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Rural Intelligence

A Renewed Acquaintance: The Village Of Chatham

By CB Wismar

Like the mythical village of “Brigadoon” emerging from the Scottish mist for one day every 100 years in Lerner & Lowe’s epic musical, the Village of Chatham, New York has reappeared. The reassuring news is that, unlike the legendary Scottish village, Chatham is not likely to disappear any time soon.

“I suppose it really started about five years ago,” says Village of Chatham Mayor Tom Curran, who is sitting on a newly painted picnic table perched outside the historic Village Hall. He looks up and down Main Street, waving to people as they drive past. “We took a real hit during the 2008 recession,” he recalls. “Stores closed, unemployment went up and the village really suffered.’

Curran has studied his history. Chatham Village has, over two centuries, gone from a market town to a mill town, a railroad center with crossing lines and its own roundhouse to a quiet ex-urban residential community. “Things bounced back slowly, but about five years ago you could see a difference,” he says.

And, bounce back, it has. All along Main Street, there’s not a storefront empty. The shops are busy, and during the recent Chatham Summerfest, an annual adventure that closes the streets and brings craft and food and face painting and fine jewelry together for a day, so many folks poured into town that restaurants ran out of some items created just for the festival.

“It was mobbed!” reports James Knight, owner of SomethinsGottaGive, who found one of the last available spaces on Chatham Village’s Main Street.  “Best thing I ever did was to move here,” he says. “I had no idea how accepting people would be.” Knight’s artisan gallery and shop joins several other galleries in Chatham, making it an emerging center of local and regional artists.

If shopping is your thing, then the Chatham Village re-birth will have magnetic force. From Boxwood Linen where Franca Fusco presents her handmade, elegant linens to Willow & Oak, Debbye Byrum’s newly opened housewares and ephemera shop to Pookstyle Thoughtful Gifts, The Jeweler’s Roost and Victoria Dinardo Millinery, the offerings are imaginative and refreshing, not mega-mall wannabes.

“It just felt right,” says Debbye Byrum. “I honestly looked at other towns, but the combination of prices and people made this an easy pick.”

Further down the block, where it appears that Arlo Guthrie may have met Don Mclean in a world of retail delight — something on the order of “You can get anything you want … at American Pie” — Tom Hope just figured out how to convert a hallway and a store room into one more space. “I had sold my bar and was going to work on my art and fly fishing,” he says. That was until he saw a complete marble ice cream soda fountain and simply had to have it shipped in so he could open … wait for it … American Pie a la Mode.  August 1 is the target date to open — just in time for the dog days of summer, when an ice cream cone will be a real treat.

For foodies, the village has blossomed into a destination that requires more than one visit. Landmark eateries that have survived the ebb and flow of commerce have been joined by The Taste Box on Main Street and the newest food and beverage addition to the Chatham Village mix, The People’s Pub. Angus Van Beusichem, whose Dutch-heritage name fits right into the land of Rip Van Winkle, has burst on the scene with a farm-to-table, craft beer, gourmet bar food emporium that collects a crowd most every night.  “Grey Ballinger and his cousin Tom and I grew up together here in town. We each went our separate ways, then the chance came for us to come back home.” 

Angus clearly enjoys the homecoming concept. “Here we are, not in the high-rent towns around us, but in Chatham, where we can refine our ideas as we build our market.”

A stone (or scone’s) throw away from the people’s pub is Chatham Brewing. Mayor Tom Curran sees the brewery and food truck supplied restaurant as a great draw. “Folks tend to tour the breweries up and down the Hudson Valley,” he says. “Finding Chatham Brewing both delights patrons and introduces them to our village.” 

(Worthy of note is that Mr. Curran is also the Police Commissioner, so when savoring the brewery’s finest, a designated driver is always a good idea.)

Art, food, shopping, entertainment in a gentle setting. It’s not Brigadoon. It’s Chatham Village, and it’s come back to stay.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/25/16 at 03:37 PM • Permalink

Berkshire Woodworkers Guild: Beautiful And Built To Last

By Amy Krzanik

We’ve all been there. Whether it was the three-drawer dresser in your first apartment that never made it to your second apartment because the front of it ripped right off (true story), or the shirt you wore only once because it completely changed shape, size and style after a trip through the washing machine, the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings truer and truer every year. [Artisans and handcrafters are reading this and shaking their heads, mouthing “I told you so.”]

The reasons for this trend are fairly simple: cheap materials + cheap labor = maximum profit. “For years furniture was made very well,” explains Jim Law, owner of Undermountain Jointers and president of the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild, “but new companies began making it cheaper and cheaper, because if it lasts for only a year or two, they’ll always have a market.” 

Members of The Guild, which will hold its 17th annual Fine Woodwork Show at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, know this all too well. Law considers part of the group’s job to be educating consumers about the benefits of buying fine furniture. “Our custom furniture will be tomorrow’s antiques,” he says. “If you price out how many store-bought items you need to buy [and re-buy] in your lifetime, it’s cheaper to have something custom made.” Part of the yearly show for the Guild’s artisans involves not just exhibiting their wares, but talking to potential customers, showing them what is involved with custom work, pointing out how the wood grains match and how the different parts interlock for a perfect fit. “This is what being a furniture maker is all about,” says Law, “creating something both beautiful and functional.”

The Guild, a 40-member-strong group of professional woodworkers who live and practice in the vicinity of the Berkshires, Columbia County and surrounding areas, formed as a way for those in the trade to share knowledge and tools. Members run the gamut from sculptors to stump grinders and everything in between. Its website is a helpful tool to find a local artisan skilled in making you a musical instrument; kitchen cabinets; cooking utensils; indoor, outdoor and garden furniture, a boat or an entire home.

Throughout the weekend, artisans will be offering woodworking and tool-sharpening demonstrations. A silent auction will benefit the Guild’s Scholarship Fund, which supports young adults who seek to make woodworking, architecture or a related field their life’s work. Law says the Fund began five years ago as a way to honor members who have passed away, and to encourage future generations of professional craftspeople. Additionally, a handful of Guild members have contributed work to the BBG’s Benched exhibition, which can be seen throughout the gardens. New this year, the Guild will host a reception on Friday, July 15 from 6-8 p.m. for industry professionals (designers, architects, builders) to meet and mingle with its members.

Admission to the show is $5, but paid visitors to the Garden and BBG members can attend the show for $3. Attendees of the event can receive $2 off of entrance to the garden.

The Berkshire Woodworkers Guild Fine Woodwork Show
at the Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 W. Stockbridge Rd. (Route 102), Stockbridge, MA
Saturday & Sunday, July 16 & 17 from 9 a.m.—5 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/12/16 at 02:05 PM • Permalink

Quilts Uncovered: Jane Fitzpatrick’s Collection Reflects Love Of Textiles And Community

By Shawn Hartley Hancock

For years, the late Jane Fitzpatrick, whom we’ve unreservedly and respectfully called the queen of the Berkshires, displayed a crazy quilt on the wall of her office at Country Curtains, the business she founded with her husband Jack back in 1956. Country Curtains is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass., at the Red Lion Inn, which the Fitzpatrick family continues to own and operate.

Turns out, in addition to being a leading businesswoman, Mrs. Fitz, as she was often called, was also an inveterate collector, from Staffordshire, toleware and Majolica to fine art and furniture (she even had a Santa Claus collection); she seems to have collected almost anything of beauty and utility. Jane’s affinity for textiles, however — her first and best love — may have been the driving force behind her love of quilts. Over the decades, Jane collected quilts in all sizes and style and that span more than 100 years, representing the best of this domestic art in terms of design, craftsmanship and innovation. 

“Quilts were always important to Jane,” says Marilyn Hansen, a 40-year employee of the company who also tracked Jane’s collections. “If the quilts weren’t displayed, they were used in some other way, even as picnic blankets. Jane never got upset about using her quilts — nothing was ever squirreled away.”

After Fitzpatrick died in late 2013, her daughters Nancy and Ann discussed where their mother’s quilt collection might go. Country Curtains has a store in Old Sturbridge Village, and also at Strawberry Banke in New Hampshire. Either museum would have been a natural recipient. It was daughter Nancy who suggested the collection “stay local” and go to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass. “Jane just wanted them to be appreciated and preserved,” Hansen says, but Nancy knew they needed to stay in the Berkshires.

The bequest from the Fitzpatrick Family to Hancock Shaker Village included more than 70 quilts of all styles and sizes, which makes the current exhibit of the Fitzpatrick quilts at Hancock Shaker Village seem more an extension of the owner’s actual spirit than simply another collection on display. Hancock’s curator, Lesley Herzberg, welcomed the quilts into the museum’s education collection, and with curatorial assistant, Sarah Browne, recently organized a colorful and dynamic exhibit of them — 26 in all — that are now on view in the Shaker museum’s Brick Dwelling. Living Designs & Shared Values: Highlights from the Jane P. Fitzpatrick Quilt Collection will remain on view through October 30, and is included in regular admission. 

“It was a challenge to review the group of 70 quilts and get it down to 25,” says Browne. “We chose the quilts in the best condition and grouped them by visual interest.” There are seven quilts with a garden theme, for example, including those that follow classic patterns like the Cactus Rose, Honeycomb, Flower Basket and Kentucky Rose. In the community quilt category, a nine-block appliqued quilt from the 1850s called the Whig Rose or Democrat Rose, conveys its maker’s political bent. It is joined by a handful of classic “community” patterns, including the friendship album and old-fashioned star patterns — quilts made by many hands to serve a community need, as, say, a wedding gift for a local couple, as a community fundraiser, or to mark a special occasion, such as a minister’s departure. 

Creativity is celebrated in another category of the exhibit that features the Sawtooth Star, Virginia Star, and Four Winds, all patterns from the 1840s to the 1890s. The colors in this group come alive in the serenity of the Shaker setting. HSV’s curatorial team got essential support from HSV’s Quilting Friends, who made minor repairs to many of the quilts, including sewing on sleeves so quilts could be safely and appropriately hung, and who also helped with exhibit setup. (To see a fast-motion video of the collection as it was photographed for the HSV archives, click here.)

Fitzpatrick’s eye for detail, her quest for excellence and her intuitive leadership style inspired admiration and respect throughout the Berkshires. It’s no wonder her quilts reflect those same qualities. Domesticity is the underlying theme of the exhibit. Like their Shaker counterparts, the women who toiled to make these remarkable examples of design and craftsmanship, many whose names will forever be unknown to us, balanced the needs of their families, their community responsibilities, their precious time and all other available resources to create them. 

Most quilts in the collection have no direct connection to the Shakers, except one. In the category of Crazy Quilts — the one behind Fitzpatrick’s desk for all those years! — bears a Shaker provenance: It was made around 1910 by Josephine Jilson for Sister Annie Bell Tuttle when she lived at the Shaker community in Harvard, Mass. (Tuttle eventually moved to the Shaker community at Hancock.) Several of its patches are made from Shaker silk scarves, and one includes a typewritten blessing from maker to recipient: “I cannot find a truer word nor fonder to caress you. Nor song, nor poem have I heard is sweeter than God Bless You.”   

Living Designs & Shared Values: Highlights from the Jane P. Fitzpatrick Quilt Collection on view through Oct. 30
Hancock Shaker Village
Open every day through October 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/05/16 at 05:23 PM • Permalink

Speaker Series Brings Economic Issues Home

By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett

It seems entirely fitting that whether by happy accident or some kind of market prescience, the American Institute for Economic Research relocated from Cambridge, Mass. to Great Barrington in the 1940s. The independent nonprofit organization was established in 1933 to help ordinary Americans deepen their economic and financial knowledge and thereby enhance their well being and that of the nation’s. And Great Barrington, after all, is a town that boasts its own currency and is heavily supported by second home owners, many of whom flock to the Berkshires in retirement.

These factors bring up a host of issues for the RI region, its residents and visitors, topics that will be addressed as part of AIER’s 2016 Summer Speaker Series, held each year at its scenic campus. This year’s series will run for six consecutive Tuesdays, from June 28-August 2, in the handsome stone house ballroom.

“The Summer Speaker Series has been an integral part of the Summer Fellows program, AIER’s longest running education program” notes Ute Arnold Defarlo, Development Manager at AIER.  “The Summer Fellows program brings highly qualified graduate and PhD students of economics related fields to our campus for approximately eight weeks, where they do research alongside our researchers.” 

Certain concerns in our area loom large: the population decline in the Berkshires, our emphasis on supporting local businesses as they compete with big box stores, and, of course, the need for higher-paying professional jobs in our rural region. As AIER President Stephen J. Adams points out, the series “offers that rarest of things, economic insights that are relevant, useful and understandable.”

This year’s Summer Speaker Series kicks off June 28 with Polina Vlasenko, senior research fellow at AIER, who will present her talk, “What Is Happening To Our Jobs.”  Defarlo cites this presentation, in particular, as being “so very pertinent to the changing job landscape” especially in light of the prolonged recession since 2008.  Subsequent lectures in the series include:

July 5: “What’s the Best Age to Claim Social Security – 62, 66 or 70?” by Luke Delorme
July 12: “Our Inflation Crystal Ball,” by Jia Liu      
July 19: “Why People Move, and Why They’re Moving Less Often,” by Patrick Coate
July 26: “Mom and Pop vs. Big Box: How Small Businesses Compete with Larger Rivals,” by Max Gulker      
August 2: “Using the Business Cycle to Manage Your Investments,” by Bob Hughes

The lectures run from 4-5 p.m. and are free and open to the public; reservations are suggested.

American Institute for Economic Research Summer Speaker Series
Tuesdays from June 28-Aug. 2 at 4 p.m.
250 Division Street, Great Barrington, MA
For reserversation, call (413) 528-1216 x 3102


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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/19/16 at 11:35 AM • Permalink

At The Mount,  La Conversation Est En Français

Les Francophones in 2012. Photo courtesy Jan Werner.

Francophiles take note: beginning June 23, on Thursday mornings through Sept. 1, only French will be spoken at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass. And could there be a more glorious setting than the Terrace Café for Le Café Français? The tête-à-tête is open to anyone who wants to practice speaking French or converse like a native with others who are similarly inclined.

It started humbly, with just the staff, back in 2005. The Mount’s director at the time, Stephanie Copeland, gathered a handful of employees who wanted to practice their French speaking skills. The small group met — in the winter — in the frigid kitchen of the gatehouse. The next year, the group, now numbering around ten, moved to the terrace for the summer. Word spread, and by 2008 there were enough non-staff members that it became a volunteer-run group.

The conversational meetings continued to expand, and by last summer, when 35 or so French speakers turned up each week, the meetings went beyond the capacity of the volunteers running them. That’s when The Mount agreed to take the group under its wings, and Le Café Francais became a Mount event, which seems appropriate considering Wharton’s love affair with France. The hour of French bon mots has become so popular that The Mount has had to set up a reservation system.

French coffee and croissants will greet visitors, and small tables will allow for manageable conversations. “The only rule,” says Laurie Foote, house manager, “is you have to speak French. The group is a mixture of staff, native French speakers, French teachers and the general public. It really feels like a French café.”

Le Café Français at The Mount
Thursdays from June 23—Sept. 1, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA    
$10 general, $7 Mount members
(413) 551-5100

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/11/16 at 09:22 AM • Permalink

A Tradition Continues: Morris Dancing In The Northwest Corner

The Bouwerie Boys

By Amy Krzanik

Morris dancing, a traditional English folk dance dating back to at least 1448, has made its own history of sorts right here in our part of New England. Morris troupes, or teams as they are called, have performed in the northwest Connecticut and southwest Massachusetts corner every June since 1982.

This year’s event, The Suds! Displays of Morris Dancing, will take place on Saturday, June 11, beginning around 10 a.m. Six teams from near (Great Barrington), far (Washington, D.C.) and destinations in between (Boston, Binghamton, Albany, etc.) will embark on four tours, of two teams each, stopping to perform in towns from Sharon, Conn. to North Egremont, Mass. The day-long event culminates in a grand processional and show, featuring all six teams, at 6:30 p.m. in Falls Village.

But what exactly is the Morris? “Well, the British empire was crumbling…” begins John Dexter, a professional viola player with The Manhattan String Quartet and The Suds! longtime organizer. You can read the whole story on Wikipedia, but the background of the dance’s popular resurgence in Britain sounds a bit like the situation in the United States right now: a pronounced rich vs. poor situation that the empire refused to recognize, the common people bringing back a custom that was close to their hearts, fathers passing down a tradition to their sons.

Much as it was then, dancers today usually don’t have any formal dance training. All it takes is practice. It’s also not required that you have British blood, says Dexter, and most of his 16-member New York City team, The Bouwerie Boys, do not. “How good you are depends on your attitude toward learning it and how good your teacher is,” he says. Dexter should know; he began dancing the Morris when he was 19 years old and can still keep up as he nears his 70th birthday. Most of his team members are in their 20s and 30s, and the type of dancing they do comes from Sherborne in the Cotswalds, requires expansive leaps, and isn’t something you can do if you’re not in decent shape.

But each team makes the dance their own, and not all are so athletic. Groups wear different costumes or “kits,” too, and perform to music from a variety of instruments. Dexter’s team dons black, white and red, with a fresh red rose in the lapel and rainbow ribbons that sparkle when they catch the light. Others wear suspenders, hats or employ colored handkerchiefs in place of ribbons. Almost all wear bells on their shins to accompany the musician playing fiddle, melodian, accordion, pipe and tabor, or other instrument. Many teams employ wooden sticks or swords in their performances. The Suds! has traditionally showcased all-male teams, but all-female and mixed teams do exist.

“It’s folk dancing, so it’s meant to be rustic,” says Dexter. “A Morris show or ‘stand’ is just really fun; we banter back and forth, speak to the crowd, make up stories about the dances, pass the hat and just talk to people.”

That sounds like a tradition we can get behind.

Saturday, June 11
Tour A
10:15 a.m. Canaan, Geer Retirement Community
11:20 a.m. South Egremont Library
2:15 p.m. North Egremont General Store
3:15 p.m. Ashley Falls, near the post office

Tour B
10:15 a.m. Paley’s Farm Marketplace, Sharon
11:15 a.m. Salisbury Market Place
2:00 p.m. Sharon, on the Green
3:40 p.m. West Cornwall, near the covered bridge

Tour C
10:15 a.m. Norfolk, CT, at the library
11:15 a.m. Mill River, MA, near the library
2:00 p.m. New Marlborough, MA, near the meeting house
3:15 p.m. Canaan, CT, Geer Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

6:30 p.m. Grand processional and show in Falls Village, CT by all participating clubs

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/30/16 at 03:16 PM • Permalink

Hudson Sloop Club Embodies The Past But Looks To The Future

A digital rendering of the future Everett Nack Estuary Education Center proposed by the Hudson Sloop Club.

By Jamie Larson

Hudson, New York has a long and complicated relationship with its namesake river. Centuries of industry and pollution led to a city built with its back to the Hudson. It was only over the past few decades of slow, hard-won progress that the river was restored as the face of the city. Now, the Hudson Sloop Club, a new nonprofit made up of environmentally minded builders, educators, boaters, sportsmen, kids and Hudsonians of all stripes, has come together to begin the next generation of environmental stewardship.

The Sloop Club is off to a good start, too, recently receiving a $91,780 grant from the Hudson River Estuary Program, for the creation of the Everett Nack Estuary Education Center at the Hudson Waterfront Park. The compact structure will be built from a recycled shipping container on an undeveloped and currently overgrown point between the park and a industrial loading dock. It will be powered by solar panels, contain a display aquarium as well as scientific equipment and computers useful for any number of educational and recreational activities on the water or at its edge. The plan represents an earnest understanding by the club of the river’s past and future. It doesn’t ignore the imposition or necessity of an industrial presence on the river but it’s also a model of passive sustainable structures that adapt to the river’s needs rather than bending it to ours.

“The point is getting everybody out on the river,” says Sloop Club Director Nick Zachos. “We look at it in three tiers: access, education and, if you allow people to develop a relationship with the river, stewardship.”

The three-year-old Club, which offers many unique boat-building and hands-on environmental education workshops for kids at the Hudson Middle School, Kite’s Nest, and their own summer programming, received its nonprofit status just last fall. The organization is volunteer run, so the grant is a big early win. Zachos says their strength is their desire to partner with other groups. For example, though they planned and wrote the grant, the city of Hudson was the official applicant. 

“This is not just a Sloop Club endeavor,” says Zachos. “We want to bring other groups together and ask ‘what would you like to do here?’ It’s for the whole community.”

The Club, which also has a small fleet of interesting boats, is holding a fish fry on Friday, May 27 at the waterfront park. It will be an opportunity to learn about the Club and new center, and upcoming summer programming (including a camp). Zachos says they hope to find volunteers with useful skills, from landscapers to builders and others, to donate and help stretch the grant as far as it can go. Plans are to have the center up and running by next summer.

Along with being built in an environmentally conscious way, the new center will also be able to adapt as the river changes. Climate change means higher storm surges and the center will take a passive approach to flooding. The small structure will actually let water in and through without damaging it or its contents. Humans have changed the earth’s environment and this little building is an example of the way we will have to learn to adapt.

Though the Sloop Club is still small, a lot of people in Hudson have taken notice of how much it’s accomplished in a short time. It’s succeeded because Zachos and the club’s other main members are knowledgeable, hard working and genuinely friendly folks. The river has needed and deserved stewardship like this for a long time, and a club so dedicated to the future of its people and the river enhances the city and environment for all.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/08/16 at 10:58 PM • Permalink

Housatonic River Adventure: The Long Or Short Of It

By Jamie Larson

There’s a singular calming and introspective sensation to paddling a kayak or canoe down stream, drifting through changing scenery, warm air above mixing with the cool coming off the water where you sit, inches from the surface. The Housatonic River is a great, underused producer of such feelings. This month, the Housatonic Valley Association is hosting a week-long paddle trip from “Source to Sound” to promote the vibrancy of the river as a resource to protect and share, and to celebrate its 75th anniversary year.

The River Adventure Paddle Trip will run April 22 through May 1. While 50 or so people have already registered for the entire 149-mile ride, paddlers can also participate in sections of the trip. Throughout the three-state journey, the HVA in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York will host events taking place riverside. The paddlers intend to hit a number of these parties as they flow by. The main celebration will be on Thursday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m. at The Bull’s Bridge Inn in Kent, Conn. (Reservations required, $50.)

Registration for the paddle trip is now open, whether you intend to join in full or in part. The excursion will be led by David Sinish, an experienced kayak/canoe instructor, trip leader and former national canoe poling champion; Dennis Regan, HVA’s Berkshire County director, an avid paddler and advocate for the Housatonic River; and Schuyler Thomson, owner of Thomson Canoe Works in Norfolk and former two-time national whitewater downriver canoe champion.

“I’m one of the leaders and I’m happy about that,” says Regan, who won’t be envying anyone else’s job that week. “We’ll meet up with other people along the way. It’s a pretty quick bonding experience.”

Shoving off at the aptly named Muddy Pond in Washington Mass., paddlers will have to scramble at times and navigate rapids as they pass through the first trickling leg of the journey in the east branch tributary. This first section is suggested for experienced paddlers, but things mellow out soon as the group enters the river proper. Shove off is, appropriately, on Earth Day, and the event will conclude when paddlers ride the tide out into Long Island Sound.

The HVA has been working to get people involved with the river for 75 years but, like many of our regional waterways, past industrial pollutants including PCBs damaged the ecosystem and led to people turning their backs on the very water systems that defined why people settled here in the first place. As the environment has improved, so has community interest. While it’s unfortunate that we are still suffering from the shortsightedness of previous actions, it also means there’s a lot of uninterrupted scenery between the few towns along the way. The river is now safe for people but there is still a ban on eating fish caught here, resulting, Regan notes, in fish of impressive age and size, which often surprises paddlers.

“You rarely see houses and there’s a lot of wildlife,” Regan says. “It changes every time you go out. We’re seeing more and more people, which is great.”

Housatonic Valley Association
River Adventure Paddle Trip
April 22—May 1, 2016

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 04/04/16 at 08:20 AM • Permalink

Meet Your Makerspace: Four New Spots To Learn And Create

By Amy Krzanik

For a number of years, many folks habitually bemoaned how quickly the younger generations (and the older ones, too) had so fully embraced “the digital age.” As they would have you believe, soon no one would be able to sew a button back on, grow an heirloom radish from the ground, or create a piece of art without the aid of a computer program. But, audible sigh, we’ve all learned that this panic was a false alarm. Farms and gardens still exist, neighbors show up in public with their buttons all on, and paintings continue to hang in galleries. In fact, there seems to be not a lull, but a resurgence in interest in learning how to create things by hand. This is evidenced by the makerspaces that have popped up in our area in the past two years. Here’s a rundown of what they are, what they offer and how you can get involved.

North Adams Maker’s Mill
73 Main St., North Adams, MA
(413) 749-2073

A Monday night figure drawing collective and Wednesday knitting nights are weekly staples at the Mill, which opened in June of last year, but one-off workshops could be anything from doll-making to typesetting. This Saturday, the space will hold a screen printing workshop from 9 a.m. – Noon, and April offerings include indigo dyeing, felting, and an introduction to sewing.

In addition to its scheduled classes, the communal space offers memberships for $40 a month ($25 for students) which includes the use of, and training on, any and all equipment. Its fiber arts equipment includes looms of various sizes, sewing machines and basic sewing notions. Printmakers can take advantage of its letterpresses and its screen printing and bookbinding equipment. Additional space is set up with a computer, printer/scanner, design software and a library that includes books from local press, and Mill supporter, Storey Publishing.

The Mill’s senior maker fellow, Kate Barber, is a traditionally trained book binder, letterpress printer, and paper maker who works at the Williams College Museum of Art. She’s noticed that a lot of the people who use the space have busy lives that don’t necessarily involve making, but that they enjoy learning new skills, thinking in a new way and working with their hands. “A lot of what we’re offering is not about making, but about building community through the making,” says Barber. “It can enhance your practice when you meet new people and learn new ways of doing things.”

Shire City Sanctuary
40 Melville St., Pittsfield, MA
(413) 236-9600

Most Pittsfield residents already know of the Sanctuary, having attended one of its popular year-round events, including its annual holiday shopping Shindy, summer outdoor music series (Shire City Sessions) or numerous other theater, music, art or fundraising events. Crispina ffrench, maker extraordinaire and co-owner of the circa 1895 church where her makerspace is housed, purchased the building back in 2006.

“Think of it as a gym for makers,” she says, “where you pay a membership fee, get a key, and can come and go as you please.” Memberships run $150 a month (with less expensive seasonal memberships in the works) and include 24-hour access to the church’s expansive collaborative spaces, its commercial kitchen, screenprinting and sewing equipment, and a 25% discount on all events.

And there are no shortage of events. Last summer’s monthly Sessions will become a weekly event beginning on Monday, July 11. Starting in April, every third Friday will be swing night with live music by The Lucky 5.  The evening runs from 7-11 p.m., with the first hour featuring a dance lesson. On Tuesday evenings, beginning at 7 p.m., a technology group holds an informal meeting to work on building robots. ffrench says, “Most of those people work alone and it’s great to have a place where they can work together so that new people can learn.” A kickstarter is in the works so that the group can purchase a 3D printer and other equipment for the space. Monthly intro to cooking cases are set to begin in April and will run $25-35 per class.

ffrench holds at least one introductory screen printing and one introductory sewing class each month for those who are interested but not sure how committed they want to be. “It’s a great way to try it out without making giant commitment of time or money,” she says. More in-depth classes are offered over a series of weeks or in intensive weekend workshops.

Inky Editions
112 S. Front St., Hudson, NY
(518) 610-5549

“When I saw this space, one thing just led to another,” says visual artist George Tsalikis. “Hudson makes someone want to take a chance.” Tsalikis left NYC in the summer of 2014 to build his 5,000-square-foot printmaking facility in the former L&B building.

The studio is environmentally friendly, and focuses on alternative practices to toxic printmaking. It’s an impressive and professional space where established artists can rent private studios and produce fine art prints with a master printer. But artists of all skill levels are welcome to learn about the process through workshops and lectures. “Printmaking is communal by nature,” Tsalikis says. “I’m interested in the dialogue that occurs between artists; I see it as beneficial.”

Much like the looms and printing presses found at the other makerspaces, printmaking equipment is not something many people have room for at home. “If you buy a press, it requires a set-up and chemicals, much like a dark room does,” says Tsalikis. Inky Editions has the capacity and equipment needed to create photo etchings, aquatints, dry point, copper plate and more. Yearly memberships start at $50, and the next class is Advanced Mono-print with Joseph Albers Color Theory on April 2 & 3.

“Handmade is a look you can’t get in digital, and people want to know how they can get something more precious, something that is available only in a limited edition. This is five centuries of technology that’s making a comeback.”

Drop Forge & Tool
Hudson, NY

Although technically not a makerspace (classes are held at 84 Green Street and other downtown locations), Drop Forge & Tool already has held around 15 workshops and housed over 50 resident artists in its short lifespan. Directors Katharine Daugherty and Michael Hoch left San Francisco for Hudson in December of 2014 in search of more space. The house they now live in has second-floor accommodations where artists (visual, performance, written, tactile and musical) can live and work for days or weeks.

The classes they offer include wooden spoon carving, block printing, paper arts, and various sewing and pattern-making classes with teacher and author Cal Patch. These types of craft classes offer more than just skills says Daugherty. “It’s important that students have something to take with them when they leave.”

Becoming a full-fledged makerspace with a dedicated location is something Daugherty and Hoch are considering, but for now she says space sharing has its benefits. “It’s good because we get to be in different places in the community and collaborate with different people.” Which is, after all, what a makerspace is all about.

Additional Resources

One Mercantile, Great Barrington
This Castle Street shop is offering upcoming classes in terrarium building, needle felting and more.

IS183 Art School of the Berkshires
IS183 offers classes and workshops, for children and adults, at locations throughout the county. Upcoming topics include ceramics, paper arts, photography, fiber arts and jewelry making.

Art School of Columbia County
ARTtalks, pop-up exhibits, and classes in all manner of painting, drawing and mixed media can be found here.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/22/16 at 09:40 AM • Permalink

IWOW: The Space And Place For Artistic Voices

Deb Koffman

By Lisa Green

There’s only one rule at Deb Koffman’s open mic. You get five minutes, and for a few reasons: so that everyone who wants to can share, and so that if someone’s contribution is, well, not exactly stellar, it’s over before things get too uncomfortable.

But from what I experienced at the IWOW (In Words Out Words) evening a few weeks ago, in most cases, the five-minute allotments left the audience wanting more, not less. 

Artist Deb Koffman invited the existing IWOW into her studio in Housatonic, Mass. in 2004. You’re likely to recognize Koffman’s colorful, whimsical artwork and inspirational or humorous messages, many of them devoted to inspiring one’s creativity. So on the first Tuesday of every month, the cheerful space draws in poets, storytellers, musicians and artists of any medium who come together to express their voices in a safe and supportive environment.

Rudi Bach; Frank Gioia’s cast; Kristin Grippo.

“The person who originally started IWOW was leaving town and I took it over,” Koffman says. “It was such a great community event, I couldn’t let it die. There were maybe a dozen people the first year, but now we get a full house almost every month. Some of the people have been performing for over 10 years.”

Koffman’s Artspace is about as welcoming as you can get. Bright white walls set the backdrop for her effervescent cards, posters, books, fancifully painted furniture, and an oversized fireside backdrop on a stage to set the scene. Food and drink help, too — some provided by Koffman, some contributed by the performers.

And a varied group it is: people in their 20s and up. Published writers and those who have just begun to write. Guitarists and a budding playwright.  It’s clear some have been participating for a long time (they’re met with hugs and greetings at the door), while newbies are given an extra round of applause and encouragement.

Each evening has a theme and a host. On this night, Dan Ruderman from Great Barrington acted as the emcee. He’s a businessman, but IWOW satisfies a new passion. “A few years ago, I decided to start doing something creative, to express myself,” he says.

Jeanne Bassis, Barbara Rubin, a welcoming entrance.

He’s in good company. First up was Rudi Bach, a vocal coach and acting teacher, who read a set of poems. Frank Gioia brought along a posse to enact a scene from his work-in-progress play. Barbara Rubin, who, as a matter of course, writes poems as birthday presents to her many women friends, read a few of her lovely tributes.

Setting a pensive mood, guitarist Tom Norton played Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” a fitting tune on Super Tuesday (this is Massachusetts, after all). Kristin Grippo pulled out a fourth-grade project she created about her best friend, Emily, and then mesmerized the audience with a history of their friendship that deserved more than five minutes to spin out.

“This is an unconditionally accepting audience,” says Jeanne Bassis, she of the purple-eared hat, who got the crowd singing “Tingolayo” with her. Twenty or so brave souls expressed themselves that night, and if all of them didn’t hew to the theme of friendship, it didn’t matter. The evening was imbued with it anyway.

“What a wonderful night,” Ruderman said as he wound up the performance part of the evening. “I feel like I’m in a roomful of friends.”

IWOW (In Words Out Words) Open Mic
Deb Koffman’s Artspace
137 Front St., Housatonic, MA
First Tuesday of every month, 7-9 p.m.
To participate, sign up by calling (413) 274-1201

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/12/16 at 01:54 PM • Permalink