A holiday artist co-op forms in Great Barrington

Holiday artisan markets are the main source of income for many artists, said Kristen Kanter, co-founder of the Great Barrington Arts Market, and in a year when Covid has cancelled in-person markets across the region, makers are looking for new ways to keep afloat.

The Great Barrington Arts Market is adapting both online and in physical space. When it became clear they could not hold their annual market at St. James Place this year, Kanter and co-founder Molly de Sant André turned to highlighting local artists and artisans on social media.

GBAM traditionally pulls from a larger radius than some Berkshire artisan markets, Kanter said, because it comes late in the season, and so they have drawn in makers from the Southern end of the Hudson Valley, and north as far Southern Vermont. She and de Sant André are curating a series of posts to keep people aware of their artists, to remind them of makers they may have met at the summer farmers markets and let them know where to find their wares now.

Losing the in-person market can make a steep difference to them, she said, and she wants to help. She feels the difference as an artist herself.

She and her husband moved to the Berkshires from Brooklyn 16 years ago and founded JK Custom Furniture and Design. As they worked on larger pieces, they began to make serving trays and cheese boards as a way to get into the community and meet people.
They adapted wood from their own furniture-making and sourced more from a small shop in Ashley Falls and from a friend and woodworker with a collection of rare woods. They would shape the boards and finish them in their own custom oil, made to be safe for contact with food. They made handles from salvaged iron railroad spikes.

And the boards took off.

“We didn’t know the homewares would become a large part of our life and income,” she said. “It’s half of what we do.”
And this year without the conversation and energy of in-person markets, she began to be afraid would lose that ability to meet people face-to-face.

And then the chance came to join a group of half a dozen local artists in a new cooperative — the Workshop — on Railroad Street in Great Barrington.

Ben Krupka creates ceramics in earthen tones. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ben Krupka

Ben Krupka creates ceramics in earthen tones. Image courtesy of the artist.

“It’s in the old Gatsby’s across from the 20 Public House,” she said.

It came through Kanter’s GBAM co-founder, Molly de Sant Andre, and her husband Aurel, who collaborate as Petit Pilou / Moho Designs. They got talking with Jamie Goldberg, the weaver and dyer behind Hart Textiles. Goldberg tints fibers with native plants and weaves on a floor loom.

In Covid she has suspended the classes and workshops she usually teaches, and she was looking for a new studio space. Her quest has brought a group of artists together.

Ben Krupka shapes wood-fired and slipware ceramics in tones of terra-cotta and slate and ash. Milliner Karema Deodato, former assistant milliner at the Metropolitan Opera House, forms contemporary hats on antique hat blocks, from fedoras new newsboy berets.
Snoogs and Wilde offers abstract paintings. And Hudson Valley artist Maude White creates delicate designs from cut-paper — fiddlers and ravens, silken-veined poppies, women with long braided hair.

Each brings their own experience. Kanter has run a popup in Housatonic. Goldberg has experience in running a showroom during design week in New York.

In this group of artists, she said, she has found a new kindness and forgiveness and joy.

“We’re very interested in the creative arts world of the Berkshires,” she said, “and in making sure we can all sustain ourselves and continue to live in this wonderful, beautiful place while making things. … In a Covid world, all of our lives are constantly changing.”
They have pitched in to help each other adapt.

“… That’s the thing I love about the Berkshires,” she said. “It feels like a less competitive place. We’re working to create and sustain the kind of place and community we want to live in.”

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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