Community art spaces flourish across the Berkshires
IS183 Art School’s programs include a painting studio, which provides a platform to make that special gift.
Photos by Jake Borden
Peter Hopkins inked a lithe metal dragon and stamped it onto a silvery square of paper, a coaster to put under a beer stein. He has made paper with spent grain from local breweries and has turned his father’s World War II army jacket into green-tinted sheets of paper that became backing for an album of photographs of his father as a young man. He likes to be able to tell a story with the paper he creates, he says. A consultant and blogger for Crane & Co., Hopkins oversees the papermaking studio at the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton. Anyone can come learn to use the equipment for free.
As Do-It-Yourself and buying-local movements continue to gain momentum across the country, the Berkshires has seen new community art spaces open, like the Makers’ Mill in North Adams and the IS183 art space a few blocks away, and new workshops, too—from Shire City Sanctuary in Pittsfield to glassworks, ceramics studios, and quilt shops. Around the winter holidays, many places offer ways to make gifts, cards, and decorations.
“Handmade things are my favorite to give and to get,” says Kate Barber, co-founder of the Makers’ Mill. “I feel that energy. You’re thinking about someone’s favorite colors and textures and what they will do with what you’re making. I make a lot of my own gifts.”
Barber, a book artist and publications assistant at the Williams College Museum of Art, helped to create the studio space that launched in June with screen-printing and bookbinding equipment, looms and a record player. She finds handmade gifts compelling, thoughtful—and economical.
“People are aware of the impact of buying local,” says Cecilia Hirsch, studio programs coordinator at IS183, whose home base is in Stockbridge. “When you touch something made, it triggers an experience that doesn’t happen when you’re touching something abstract,” she says having just taken a ceramics workshop at the art school, where she marveled at the feeling of earth in her hands. “I feel like I’m in a great place right now in the Berkshires.”
At IS183’s informal Arts Night Out events, families enjoy laughing together as they create, giving themselves space to do things they had not done in years. Winter arts night events will range from iPhone photography to hand-built clay, and weekend workshops include felting in January and other activities.
In December at the Makers’ Mill, local artists will lead workshops that range from journal binding to irreverent doll-making, plus wreath-making, weaving, and holiday-card making. The mix of craft and art will continue through winter. “The community energy is great,” Hirsch says. “You meet new people.”
At the Crane papermaking studio, Hopkins has gathered a machine to pulverize fabric and water into pulp, and screens for scooping and drying the sheets. He demonstrates a new cannonball-engraving press from the former Excelsior Printing in North Adams. “The amount of torque and pressure it brings to bear is impressive,” he says, “and to feed it, we have thousands of steel engraving dies in the archives.”
An engraving die, he explains, has an image etched into its surface; a letterpress has a raised image. Hopkins plans to sift through a full set of initials and a wide range of motifs so people can make stationery. They can also bring in materials for the base of the paper or to add color and texture. He keeps a supply of cotton T-shirts and denim jeans donated by Goodwill, and he has added accents of many kinds—fabric swatches from a local furniture store and hops from his farm in Pownal, Vermont. Hopkins asks people to call ahead about materials so he can advise on what works well, like corn husks, sunflower stalks, and burdock—and what will not, like asparagus.
“The real fun here is to use this room to explore,” Hopkins says. “We’re just scratching the surface. We welcome people to come in with more ideas and more expansive visions.”
DIY Gifts: Art-making / Workshops
Berkshire Co-op Market DIY for kids: Make your own snow globes, 3:30 p.m., Dec. 5. Great Barrington.
Crane & Co. Studio Papermaking equipment and help. Dalton. 413-684-6380
IS183 Art School Art-making and workshops in North Adams, Pittsfield, and Stockbridge.
Karen’s Quilting Corner Fiber-arts and quilting workshops. Williamstown.
Makers’ Mill Knitting circle and various workshops.
MASS MoCA Kidspace’s Artbar. North Adams.
Norman Rockwell Museum Santa’s Workshop, Dec. 6, St. Paul’s Church, Drawing in the Galleries, select Saturdays, Stockbridge.
Notchview Evergreen craft-making, 12-2 p.m., Dec.12, Notchview Nordic Ski Center, Windsor. 413-532-1631.
Shire City Sanctuary Sewing circle, screen printing, fiber arts, and more. Pittsfield.