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Handcrafted Beauty

Local Artisans Present Their Designs



Kari Lonning, Rainbow Carrots basket

In the open doorway of Fairfield’s Hotspot Glass Studio stand large fans, providing small relief from the heat of refractory furnaces burning constantly at over 2,000 degrees. Inside the studio, owners Dylan Cotton and Chris DeMott are leading a private lesson in glass blowing to a rapt audience. “It’s a small world,” says DeMott, on the scarcity of glass blowers in the area. “There aren’t many of us, but it’s a tight community.” 

Along with Cotton and DeMott, Fairfield and neighboring Bridgeport are home to an elite group of local craftspeople. This small but vital group of artisans is enjoying a renewed interest in their respective arts—weaving, metalwork, woodwork, quilting, glassblowing, and more. They are also reaping the benefits of a new era of consumers, decorators, and collectors with discerning tastes who seek out hand-made items of a high quality, with aesthetic—as well as utilitarian—value.

To celebrate this trend and showcase unique creations from local talent, “Handcrafted: Artisans Past & Present,” opens October 25, 2015 at the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Techniques and materials of the past inspire many artists, according to Museum’s Interim Exhibition Curator Tanya Pohrt.

“These artisans employ aesthetics that draw on a wide range of influences, blurring traditional boundaries separating craft from fine art,” she explains. “In displaying contemporary craft alongside historic decorative arts objects, the issue of use also comes into play. Whereas 18th and 19th century tables, quilts, and ceramics tell fascinating stories about their owners and how these objects functioned over time, newly made pieces elicit questions about how they will be used and what meaning will they acquire.”

But Fairfielders Michael Michaud, a jewelry designer, and woodworker Edward Pirnik-Mauriz say their work is influenced primarily by natural elements. Pirnik-Mauriz was inspired to make humidors (pictured left)—decorative cigar cases that maintain a constant humidity in order to keep tobacco fresh—when he happened upon Spanish cedar while visiting family in Cuba. The wood’s durability and resistance to warping make it an ideal choice but it also has an added benefit.

“Spanish cedar has a really nice aroma, and it imparts that aroma to the cigars it stores,” explains Pirnik-Mauriz. “The sweet-smoky fragrance of the wood makes for better tasting cigars, and provides a pleasurable sensory experience for smokers.”

Michaud’s inspiration also comes from nature. The internationally renowned jeweler, whose work has been shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Chateau de Versailles, incorporates botanical elements into his designs. By doing so, Michaud captures a plant’s natural beauty and then transforms it into earrings, bracelets, and other jewelry using eucalyptus leaves, blueberries, and lilies. (Pictured right: Irish Thorn Pin.)

Marnie Smith, a Fairfield native, creates 17th century textiles for Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is a recent graduate of the Artisanry program at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where she studied textile design and fiber arts. 

Two representatives of neighboring Bridgeport, quilter Denyse Schmidt and textile designer, weaver, and visual artist Ruben Marroquin, took meandering roads through the fine arts before settling into their current pursuits. Schmidt, a RISD grad, dabbled in graphic design and theater before discovering a passion for quilting. She has made a name for herself with a series of quilts—some couture, some improvisational—with whimsical titles like Drunk Love in a Log Cabin and What a Bunch of Squares. Schmidt’s work is capturing the public’s attention and has been featured extensively in publications like The New York Times Magazine and People Magazine.

Marroquin’s roots are in painting, which he studied while at college in Venezuela, before trading in his oils and acrylics for a bag of rags. 

In our consumerist culture dominated by superstores and online outlets, is there a place for handcrafted arts? Absolutely says Schmidt. “The decorative arts are an antidote to our fast-paced, instant information lifestyles. They serve as a balm to our technological world.”


Pictured below: Patricia Burling, Concerto

Pictured below: Thomas Throop, Series Chair

Amos Denison Allen (1774-1855), Tablet Arm Windsor Chair, FMHC

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