Rarely does one get the chance to watch over an artist’s shoulder as she contemplates her next brushstroke, sparks a welding torch, or digs her fingers into a lump of fresh clay. During the annual Vermont Open Studio Weekend (May 24 and 25), visitors can do just that, taking self-guided tours of art studios across the state. For our trip, Burlington, a lively city on Lake Champlain, served as home base. From there, we explored studios in town and in the Mad River Valley, 70 miles to the southeast. Getting to each studio was half the fun: As we drove past hillside dairy farms, Colonial-era villages, and pristine waterfalls, it became clear why so many artisans are drawn to Vermont’s natural beauty and laid-back pace of living.
The converted barn that houses the Icarus Glass Studio (802-767-6010) sits on a small hill behind an old farmhouse off Route 100 in Rochester. Inside the barn, stained-glass artist Midge Scanlan cleans the excess grout off a memorial window commissioned by the family of a young girl who was lost in a car accident. “I haven’t seen this in the light–yet,” she says, hauling her work in progress over to the windowsill. It’s an image of Saint Cecilia–based on a 17th-century Italian painting, but with the addition of a guitar (the girl played classical guitar). Midge, who has worked on all sorts of projects during her nearly 30 years in stained glass, favors fashioning memorial windows over other types of stained glass because she feels the memorials have a timeless quality. “A memorial window is something you build knowing it’s going to be around for hundreds of years.”
Clays & glaze
Visitors can watch potter Judy Jensen at work every day at J. Jensen Clay Studio (802-767-3271), in Rochester. As they browse through her wares–which range from utilitarian to whimsical–Judy glazes porcelain pots and illuminates her capricious creative process. “When I’m tired of winter, I lean toward spring colors,” says Judy, who also confides that when she gets into a rhythm, it’s hard to stop: In March, she made five different teapots while trying to satisfy one client. “I said to myself, ‘That’s interesting–what happens if I keep going?'” She shows off the results of her temporary “madness”: some 50 unique, fanciful, and functional teapots she fashioned over two months.
The ovens at Plush Quartz Art Glass (802-767-4547), on Route 100, in Granville, glow like the center of a volcano. “Standard working temperature is 2,100[degrees]F,” says glassblower Michael Egan. “At 2,300[degrees]F, the glass runs like water; when you turn the heat down, you can work it like bread dough.” Every day but Tuesday, his three-year-old shop is open so visitors can peruse his delicate creations and watch as he plays with fire just a few feet away. “I’m going to make a footed ice-cream dish,” he says, lining up a double handful of candy-striped glass rods on a flat plate. He heats them to a dull brick-red in one of the ovens, gathers a tiny glob of molten glass on his blowpipe, and rolls the tacky-hot candy canes into a cylinder (top right). Next comes a flurry of heating, spinning, inflating (middle right), and stretching (bottom right). “Some of the techniques we use are easily 2,000 years old,” Michael says. In short order, he taps the finished bowl off the metal rod and drops it an inch onto a padded surface before moving it to the cooling oven. “The best part of working in a public studio,” says Michael, “is that I get to teach people about glassblowing all day long.”
planning your weekend
The artists participating in the Vermont Open Studio Weekend will open their shops from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Memorial Day Weekend, May 24 and 25. Before starting out, request a free map from the Vermont Crafts Council (802-223-3380; vermontcrafts.com). The map divides the state into several routes, each with many studios. (When driving, keep an eye out for the yellow signs that mark the locations.) Although you can see eight or more studios in a single day if you rush, we suggest visiting a maximum of five, so that you’ll have time to shop, sightsee, and enjoy the Vermont countryside.
the colors of nature
“I love the feeling of sky, the textures, the shadows of trees dappled in the grass,” says landscape painter Katharine Montstream as she gazes out on the sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. Katharine–whose shop, Montstream Studio (802-862-8752), is located in downtown Burlington’s Union Station-says that she draws inspiration for her art from the area’s rich, unspoiled natural surroundings and many historic landmarks. The paintings that line the walls of her gallery demonstrate Katharine’s passion for the gradations of light and color that such scenes possess at magical moments of the day. “It’s Vermont,” she shrugs. “I just turn around and find paintings everywhere.”
an iron garden
Outside Heise Metal Sculpture (802-862-8454) at 162 1/2 Maple St., in Burlington, maple trees and English ivy shade a courtyard strewn with buckets of nuts and bolts. Inside the studio–which resembles a bicycle repair shop–Bill Heise’s welding torch sizzles. A man of few words, Bill describes his craft as bending, pounding, and forging. “I’m not a purist,” he says. The results: rusting roosters, African-style metal masks, slender Don Quixote statues, and a plot of steely sunflowers. Bill’s explanation for the latter: “Someone happened to give me 1,500 can openers.”
sleep and eat
A short walk from downtown Burlington’s shops, the Willard Street Inn (above; 800-577-8712) has 14 cozy rooms and offers breakfast in a solarium overlooking Lake Champlain. The Inn at Shelburne Farms (802-985-8498), a 19th-century country estate, has 24 elegant rooms set amid 1,400 bucolic acres. Guests at the 120-room Inn at Essex (802-878-1100) can enjoy meals prepared by students of the New England Culinary Institute. The Warren Store (802-496-3864), just off Route 100, in Warren Village, is a convenient lunch stop in the Mad River Valley- try the Number Six, a delicious roast-turkey sandwich with tangy cranberry mayonnaise.