The work that goes on at Nice Figures Studio in Northwood is not usually visible to the public. In this renovated barn, woodturners Paula Labelle and Sharon Barrett, both juried League of New Hampshire Craftsmen members, make platters, bowls, utensils, vases and artwork from burls, the knotty lumps found on trees that most commercial woodworking avoids.
“It’s kind of dangerous to be sticking a piece of metal into a spinning piece of wood,” Labelle laughed. “Because of the machinery and the insurance we don’t have it open all the time.”
However, with all proper precautions in place, visitors will be able to tour the studio, see demonstrations and learn about the woodturning craft this weekend, as Nice Figures Studio and its shop, BirchView Barn, participate in the New Hampshire Open Doors weekend.
“You’ll see a chunk of wood and we’ll go through the different stages, and then finally get to the finished product that’s up on a shelf,” said Labelle.
In past years, visitors have been an even mix of those interested in getting into woodturning as a hobby, and the generally curious, who come to appreciate the craftsmanship, uniqueness and beauty of the products.
In both cases, Labelle said, “How did you do that?” is a question she and Barrett are happy to answer.
As much as Labelle and Barrett enjoy the chance to bring others beyond their shop and into their studio, they are also quick to direct visitors to other artisans in the area.
BirchView Barn sells only New Hampshire-made products, from art to hand-knit hats, as well as pieces from Nice Figures, but during Open Doors they go a step further, suggesting visitors see the craftspeople who live and work nearby.
“I feel it’s important to have this event so that people can pick up a map and see where the craftspeople are, and the farmers,” said Labelle. “In fact, if we weren’t open that weekend I would be out looking around myself.”
“It’s a really beautiful weekend,” agreed Ann Vennard of NH Made.
NH Made collaborates with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen to put on the event, which includes studios, shops, farms, vineyards, B&Bs and more in every corner of the state. The crafts, foods and other products, the contents of farm stands and the shelves of artisans’ studios, she said, are “a treasure trove.”
This year, Open Doors has a new set of printable maps on its website, making access to that “treasure” easier. The event organizers also offer regional itineraries, with suggestions for how to spend a whole day, or the whole weekend, enjoying what New Hampshire’s artists and craftspeople have to offer.
“People can go shopping, visit a vineyard, and then wind up at a lodging property,” said Vennard. “The next day, they can set out for a different region.”
She noted that many locations will be hosting multiple craftspeople or businesses, and that many craftspeople and businesses collaborate to enhance each other’s work by bringing diverse and complementary products together. Many participating lodgings will offer locally sourced breakfasts, Vennard explained, and more than one potter will be using their ceramics to hold specialty foods made by fellow local artisans.
Open Doors brings New Hampshire’s artisanal world together. It also brings wider attention to the rich artisanal culture of the state, which sometimes goes unnoticed, or at least underestimated.
Mont Vernon has a surprising number of artists and artisans for a town of 2,400. When they come together in the center of town for the weekend, “people are always amazed,” said Karen Mitchell, chairperson of the Mont Vernon Artisans, and a jeweler and juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen herself.
During the Open Doors weekend, the artists and craftspeople of this small town, and the work they do, will be on full display.
“It’s really our big show of the year,” said Mitchell. “We’ve got five jewelers, four woodworkers, we have a stained glass person. … We have two painters, we have someone who does fabric collage, and we have someone who does mixed media. Oh! We also have an interior designer.”
This year, the Mont Vernon Artisans also invited two guests from out of town, a potter and an artist who works with kiln-formed glass, to show their own wares and demonstrate their crafts.
To top it off, Mitchell said, each of the Mont Vernon Artisans will add a piece to a gift basket, which will be raffled off to support the town’s Congregational church.