 days! With the daunting task of wrapping up a life entrenched there for nearly three decades (something that, sadly, included resigning from my beloved Gainesville Artisans' Guild, which was a local-artists-only coop) and packing the contents of a 4-bedroom house, a barn, and a huge garden, there was simply far too much to do in such a short time, and taking several days for a fact-finding trip became an impossibility.
So I opened the phone book that had been kindly sent by the Chamber and rented an apartment sight unseen, in a town that I was moving to sight unseen, over the phone. We then packed all of our possessions in a giant U-Haul truck (with me breaking my ankle in the process after I lost my footing while carrying a heavy box of books and fell down the back steps, where I lay crying and cursing the azalea bushes) and hired a friend with a CDL to drive it to Vermont for us. We watched it drive away (with my car being towed on the back) and the next morning my kids and my 1-year-old granddaughter and I boarded a flight to Albany.
Due to a cancelled connecting flight, an involuntary rerouting, and two more missed connections, however, what was supposed to have been a 3-hour flight took more than 16 hours (all of that with the broken ankle that I'd mistakenly thought was only sprained and had therefore never gotten medical attention for, and which was by this time elephantine in size and the color of an eggplant). But, after leaving Gainesville early in the morning, we finally made it to Boston at nearly midnight, though all our luggage went to Albany, our original destination.
After making our way out of Logan, we drove out to Framingham to spend the night before heading to Vermont. Because it was a Sunday, everything, even the local Wal-Mart, was closed, and we had to buy clothes (all of our clothes were packed in the misdirected luggage) at a 24-hour Walgreens -- not exactly a source for haute couture. We have still kept the bizarre, flowered polyester pajama pants we bought there as a memento of that surreal middle-of-the-night adventure.
Finally, the next morning we took scenic Rte. 119 up to Vermont.
And I will never forget the feeling of seeing beautiful Brattleboro across the river for the first time! It was in every way an experience, as poignantly described by John Denver's song lyrics, of "coming home to a place I'd never been before." If there is such a thing as one's inner self being in perfect harmony with oneís external environment, I felt that harmony here instantly -- a harmony which has immeasurably enriched and inspired my art. This has been an exhilarating and life-affirming journey, and our sense of being guided to Brattleboro by the forces that be within the universe has truly been borne out. During the two years we have been here, I have grown to love this amazing town more each day, and I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the great people who have welcomed us and made us feel so at home.
I design and create my original, handmade sterling silver and gemstone jewelry in my sunny home studio overlooking downtown Brattleboro, using traditional fabrication techniques of texturing, forming, forging, soldering, stone setting, and finishing. I hope you'll join me and my family at my Open Studio during Gallery Walk.
Copyright 2009, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont