I recently returned home from a trip to Vermont. While on this trip, my husband and I discovered some great artisans, stores, museums and art centers that I believe all had a greatness totally worth sharing… So let the sharing commence!
We started our travels by making a pit-stop in Woodstock, NY. Its an area that’s famously artistic, but we were only there to grab a bite to eat and hang out with one of my best friends, Tamar. Tamar happens to be one of the greatest artists I personally know, and she surprised me with a handmade journal for my birthday. It was beautifully crafted, hand-stitched together, covered with marbled paper created by her very own hands and included a special note on the first page. Although not in VT yet, it was a fantastic start to my Vermont Vacation, and an artist definitely worth mentioning!
My first actual Vermont accolade goes out to a shop in Brattleboro called Gallery in the Woods. There is a stunning amount of work from varying artists and each section is just as exciting as the last. The multitude of medias and the fascinating work left me wanting to stay for hours. The shop was eclectic, yet unified, and the art ranged from functional crafts to sacred/cultural artifacts and then on to stunning fine arts. If you are ever in Brattleboro, I highly recommend this shop.
Early during our trip, we visited the Simon Pearce Pottery Studio in Windsor. Simon Pearce Pottery is much more of a production studio than the quaint little artisan shops I tend to favor, but we still had a great time there. The first stop on the self-guided tour took us to Lauren, a young woman who was throwing pitchers on the pottery wheel. She was very pleasant, and skillfully worked as we peppered her with questions. She even showed us the techniques the Master Potter had taught her that she thought differed from more traditional teachings. As we continued on and watched several other steps of the process, we badgered the rest of the staff with questions too. All of them kindly took the time to talk with us. I discovered the press machine they use for many of their plates and bowls costs around $80,000.00, but its worth is demonstrated in the several bazillion tons of pressure it applies and the cold water release mechanism that pops the piece right out of the mold. They also use this rotating foam wheel to clean the edges of some of their work. The worker stationed there wasn’t using it, but he stopped what he was doing, picked up another piece and demonstrated what it did when I inquired. As I watched him, I asked if it was basically a sponge on steroids. The answer is yes, but in all seriousness, it was super cool. The glazing space also brought about many questions, with staff who were happy to answer them. We talked about the ingredients and how they were trying to formulate glazes that better suit their need to mass produce work that is still very much hand crafted.
The Simon Pearce pottery studio tour was informative (as long as you ask questions—don’t be shy!!!!) and the studio is nestled in an artisan park that makes Windsor worth the day trip. There you’ll also find Silo Distillery, Harpoon Brewery, The Cheeseboard, Great River Outfitters and The Path of Life Sculpture Garden. I didn’t make it to the sculpture garden, but it is on my list of things to do next time I’m in the area. It looked wonderful and like the sort of place you go to reconnect with yourself.
And, as liquor is definitely an art form, I’ll add that Silo has some very fragrant and uniquely flavored gins and vodkas that are worth a try. We spent a good amount of time there tasting samples and speaking with a very knowledgeable and engaging woman originally from Ireland. Despite her many years in the states, she still holds onto a mild, but delightful Irish brogue. We purchased some Chocolate flavored vodka that was infused with cacao shells from Lake Champlain Chocolates‘ Blue Bandana line.
One of my favorite visits on this trip was to the Montshire Museum of Science. Not exactly the artsy-fartsy nature of most of my intended destinations, but it sounded cool. And who doesn’t like science? Especially when it turns out to be a really fun children’s museum… I didn’t realize that before going, but I’m glad I didn’t. I had so much fun playing around there; and although he’d more than likely hate to admit it, so did my husband. We played in the bubble exhibit for at least a half an hour. We watched the snapping turtle feeding. We played with fog, solved a botany mystery, found the queen bee in the hive, raced ping pong balls through the stream, redirected the water in fountains, hiked on trails and so much more. And we didn’t even make it through the whole museum before closing! Aside from my eternal inner child, the museum was great for other reasons. From an educator’s perspective, I was amazed at how well this museum combined the act of play with learning. One of the biggest downfalls within our education system is the firm separation of the two: there is a time for playing later, now we need to sit and learn… But that creates humans who don’t like to learn. I looked around the museum and I saw children learning about refractory light, surface tension, sound transfers, motors, insects and more all in a way that they were enjoying—and that is how you create lifelong learners. The museum has a giant leaf-cutter ant farm and while looking at it, I told my husband about the giant ant I spotted. A young boy (I’d guess ten or eleven) informatively stated, “it’s a soldier.” He then proceeded to tell me about the social structure of the ants, hence the size differences. Montshire is a place of learning. It’s a place of play. This is a place I would have a membership to if I had children. Montshire Museum of science is education at its best.
The next day, we made a stop at the D. Lasser Ceramic Studio. I started drooling the moment we arrived. A beautiful wood studio sat upon a large area of green grass. The green grass had shelves, pedestals and tables spread out everywhere, and they were all covered in the brightly decorated ceramic vessels and tiles that are made within the studio walls. Inside there was a small two level gallery that overlooked the studio. My husband and I sat on the steps to the second floor for a good chunk of time while watching the potters work. We were mesmerized by bottles of glaze being carefully applied, mugs being trimmed with a Giffin Grip, (the perfect gift to get me, in case anyone is wondering…) and by a potter, who I can only imagine was the D. Lasser, as he attached bird bath basins to their bases. The pottery here boasts a wide array of brilliant colors that make them a stand out in handmade ceramics. Here, I bought a soup bowl that is exciting to eat out of because as your food diminishes the colors and design emerge creating a truly fun dining experience.
When we left D. Lasser, we stopped in at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. At the SVAC there are two buildings that house art exhibits, and one that is a theater. There is also an education center/studio space and several acres that boast the state’s largest sculpture garden. When we first got there, we were confused at where to go, how much the museum costs, etc… We eventually wandered to the right place and discovered that there is no admissions charge and only on occasion do special exhibits have fees. There were spectacular exhibits going on in both buildings, and with a handful of different artists being featured, the range of styles had something for everyone’s varying taste. There was a little gift shop in which I bought the most beautiful giclee print of an original pastel drawing of an owl by Leslie Heathcote.
After we left the exhibition buildings, we started to follow the outdoor sculpture guide, but were soon distracted by the Boswell Botany Trail, which turned out to be a short, but pleasant hike through the woods. Unfortunately by this point, we were racing against the clock since the grounds close at 5pm, so we drove towards the exit, stopping to admire some of the sculptures along the way out. The SVAC would be a place to make a day out of. I’d recommend packing a lunch and eating it in the grass in between viewing and exploring the exhibitions, sculptures, and trails. It’s a really great place to experience art and nature.
In Manchester, we visited the fabulous shopping area at Church Street Marketplace. My favorite place there was the Ten Thousand Villages shop. Ten Thousand Villages is a not-for-profit, fair trade retailer that purchases sustainably produced goods from artisans in developing countries in order to allow them to earn a living wage and to bring their skills and stories to our markets. I don’t know what else to say about that other than that’s the type of place I would like to spend my money at! Help make the world a better place by purchasing really great artisan products? Yes, please! Lucky for everyone, Ten Thousand Villages has over 350 stores throughout the U.S. as well as an online presence. The holidays are coming…
There were still more great places and artists that I came across in Vermont, but this blog post is getting long—so I’m gonna split it up into two posts. Check back for Vermont Treasures: Vol. 2 to read about the other great places to stop if you’re ever up in that neck of the woods, and also to read about a woman who’s possibly the most good-hearted artisan I’ve ever met. Her gift to me was small and simple, but seriously one of the highlights of the trip!
Until next time,
Sarah Ann Platt