Published: December 16, 2003
Some 800 people from across America were lined up outside the Wilton High School Field House when the doors opened at 8 am on November 15 for the Wilton Historical Society’s American Craftsmanship Show. That headcount, according to show promoter Marilyn Gould, was ample validation that a high-quality show featuring traditional crafts, folk art and furniture has legs, even in a challenging economy.
For Greg Shooner, an American redware potter from Ohio, that notion was also confirmed by the army of redware collectors who swarmed his booth as early buyers were admitted. “I got hammered at the beginning,” said Shooner. “There was one guy who had been fourth in line and I heard him say that he didn’t think he got [to my booth] in time,” said Shooner as he surveyed his mostly empty shelves on Sunday morning.
Shooner was among the 150 artists and artisans inside the field house and the adjoining café annex offering a vast array of handcrafted rdf_Descriptions – many one of a kind – that showgoers could acquire to decorate their homes or to give as gifts.
Several of the exhibitors combined displays of their art or crafts with live demonstrations of their techniques. At Adelphi Paper Hangings, for example, Chris Ohrstrom and Steve Larson from The Plaines, Va., set up a miniproduction area to show how block printed wallpapers were printed between 1750 and 1850. They used the same tools, paints and materials to ensure historical accuracy. Their output – they can turn out 15 rolls of paper per press per day with two presses, according to Larson – ranges from French, English and early American patterns for wallpapers, borders, fireboards and, more recently, covered boxes and trucks.
Another exhibitor, Jeffrey Gale, a basketmaker from South New Berlin, N.Y., was using simple hand tools to demonstrate the traditional craft of making New England baskets, which he is trying to save from becoming a lost art. “My baskets are made by hand, the old way, from white ash trees,” said Gale, who believes that the intersection of function and beauty represented by a basket – “whether it’s for gathering or delivering banana bread to a friend” – is what drew him into basketmaking as a full-time profession.
Ceramics comprise another hallmark of the Wilton American Craftsmanship show, and some of the most sought-after examples were available. At the booth of Don Carpentier, East Nassau, N.Y., who was back after a two-year absence, recreations of English pottery of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries were gleaming. Co-owner Stephen Apisa said that mugs and tortoiseshell motifs seemed to be the most popular rdf_Descriptions this year. Those who missed the Wilton show this year can see examples of the pottery at Carpentier’s website – www.great americancraftsmen.org – which is getting a lot of use from customers, according to Apisa. “They can attach the image of the very rdf_Description they want to buy and send us an email with their order,” he said.
As previously mentioned, Shooner’s redware was a big seller, which he attributes to the fact that the authentic pieces are created by a “factory” of just two – Shooner and his wife Mary – with tradition materials and techniques they have unearthed and preserved from years of painstaking research. Said Shooner, “Our love for antique pottery drives our work.” The Shooners do not take orders and sell exclusively from existing stock. “In a handcraft business like ours, a person gets a reputation,” said Shooner, adding that in almost every instance he can recall, artisans who have expanded their production by having someone else do the work, always experience an erosion of quality.
Pamela Brown-Steedly, Charlottesville, Va., was back with her signature clay forms that evoke impressions of “motion and change,” many involving her lifetime association with horses and nature. Brown-Steedly, who does between five and eight shows year, said she always does well at Wilton.
Folk, primitive and traditional artists were well represented. Will Moses, grandson of Grandma Moses, displayed traditional paintings of his New York State country home and signed several of his books that were available for sale, including Mother Goose, which is featured as one of Publishers Weekly’s best children’s books for 2003. On Sunday, Gayle Perry of Ridgefield, Conn., was purchasing a limited edition print of “Balloons Over Cambridge Valley,” a commemorative poster for the first annual Cambridge Valley Balloon Festival, and Moses, at Wilton for his fifth year, said he was having a good show, perhaps a “bit quieter, but consistent with past years.”
Pat Palermino from Alexandria, Va., offered her brightly colored contemporary folk art depicting Washington, New York and Nantucket themes, and Barbara Strawser, Schaefferstown, Penn., who has been painting her homespun blend of country themes and fantasy since she was 15, had as centerpiece images a boy and a girl skater.
In the annex, Christopher Gurshin, a self-taught New England folk artist living in Glastonbury, Conn., demonstrated his Rufus Porter-inspired style by creating on the spot a large canvas titled “Stealing Apples: Should We?” The painting showing all the mayhem that arises around a farmhouse when a pair of itinerants are seen eyeing a farmer’s orchard as they walk past was won in a drawing at the show by a young Willie McCormack of Norwalk, Conn.
Said Gurshin, “The answer to the riddle is ‘No, but a drop is okay,'” referring to apples that drop off the tree and are typically used only for making cider. Gurshin, who has been commissioned to create paintings used for prints and posters for several museums, including Old Sturbridge Village, Shelburne Museum, Henry Ford Museum and the Guild of Strawbery Banke, said he always has an excellent show at Wilton, and loves to see rerunning customers and meet new collectors.
In short, the Wilton American Craftsmanship show surveyed a wide gamut of everything from traditional and country furniture, quilts, hooked rugs, handcrafted canvas floor coverings, woven textiles, theorems, fraktur, scherenschnitte and more.
Proceeds of the show support the Wilton Historical Society, which operates the Heritage Museum Complex on Route 7. For information, 203-762-9297 or www.wiltonhistorical.org.
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