Celebrating local artisans

  • A cabinet by woodworker Al Ladd, of Fine Edge Woodworking. Contributed photo

  • Colrain artist Peggy Davis. Contributed photo

  • Woodworker Ken Noyes. Contributed photo

  • Woodworker Al Ladd operates a bandsaw. Contributed photo

  • Colrain artist Marilyn Beal makes a silk scarf. Contributed photo

  • Crafts of Colrain Contributed photo—

  • Metalsmith Justin Evan Morrrell is one of 13 local artists featured in this year’s Crafts of Colrain event. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 11/12/2020 5:01:29 AM

Colrain’s industrial history and its beautifully quaint landscapes has been captured by local craftspeople for generations, providing a source of inspiration that even the pandemic hasn’t touched. Once again, Colrain artists are busy at work preparing for one of the region’s most popular craft fairs of the year.

The Crafts of Colrain Open Studio Tour is back, moving (mostly) online over the weekend of Nov. 14 and 15 to display the fine crafts of Colrain’s skilled artisans, from cutting boards to calligraphy, silk scarves to silver jewelry.

While several studios will be open in-person, COVID-19 restrictions permitting, most artists have updated or created websites and Etsy shops to showcase their work. The tour brings participants to the reaches of Colrain’s countryside for studio visits, if not in-person then through videos that each artist has produced.

An online discount for the artists’ websites will be available during the craft tour weekend, and this year boasts two new highlights: Mason Willard Photography and Stetson Woodworking.

As local woodworker Al Ladd explained, Crafts of Colrain is “an event that’s rolling with the punches. Rolling with the punches is one of the keys to being a surviving craftsperson.”

For the artists of Colrain, moving the annual tour online means more than just updating their websites. It means finding meaningful ways to make a personal connection with customers, long-term investments in their businesses and working harder than ever to adjust to the demands of the pandemic. And, for many, moving online means a simple hope that they will be better supported in their craft.

The event is special for Ladd, one of the few full-time crafts people on the tour.

“It really celebrates this place. Each town has its own distinct identity. Colrain is maybe the most eclectic of the hill towns, with remnants of the mill villages from water power days and very remote hill town farms,” he said.

Ladd has been a full-time woodworker for over 35 years and has taken part in the Crafts of Colrain Open Studio Tour since its inception 17 years ago. He specializes in intricate jewelry boxes and fine custom boxes, and has developed unique cutting boards, ornaments and bookmarks specifically for the crafts fair.

“People who are adventurous enough to go on the tour get to see this incredible array of places that they otherwise never would have been able to see,” added Ladd.

Peggy Davis, co-coordinator of the event and a participating artist with her business, Peggy H. Davis Calligraphy, finds that what makes the fair so unique is how Colrain’s natural beauty is the inspiration for an astonishingly diverse collection of art.

“It’s interesting to see what commonality you can find in the work that relates to being in Colrain,” she said.

While photographers may cite nature as a direct inspiration, Davis explained how the same inspiration can be seen more subtly in the textures, designs and palettes of other work.

Jennifer Kapitulik, lead-coordinator and participating artist of Rag Hill Farm in Colrain, gives the landscape and seasons due credit for inspiring the bold colors of her fiber art.

“I think we create really one-of-a-kind products by living here in the hilltowns. We’re really connected to the landscape,” said Kapitulik. She explained that her goal is to create handmade items that are both beautiful and functional, such as their principal item: potholders.

“They’re unique, not like anything else out there,” said Kapitulik.

Like many artists, Kapitulik has had to adjust her work to the demands of the pandemic, in terms of both art and business.

When one of her regular customers asked if she could make face masks for migrant workers from Florida working at local blueberry farms, Kapitulik devoted a summertime-worth of her time and skills to the cause. Now, she’s added masks to her business.

“Everyone’s work has shifted based on what people need and the economy, what the demand is,” explained Kapitulik.

While creating, Kapitulik questions who is going to be using the piece and how they are going to be using it. The thought that the customer is “going to know they have something handmade by us, that’s gone through our hands from start to finish,” inspires her. She feels that buying from people in the community is more important than ever, to both support local artisans and to create personal connections during a time of isolation.

“It feels so good when you’re going in and buying from someone in the community and making that connection instead of it just being some big box store kind of a thing … especially during COVID,” she said.

Canceled craft shows elsewhere this year have taken a toll on local artisans who depend on the events to sell their work. Both Kapitulik, who would typically be selling at shows most weekends during this time of year, and Davis are hoping that online shopping will make up for the economic losses of canceled in-person events — and be valuable in the long-term.

For many Colrain artists, the canceled shows and the virtual Crafts of Colrain have inspired either new or updated websites or Etsy shops, which many are hopeful will help their work reach a wider audience, near and far.

“Having an online presence that’s stronger will enable us to carry through the year in a way we might not have been able to do before when we were depending on people coming to see our work,” said Davis. “The more support there is for work, the more we’re able to create new and different things.”

Artisans have been creative in trying to make the virtual experience as authentic and intimate as possible, using social media, phone calls and even FaceTime to connect with customers.

“We’re used to meeting with our customers, interacting and getting feedback and seeing the joy for them in-person. It’s different being removed and being online and doing  it remotely,” said Davis.

For Ladd, who has had a successful online business since 2001, sales through his website and Etsy during the last six months have made business “better than it would have been were it not for the COVID crisis. Part of being a creative person is also being creative with your marketing practices,”  he said.

Ladd attributes the increased business to those who might have otherwise gone to a local craft fair to make a purchase who were forced to go online instead and came across his website.

“People are limited in how they can spend their money and buying nice crafts online is one of those things that’s as available as it’s ever been,” he explained. While Ladd’s studio will be closed for walk-in visits during the Crafts of Colrain weekend, people are invited to schedule in-person appointments.

Kapitulik encourages people to visit the Crafts of Colrain website or sign up for the email list to receive blasts about each artist and how they will be participating and receive the discount during the Crafts of Colrain weekend.

For more information and for a full list of participating artisans, visit craftsofcolrain.com.


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