The hills are alive with art: Hilltown weekend features open studio tour, an art salon and other events

  • Chesterfield painter Cynda Sperry is one of the participating artists in this weekend’s open studios tour in the Hilltowns. Photo by manadamarsh.com

  • Work by potter Worthington potter Mark Shapiro, one of the artists in the open studios tour this weekend in the Hilltowns. Photo by manadamarsh.com

  •  “For the Love of PTown,” painting by Huntinton artist Susanna White. Image by Janine Norton 

  • Fabric artist Kathy Ford of Worthington says there’s “a lot of new energy this year” in the arts community in the Hilltowns. Photo by manadamarsh.com

  • Worthington painter Elena Allee says her work is informed by her obsession “with the tension and dialogue between abstraction and figuration.” Image by manadamarsh.com

  • Work by painter Valerie Claff of Chesterfield, who will demonstrate her watercolor technique during this weekend’s open studios tour in the Hilltowns. Image by manadamarsh.com

  • The logo for the open studios tour in the Hilltowns Image by manadamarsh.com

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2022 4:22:37 PM

Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst might grab many of the headlines when it comes to the area’s arts scene, given the number of artists in those towns, the presence of the Five Colleges, and performance venues such as the Academy of Music.

But as artists in the Hilltowns might say, “Don’t forget about us.”

This weekend, some of those artists are offering a specific reminder, with 18 art makers in six towns throwing open the doors of their studios to feature work from 23 artists in total. Also on tap will be an art salon in Cummington, a wine tasting in Southampton, and a celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington that will be marked with food and music.

The Hilltown Arts Alliance and the Hilltown Community Development Corp. have joined forces to sponsor the Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 events, both as a way to showcase the vitality of the arts and small businesses in their communities and to mark something “of a return to normalcy,” as one organizer puts it, after COVID-19 disrupted things in the past two years.

“There’s a lot of new energy this year,” said Kathy Ford, a fabric artist and the president of the Hilltown Arts Alliance. “We’ve got some wonderful artists taking part (in open studios) and then all the other events going on … and we’re looking at some increased opportunities for the arts (in the Hilltowns) coming down the road.”

As Dave Christopolis, director of the Hilltown CDC, notes, Cummington is on the cusp of receiving designation as a Massachusetts Cultural District, which should pave the way for grants that can be used to create more studio space and other facilities in town, most notably by refurbishing the former elementary school that closed several years ago.

“It can be a little hard to define this region,” said Christopolis. “We’re between the Berkshires, which is very well known, and the Northampton-Amherst area and the colleges. But we’ve got over 300 local businesses, we have a pretty vibrant arts community, and we’re looking to build on that and also give artists more tools for marketing their work.”

Christopolis said the Hilltown CDC is also helping restore some other venerable buildings in the region that artists might use; meantime, he noted, two new restaurants, The Goldenrod Country Inn and Liston’s Bar & Grill, have opened in older spaces in Worthington (Liston’s officially reopens Oct. 1 under new ownership).

The Hilltown Arts Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports artists in the region, began the open studios tour in June 2018, and Ford said the turnout that year and in 2019 was good, considering it was a new event.

Then the pandemic shut it down in 2020; last year it was shifted to early October and held with COVID protocols such as masks, “and the response was pretty strong,” she said. “I think people were just so happy to get out and do something.”

This year’s tour, which takes place Oct. 1 and 2 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, will cover studios in six communities: Plainfield, North Chester, Worthington, Huntington, Chesterfield, and Cummington. Artists include painters, sculptors, fabric and jewelry makers, printmakers and ceramicists; 23 artists are included, with some sharing their work at other’s studios.

A number of live demonstrations and other events are scheduled in artists’ studios. Chesterfield painter Valerie Claff, for instance, will paint a watercolor from start to finish on Oct. 1, beginning at 1:30 p.m., and acclaimed potter Mark Shapiro of Worthington will make a teapot in one hour, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 1.

“Meeting people and sharing some of your work with them is really a treat,” said Ward, also of Worthington; she’ll demonstrate some of her quilt-making techniques at her studio at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 2.

Art talk, and an artist-inspired beer

To set the stage for the studio tour, The Art Salon, a regular program in the Valley in which a small group of artists and designers discuss their work in an informal setting, will take place at the Cummington Community House at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, Sept. 30). Before that, an art walk in the town’s Cultural District is offered at 5:30 p.m., and a dance performance will be staged outside the Community House at 6 p.m.

Ward says open studio tours in the Hilltowns, to some degree, are building on the legacy of the Cummington School of the Arts, a summer program that began in the 1920s and extended into the latter 20th century, featuring various performances and residencies for a range of artists. Some notable names, such as painters Helen Frankenthaler and Willem de Kooning and photographer Diane Arbus, spent time there.

“There really is a rich tradition here, especially of artists from cities finding a new home in the country,” said Ward, who has previously worked as an architect in New York City and then Amherst.

She notes that potters in the Hilltowns, including Mark Shapiro, have also featured a tour of their studios for years.

Events in the Hilltowns this weekend include tastings at Sena Farm Brewery in Worthington, including the unveiling of a new beer, The Artist’s Palate, flavored with local raspberries; the Old Creamery Co-op celebration, on Oct. 1 from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. at Pettingill Memorial Park in Cummington; and a wine tasting at Glendale Ridge Vineyard in Southampton on Oct. 2 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

More information about all these events, including a map of participating artists’ studios and places to eat, can be found at hilltownartsalliance.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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