MANCHESTER -- Ever been curious about the alchemy artists brew behind closed studio doors?
Those doors will open this Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25, across Vermont, when more than 230 studio-based artists will welcome visitors inside their work places to drop by, watch and talk.
Open Studio Weekend gives people a chance to see what artists, such as Jessica Phillips of Battenkill River Pottery in Arlington, do every day.
"I'll have several projects going in various stages, and they can see the process laid out there," she said. "I'll be working on things and answering questions."
Phillips makes a range of ceramic wear, from bowls and mugs to porcelain jewelry. While many of her pieces have practical usefulness, she brings in hand-carved decorating into them to give them panache, she said.
"I will have demonstrations, where I'll be throwing some pieces on the wheel, and I will also have demonstrations on how I decorate the pottery," she said. "Everything I do is a multi-stage process -- what I'm going to have is four weeks condensed into a day."
Open Studio Weekend began in 1993 as a way to get exposure for artists who were often too small or operating on budgets too tight to spread the word about what they did. It's run by the Vermont Crafts Council, a private non profit organization now in its 24th year, and includes visual artists who work with clay, wood, metal, fiber, glass, painting, drawing, printmaking and paper.
"The event started out being just for crafters and craft studios, but we got so many painters wondering why they couldn't participate that we said, ‘You have a good point,'" said Martha Fitch, the craft council's executive director. "If you visit a studio, you'll see it's a serious profession, with skills and and tools needed to create works of art."
Visitors can see and talk with artists and crafters at art shows, or maybe in a gallery, but watching them in their native habitat is a way to gain insight into the creative process that's hard to duplicate outside that context, she said.
Artists across the state will join in, with outposts in 11 of Vermont's 14 counties. In Bennington County, 11 studios will be taking part, from Readsboro to East Rupert.
Last year, about 7,000 visitors trekked across the state to explore at least some of participating artists. Each year, Fitch said, new artists come in, while some take a hiatus.
All artists in the Open Studio Weekend must have a studio. Many crafters work at home, and others, especially those who work with precious metals or valuable materials, are reluctant to advertise their working inventory.
Kit Mosheim of Dorset is a jeweler, who works with gemstones, beads and precious metals in her living room, but she will display some of her craftwork alongside her husband's, Dan Mosheim, who is a furniture maker. He has a studio in Dorset, where he will show his work as well.
Fans of furniture making will have a chance to study the styles of three furniture makers within a short distance of each other in the Dorset area: Steve Holman and William Laberge will also have work close by.
Pairing up often gives artists a smart way to draw more visitors to a studio, Kit Mosheim said, because they can offer people passing through the chance to see more than one artist with one visit. In the dozen times she's taken part in the Open Studio Weekend, she's noticed many visitors focus on a specific geographic area and try to cover as many studios as they can within a given region. And sometimes the visitors are nearby neighbors. She will not make any jewelry, but she will talk with visitors who pass through, she said.
"It's a really good way for people in the community to meet artists," she said. "It's a nice way to get out and see what the arts community does."
A short distance away, in downtown Manchester, the artist cooperative Epoch 18 will serve as a hub for visitors to the Bennington County area, said Sandra Owens, one of the founding and managing members. Several of their members will host visitors at their individual studios and will also have work on display at the co-op on Main Street in Manchester, where visitors can get directions and suggestions.
"Recognition, exposure -- people finding out about the artists and the direct connection to the artists and getting to meet them personally and learning more about the art they are purchasing -- these are some of the main benefits of Open Studio Weekend," said Owens, a jeweler whose own studio is located farther north in Benson.
She, however, will spend the weekend at Epoch 18, handing out maps and offering advice to visitors who wander in.
If you go ...
What: Open Studio Weekend
When: Saturday and Sunday,
May 24-25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Artists' studios
Information: Vermont Craft Council, (802) 223-3380