Tour de arts

HopArts Studio Trail returns for a seventh year


Most artists, by their nature, prefer seclusion, which is why so many hole up to paint, sculpt or do their craft work in old barns or garages converted to workshops. This month, however, many of the privacy-loving artists of Richmond and Hopkinton will welcome visitors into their studios and homes for HopArts, an annual open house tour that not only boosts public awareness about the artists in our midst, but has also created lasting bonds in the local arts community.

Now in its seventh year, the HopArts Studio Trail features stops at 18 studios and galleries (including the Alpaca and Farm Store at Hannah’s Farm, Shaw Pottery, the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center and Angel and Anchor Woodworks, among others), each marked with a yellow and blue banner so they can be easily spotted as you travel around rural South County. Navigation is aided by the fact that many of the stops are clustered in the villages of Hope Valley and Carolina, where you can stroll from one location to the next; others require a drive into the countryside, but organizers have produced a helpful map to guide you along your way.

With 34 participating artists, the free event is an opportunity for visitors to “come see firsthand how art is created,” says HopArts coordinator and skilled weaver Jan Bertwell, who owns Finishing Touches in Richmond. “Many of these artists are very well known nationally, but if you live in the area, you don’t necessarily know about them.”

Artists typically give talks or perform demonstrations of their craft during the HopArts weekend; some even serve refreshments. Hand weaver Jan Doyle of the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center sees HopArts as an opportunity not only to show off her work and “educate people about the fiber arts,” but also to “justify the prices asked” for handmade products by demonstrating how labor-intensive such traditional crafts can be.

HopArts was the brainchild of Hopkinton’s Leah Grear, who launched the program in 2006 with fellow artists Beth Drainville and Michelle Walker. Over the years, participation and attendance have grown along with the list of program sponsors; in 2011, about 1,000 people visited with local artists over the course of the two-day event. The Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center alone hosted 300-400 guests last year, according to Doyle – far more than would visit on a one-off open house or during regular business hours. “I think most people are more interested in seeing a number of artists together rather than just one,” says Doyle.

“HopArts has brought a lot of people into the neighborhood,” she says. “Initially, many of them were interested in seeing what’s inside the Octagon House (the historic home where the Fiber and Fiction Center is located), but it has led to getting more students into the school.”

In its relatively brief history, HopArts has nurtured deep local roots, rounded up nearly 20 sponsors (Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shop, West’s Bakery, Bliss Coffee House and Wildwood Liquors, to name a few) and forged an alliance with the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, which Bertwell says shares HopArts’ “strong desire to preserve our rural character and the resources that we have” in Richmond and Hopkinton.

HopArts has also helped foster a sense of community among local artists themselves “out of necessity, because we’re not all in one place,” notes Doyle. Carolina-based pottery artist Jay Lacouture agrees: “It has been successful in bringing the community of artists together, most of whom I didn’t know existed.”

This year, HopArts is being celebrated on October 13 and 14 from 10am-4pm, rain or shine. You can visit the participating studios in any order, but URE Outfitters or the Clark Library – both serving as event hospitality centers – are good places to pick up maps and begin your tour.