hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture December 2020-January 2021


Creating in a Covid world

Artists, nonprofits steer toward light in a darkened holiday season


Michael Scupholm, the glass studio director at Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., shapes a blown-glass ornament. The pandemic has forced artists to work alone in SAW’s studios, rather than in groups. Courtesy photo


Michael Scupholm, the glass studio director at Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., shapes a blown-glass ornament. The pandemic has forced artists to work alone in SAW’s studios, rather than in groups. Courtesy photo


Contributing writer


Rods of glass stand on a workbench in every color, red and amber, green and gold.
Hold one in a blowtorch flame, and it will melt and flow like honey. Catch the drip with a metal rod and turn it, and the glass will spin around the metal in filaments like hard candy. Keep turning, and they will melt smooth.

In her studio at Cheshire Glassworks in the Berkshires, Jill Reynolds is making beads. They reflect the changing seasons, the shifting landscapes outside her window. Not long ago, she said, she made one that felt like a November day. She striped the glass green and gold, with blue for the autumn sky.

“The colors you get are so rich,” she said. “A dot of color, and a clear lens of glass magnifies it, like a planet or under water.”

Across the region, artists and artisans are facing a holiday season unlike any other. The pandemic has closed many of their traditional ways to reach people – the workshops and classes, festivals and open studios. With cold weather arriving, restrictions are tightening just as the holiday season begins.

Holiday artisan markets are the main source of income for many artists, said Kristen Kanter, co-founder of the Great Barrington Arts Market. In a year when Covid-19 has forced cancellation of in-person markets across the region, makers are looking for new ways to survive.

Kanter has become part of a new pop-up artists cooperative in Great Barrington, as towns, museums and artists evolve new online markets and outdoor festivals. Some smaller shops are forging on, and local online entrepreneurs like Berkshire Box and Only in My Dreams are creating care packages with local gifts.

Reynolds offers her translucent beads at her shop in Cheshire and at the Red Lion Inn and Hancock Shaker Village, where the village shop is open through the holidays. Hancock Shaker Village also will host a modest holiday pop-up marketplace on Dec. 12.

Reynolds said she loves to experiment with colors as they play together and set each other off in contrast.

“There are so many colors and ways to make what you’re making,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I feel like I’m still in elementary school. It’s vast, and there are so many ways to learn. I don’t follow videos. It just depends on how I feel that day and what I feel like making.”

She often works with her husband, Jeff. They have a workshop at home, in the shed behind their house, and they will work there quietly together. He makes settings in silver for her pendants, and he also works in glass.

He had studied glassblowing before they met, she said, and at this time of year they both make ornaments, melting and shaping glass tubes into hollow spheres. The technique is much like glassblowing with a furnace, but on a smaller scale, working in detail.



Like other arts organizations in the region, Salem Art Works has set up a new online shop to help its artists sell their wares.


Artists, studios adjust to pandemic
Over the ridge in Salem, N.Y., Michael Scupholm, the glass studio director at Salem Art Works, is working singlehandedly at tasks that usually would require a partner – someone to help with the fine control of speed and temperature and air flow.

He breathes into tube with a rubber fitting, through the long metal rod, while he turns it to keep an even curve in the molten, glowing orb on the far end.

He is shaping blown-glass ornaments as broad as a baseball. He can add color in powdered glass that melts and marbles, he said, and texture the surface with optic molds. They swirl and gleam in facets.

And they’re now available online. Salem Art Works has opened a new web shop for its artists in ceramics, cast iron and more.

The pandemic has also changed the way artists create at SAW. Workshops and residencies have been paused since the spring, and the artists who live at the sprawling former dairy farm are working alone in the studios.

In the foundry, the larger tasks — the iron pours that take a team of six — are on hold. Zac Ward, SAW’s sculpture park manager, recalled how a dozen metalworkers often showed up to help in the past. For now, they will wait on gathering even a group of six.

The forge is open for blacksmith work, though, and so are the walking paths. Ward designed trails through SAW’s 119 acres, where old logging roads spiral up the hill.

Executive Director Anthony Cafritz said SAW is installing new work in the sculpture park, including Ward’s own work — organic abstract shapes in iron and steel. They can blend in and emerge subtly as walkers and snowshoers pass by.

“I don’t want to disturb the landscape as much as fit into it,” Ward said.

Some elements show clearly, near the road or the edge of the woods, he said, and some will feel hidden in the warmer months and reveal themselves after the leaves fall.
“The park is a living, breathing place,” he said.


Festivities disperse, move outdoors
Downtowns and local businesses are also looking for breathing space as they navigate a season where the traditional holiday walks, pageants and processions are yielding to new safety precautions. In many places, people are spreading out or shifting activities outdoors.

The Berkshire Museum’s annual Festival of Trees, normally held in the museum’s galleries, is moving out into the community. In this year’s event, with the theme “Legends of the Berkshires,” decorated trees will appear in shops, offices and business lobbies from Nov. 28 through Jan. 10. (Check berkshiremuseum.org for a full map.)

This new, spread-out forest will take root in Pittsfield, Lenox, Great Barrington and Sheffield, said Kimberly Donoughe, the museum’s marketing and brand manager, with installations as varied as “Legendary People of the Berkshires,” “Tree-duce, Tree-use, Tree-cycle,” “The Big Foot,” and “Legends of the Cuckoo Cuckoo Clocks of the Black Forest.”

In Lenox, the annual Winterland celebration is planning its first annual tree walk, as local artists will decorate more than 30 trees downtown.

And the Walker Street Grill at The Gateways Inn will move outside for a daytime Christmas pop-up on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20, with holiday decorations and grab-and-go concessions, a food trailer, fire pits and heat lamps, holiday music and clips of holiday movies. The inn calls it “Miracle on Walker Street,” a play on the classic film, said Carrie Holland, managing director at Mill Town Capital, which bought the inn in July.

“It’s festive spot to warm up and get something to eat and move on,” she said.
Chef Trish Magner will offer a menu items that are easy to eat with one’s gloves on -- soup, chili, big pretzels, bags of nuts, toasted breads and cheeses, as well as cookies, hot chocolate and mulled wine.


Berkshire artists online
Just down the road in Stockbridge, Mill Town is partnering with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires to create a virtual holiday market for artists in the region. The virtual pop-up shop will be open Dec. 4-11 through IS183’s website.

“It’s like an Etsy shop or a virtual gallery,” said Lucy Castaldo, IS183’s executive director.
IS183 has invited its faculty and the network of artists it has worked with to join in, along with Berkshire artists who have inspired classes based on their work. Visitors to the website (www.is183.org/online-holiday-fair-2020) can see each artist and the work they have on offer.
They may find ceramics from Lorimer Burns and Ben Evans, and Jesse Tobin McCauley’s abstract paintings -- in the bright colors of her new murals on Pittsfield’s North Street. Longtime IS183 photography instructor Thaddeus B. Kubis captures landscapes and light, and Dylan W. Kubis shares a love of classic cars. Victoria Fiorini creates jewelry in cast metals, and Amy DiLalla of The Peach Tree beads with natural gemstones.

IS183 wants to make the artworks widely and easily accessible Castaldo said. Works available through the online shop cost as little as $15, though some may range into the hundreds. IS183 will offer free delivery in the Berkshires, as the faculty, artists and staff will volunteer to transport the art by hand.

“Everyone should be able to have local art in their home,” Castaldo said.
Browsing through, guests may find Diane Firtell’s photography and collage, Ali Herrman’s mixed media paintings and jewelry, Stacy Scibelli’s clothing and fiber art, Brielle Rizzotti’s fiber art plush creatures and Kim Waterman’s drawings.

The artists will receive 70 percent of the sale, and 30 percent will benefit IS183. And though the pop-up is only for one week in December, the art school is building a virtual gallery shop, Castaldo said, and visitors will soon be able to find the artists’ work all year long.


A new holiday celebration
In Sheffield, the local historical society is creating its own new tradition in lights. In the grounds of the historic Dan Raymond House, 20 lighted Fraser firs from Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock will glimmer.

“It started as a response to Covid -- to bring some happiness to the community in a safe way,” said Jennifer Owens, administrator of the Sheffield Historical Society. “We think it will be a tradition for years to come.”

At the Old Stone Store next door, the annual Festival of Holidays returns on weekends into early January. The annual marketplace gathers work from Berkshire artisans, from wooden bowls to photographs, whimsical ornaments and fiber art, chenille scarves in gentle shades and felted scarves in wild colors.

The festival becomes a benefit for Sheffield Historical Society and the scholarships it offers to local high school seniors, said Kathleen Tetro, a volunteer with the historical society and co-owner of Corner House Antiques in the center of town. The event also aids the Sheffield Breaking Bread program, which creates and packages meals, without question, for anyone in the community who seeks help.

Tetro said volunteers have made tabletop trees, some mature and some childlike, some lighted, some made of shells or milkweed with a glint of gold. Designer MaryEllen O’Brien will offer evergreen wreathes.

Local families and organizations — SoCo Historical Restoration, the old Parish Church, the Marketplace Kitchen and many more — have decorated the full-sized trees at the Dan Raymond House.

The historical society will decorate the grounds as well as the historic greenhouse that now holds the organization’s education center. At the hub, a remembrance tree will bear messages for loved ones and local heroes – and the opportunity for people to add their own.

The society is planning a carefully calibrated holidays celebration on successive Saturdays, Dec. 12 and 19. Children will be able to see Santa at a distance, Owens said, as he sits in the historic law office, and they may be able to send him a note. On the porch, Jeannie Romeo will sing rock classics from the 1950s and ‘60s.

The festive lights will brighten every night through Jan. 6, she said. And because the trees stand next to the Town Hall lot, visitors can see them from inside their cars.
“The event is free,” Owens said. “It’s a community event. Just wear a mask.”


Artists band together
Just up Route 7, the Great Barrington Arts Market is adapting both online and in physical space.
When it became clear the organization could not hold its annual market at St. James Place this year, Kanter and co-founder Molly de Sant Andre turned to highlighting local artists and artisans on social media.

The Great Barrington market traditionally pulls from a larger radius than some Berkshire artisan markets, Kanter said, because it comes late in the season. As it result, it has attracted makers from the lower Hudson Valley to southern Vermont. She and de Sant Andre are curating a series of posts to keep people aware of these artists -- to remind them of makers they may have met at the summer farmers markets and let them know where to find their wares now.

Losing the in-person market is a big blow to some artisans, and Kanter said she wants to help. She feels the loss as an artist herself.

Kanter and her husband moved to the Berkshires from Brooklyn 16 years ago and founded JK Custom Furniture and Design. As they worked on larger pieces, they began to make serving trays and cheese boards as a way to get into the community and meet people.

They adapted wood from their own furniture making and sourced more from a small shop in Ashley Falls and from a friend and woodworker with a collection of rare woods. They would shape the boards and finish them in their own custom oil, made to be safe for contact with food. They made handles from salvaged railroad spikes.

The boards took off.

“We didn’t know the homewares would become a large part of our life and income,” she said. “It’s half of what we do.”

This year, without the conversation and energy of in-person markets, she began to be afraid they would lose that ability to meet people face-to-face.

And then the chance came to join a group of a half-dozen local artists in a new cooperative — the Workshop — on Railroad Street in Great Barrington.

“It’s in the old Gatsby’s, across from the 20 Public House,” she said.
The opportunity came through de Sant Andre and her husband, Aurel, who collaborate as Petit Pilou / Moho Designs. They got talking with Jamie Goldberg, the weaver and dyer behind Hart Textiles. Goldberg tints fibers with native plants and weaves on a floor loom.

In the pandemic, Goldberg has suspended the classes and workshops she usually teaches, and she was looking for a new studio space. Her quest has brought a group of artists together.
Ben Krupka shapes wood-fired and slipware ceramics in tones of terra cotta, slate and ash. Karema Deodato, a former assistant milliner at the Metropolitan Opera House, forms contemporary hats on antique hat blocks, from fedoras to newsboy berets.

Snoogs and Wilde offers abstract paintings. And Hudson Valley artist Maude White creates delicate designs from cut paper — fiddlers and ravens, silken-veined poppies, women with long braided hair.

Each of the artisans brings their own experience to the co-op. Kanter has run a pop-up shop in Housatonic. Goldberg has experience in running a showroom during design week in New York.
In this group of artists, Goldberg said she has found a new kindness and forgiveness and joy.
“We’re very interested in the creative arts world of the Berkshires,” she said, “and in making sure we can all sustain ourselves and continue to live in this wonderful, beautiful place while making things. … In a Covid world, all of our lives are constantly changing.”

The artists have pitched in to help each other adapt.

“That’s the thing I love about the Berkshires,” Goldberg said. “It feels like a less competitive place. We’re working to create and sustain the kind of place and community we want to live in.”