WEST BRATTLEBORO — When fall arrives, the air turns crisp in this bucolic southern slice of the state. Asphalt roads lead to dirt and gravel-packed lanes that meander beneath towering beech, sycamore, and birch trees. Scattered throughout this landscape, the studios of nearly 30 artists and craftspeople are nestled in hollows and perched on hilltops. Over the fourth annual Brattleboro-West Arts Open Studio Tour, Sept. 29 and 30, you’ll be able to visit many of them.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, 13 locations will show the work of 16 artists, featuring violin making, glassblowing demonstrations, metalworking, boat building, painting, pottery, ceramic sculpture, and woodworking.
Naomi Lindenfeld’s cool, bright ceramics studio, on the lower level of her home, offers views of sun-dappled trees. And so it’s no surprise that her colored clay pottery is inspired by patterns found in nature, such as the effects of wind and water on rocks and shells. She has been working in this medium since 1983.
“In my recent designs, I’ve been obsessed with making patterns of leaves,” said Lindenfeld.
Some work is crafted by pinching, coiling, and working with slabs of clay. Other pieces are thrown on the pottery wheel and then carved. To make patterns that look like wood grain and other natural swirls, Lindenfeld layers colored clays — subdued blues, sage greens, smoky lavenders — and presses them into loaf-sized blocks. She then cuts off a slice and rolls it flat to create her collection of teapots, mugs, vases, lamps, platters, lidded jars, tiles, and her biggest selling item, decorative earring holders.
“I like to make things that can be used. That’s why I like ceramics,” Lindenfeld added.
Josh and Marta Bernbaum built a state-of-the-art glass studio on a hillside that offers a distant view of Mount Monadnock. The first floor houses gas furnaces for Josh’s glassblowing projects. Upstairs, Marta’s studio is set up for more delicate work — she uses an oxy-propane torch to melt thin glass tubes and rods into glass flowers, stemware, and glass beads — and her small teaching workshops.
“Part of the reason this organization [Brattleboro-West Arts] formed is we want our neighbors to know what we’re up to. We’d also like more exposure outside the area. People can use it as a reason to explore the area,” said Josh.
Visitors on the studio tour will be able to observe Josh and his assistant, Peter Muller, using a blowpipe to shape molten glass after heating it in a 2,000-plus-degree Fahrenheit kiln. Using various techniques and design styles, Josh manipulates the molten glass, what he calls “captivating and mesmerizing molten goo,” into large blown glass vessels that are both functional and sculptural.
The finished vessels line shelves and cover a table in a nearby room. The large, elegant, open-mouthed shapes are notable for the ways they step away from the expected transparencies of glass. Bold, bright colors — some solid and some etched with lines — make the viewer wonder, is this glass?
“One charming thing that’s happening this year on the tour is that Ron Karpius, an old-time muralist, is opening his studio for the first time in 30 years,” said Marta.
Karpius, who is also a metal sculptor, is known for designing unique copper and brass weather vanes that suit the personalities of his clients.
“I’m one of the older persons in the group. I’m 72. I’m very happy to be in Vermont and doing what I’m doing,” said Karpius, who moved to the area in 1970 to “get away from the hustle and bustle of New York.”
Located a short distance off Interstate 91 and Route 9, Karpius’s 13-acre wooded property is dotted with large-scale sculptures and bisected by a winding stretch of Ames Hill Brook. A sturdy footbridge, a replacement of one washed away last year by Hurricane Irene, leads to the artist’s cabin where he creates his pieces, including 3-inch-square oil paintings and his newest creations, brass lanterns inspired by ancient Chinese designs.
“My studio is a cabin in the woods. It’s a place where you drop your shoulders when you get off the highway and say, ‘This is why I’m here.’ ”
Continuing west, located directly off Route 9, is Applewoods Studio and Gallery. Here David and Michelle Holzapfel craft unique handmade furniture and carved vessels from Vermont hardwoods.
“Some studios on the tour are in bucolic spots and others are on this main road. Each is its own little world,” said Michelle.
What a Vermont resident calls a “main road” is a far cry from what a city dweller might imagine. Surrounded by fields with mountains in the distance, this former three-car garage that’s been transformed into a workshop and showroom looks more rural than urban. Beyond this building, a large shed stores giant slabs of drying wood that the Holzapfels slice with an Alaskan chainsaw mill.
“We use local hardwoods that are indigenous to southern Vermont and the Northeast. Maple, yellow birch, cherry, walnut, beech, white birch, red maple, sugar maple, and ash,” said Michelle.
The couple purchase whole trees and whole burls — bulging growths that form like warts on host trees — directly from loggers, especially trees and branches that have fallen in storms. It’s wood that otherwise isn’t good for the commercial industry because of eccentricities that make it difficult to mass process.
“We have a symbiotic relationship with loggers,” said Michelle.
“Back when we started in the 1970s, this was cheaper than wood from a lumberyard. Now this is fashionable. People want to know where the wood comes from. I know where it all comes from,” said David.
Visitors can observe David working on one of many projects: crafting tables in many sizes, including coffee, dining, and entryway tables, and benches, chairs, and a category he calls “atypical objects.” His one-of-a-kind objects are collaborations between the twisting, gnarled shapes of the wood and his imagination.
“Coming here enables you to see trees in a different way because we’re using trees and not lumber,” said David.
Michelle often makes objects in the form of vessels, though her work also includes boxes, trompe l’oeil objects, sculptural wall pieces, even decorative banjo heels. Using a band saw, chain saw, air-powered grinders, and hand tools, she crafts images from daily life — textile, plant, animal, and human forms — that emphasize the tactile possibilities of wood. In her new work, she transfers images from Greek vases and re-creates them using a burning tool as a drawing pen.
Brochures with a map to all tour sites will be available at each studio, and at various other locations, including the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce. Maps can also be downloaded from the Brattleboro-West Arts website, a resource that offers tips for dining and lodging in the area.
In conjunction with the tour, the Chelsea Royal Diner in West Brattleboro is hosting a special dinner on Saturday night, featuring a selection of locally-produced foods. Many of the artists will show up, offering another opportunity to learn about their work.
“I’d recommend two days to see it all,” said Lindenfeld.
4th annual Open Studio Tour
Sept. 29-30, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free, www.brattleboro-west-arts.com