By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — When the Vermont State Craft Center (VSCC) at Frog Hollow closed its doors early this year, the Middlebury area not only lost a gallery in which to display local artists’ wares, but also a school at which students could learn how to create their own arts and crafts.
The past few months have seen a homeless VSCC offer some classes at temporary venues. But now five longtime VSCC associates have joined forces to create a new “Middlebury Studio School Inc.” that they hope will fill the arts education void left by VSCC.
“We think Middlebury wants art and craft classes,” said Barbara Nelson, the VSCC’s current education coordinator and co-organizer of the new studio school. “I think it would be a loss for the community not to have (an arts and craft school) anymore.”
The VSCC’s craft school has included around 40 teachers serving a combined total of around 1,000 students of all ages. Teachers — many of them professional artists and crafters — have taught skills ranging from sculpting to pottery.
As education coordinator, Nelson coordinated classes, did budgeting and oversaw the payroll for instructors. She will continue to work for VSCC until next month.
Nelson and colleague Kathy Clark — VSCC’s studio manager — have spent the past few weeks lamenting the impending demise of the craft center (due to financial problems).
“As we saw the Frog Hollow situation deteriorate, we didn’t want to let it go,” Nelson said.
She and Clark found they were not alone. They decided to see if they could somehow keep the VSCC’s education mission alive.
“We had meetings with people who were very supportive,” Nelson recalled.
They put together a five-member board that includes Mary Lower, Christine Kelley and Llyn Rice. After putting together the framework of a Middlebury Studio School, they looked for potential hosting sites.
They found a willing partner in the Middlebury Recreation Department, which has agreed to register, promote and extend liability insurance to a series of classes the new school will offer this summer at Mary Hogan Elementary School. Those 15 week-long “art camps,” geared toward children, include “World of Birds,” through which participants will use recycled and natural materials to make art about birds; “Fly & Float Mixed Media,” which will see participants make artwork that can float in the air and water; and “Mask & Puppet Workshops.”
Tuition for the courses, which run from June 22 to Aug. 14, is in the $150 per week range. The Middlebury Recreation Department has a mass registration day slated for Thursday, May 24.
Nelson said plans are in the works to extend the Middlebury Studio School beyond the summer. They call for it to be open evenings and weekends in the Gailer School’s new location at 54 Creek Road, according to Nelson.
“We would like to keep this going permanently,” Nelson said.
The fledgling school received an additional shot in the arm last week when the VSCC board agreed to donate Frog Hollow’s pottery-making equipment to the new venture. Middlebury Studio School officials must now reach out to a property owner able to provide free or low-cost studio space for the pottery supplies, which include a sizeable kiln. The spot has to be heated, have a restroom and be quite large, according to Nelson.
Clark hopes the school will catch on in its new incarnation.
“We are trying to fill the gap,” Clark said. “People are accustomed to having a craft school in the area.”
Anyone seeking more information about the Middlebury Studio School, or who may want to contribute to the cause, should e-mail [email protected].