VERMONT OPEN STUDIO WEEKEND
MAY 25 & 26, 2013
An interview with 20-year Open Studio participant
ROBERT COMPTON — POTTERY
Located 5 miles north of Bristol village on Rte. 116
Vermont Open Studio Weekend happens annually over Memorial Day Weekend. Although Memorial Day isn’t quite the beginning of summer here in Vermont, it is turning a page on the calendar. The Open Studio event has become a rite of passage for a lot of people, both visitors and artists.
Four artisans are participating in Open Studio Weekend this year for the 20th time. One is Robert Compton, a potter in Bristol known for his firing and glazing expertise, who will be part of the Open Studio tour along with his wife Christine, who is a spinner and weaver. Let’s do the tour and find out what visitors will see at Bob and Christine’s studio!
Visitors enter the gallery where Bob and Chris have their work on display.
What would you say is special about Open Studio Weekend?
Open Studio Weekend is important to our studio since the more people understand the processes used to create pottery, the better they appreciate the finished work. Open Studio Weekend brings in many individuals who have never come to our studio before, and acts as an icebreaker for folks who may have been shy about just dropping in if there was no such special event taking place.
Open Studio is also a fun way for 2-3 friends to travel together as a group to see things that intrigue them. Maybe one person wants to see pottery and another wants to see woodworking, so they check out both types of studios together.
The Open Studio map/guide is incredible. It stimulates peoples’ curiosity. They can look at the map and see there are studios in an area of Vermont they have never explored, and Open Studio gives them a reason to go there.
Tell us about your pottery studio, and also the weaving studio of your wife, Christine. What will people see when they come?
Our studio is often used as a landmark on Route 116. The tower, in particular, captures peoples’ imagination and they wonder what it is. We find that one-half to two-thirds of the people who come through are local Vermonters who just wonder what is going on in there! Originally we built it to store packing peanuts to gravity feed into boxes when we shipped a lot of pottery to galleries. Now, we use it as a storage area.
People also remark about the sheep in our front yard. They are Border Leicester sheep, and Christine spins their wool to use in her weaving.
During Open Studio, we hope to give visitors an understanding of how things are produced: how I make pottery and Christine does her weaving. I will talk with visitors about the origins of clay, where it comes from, and how the firing process chemically transforms the raw material into pottery. I’ve also set up a self-guided tour if people prefer, where they can tour the Kiln yard by following informational signs and can view a power point presentation on the history of the pottery and the evolution of my work since I opened my first studio in 1972.
This year Christine’s weaving studio will be a new feature, and she will show visitors the Le Clerc loom on which she weaves her rayon-chenille scarves and shawls. Christine has been involved with spinning and weaving as long as I have been a potter. Before she moved to Vermont, she worked in a living history museum where she milked a cow by hand, cooked on the open hearth and taught weaving and spinning. She will talk with people about how you spin and the difference between fleece and hair.
I have been a working potter for over 40 years and while this has been the means by which I earn a living, it is also a lifestyle choice that has allowed me to live and work in one location. The focus of my work has been on form rather than decoration and I have chosen to employ firing methods that mark each pot with patterns that result from the interaction of fire and clay.
A visitor looks closely at a ceramic colander, appreciating the details that make this one of a kind.
Why did you first decide to participate in Open Studio Weekend 21 years ago?
I was part of an organization 35 years ago called Vermont Craft Professionals. It only lasted a few years, but in some ways it was the predecessor of the Vermont Craft Council. At that time, we were a group of craftspeople looking for a way to connect with the people who bought our work and we did it through a craft show we started. Years later when Open Studio Weekend began, it tapped into that feeling that was already there of wanting to connect with people.
How has Open Studio changed for you over the years?
Early on, most of our visitors came from 5 miles down the road. But I’ve noticed in the past few years that we are getting more people coming from southern Vermont or adjacent states traveling here to visit this area. They tell me, “We’ve done southwest Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom, now we’re doing the Champlain Valley.” It really shows that people are dedicating themselves to seeing over a number of years all that is offered during Open Studio weekend. People are getting up at 5:30 in the morning so they can travel to as many studios as possible!
What has made Open Studio successful for you?
Well, stamps on postcards have given way to email. I send reminder emails about Open Studio to people who are on our “Friends” list.
The yellow signs are key. It was a great idea to use them from the start, and they have really become identified with the event. People see the yellow signs and hit the brakes. They know the yellow signs means Open Studio is happening.
I also talk up Open Studio with our customers throughout the year. We keep some extra maps to give out year-round, although we always caution people to call first when Open Studio Weekend is over. That’s the great thing about Open Studio Weekend–you are sure you are welcome during that time.
Thanks for the interview Bob! We wish you and Christine the best of luck during Open Studio Weekend!