By Judy Dales
As summer approaches, our small village braces itself for the frenetic pace of the summer months and the ratcheting up of all activities–recreational, communal, social and familial. We look forward to the return of our summer residents, resumption of the many diverse summer events, and the reopening of The Miller’s Thumb Gallery. Having worked in the Thumb for the past two summers, it occurred to me that now might be the opportune moment to shed a little light on the history and current happenings at The Thumb.
As you know, The Miller’s Thumb stood empty for a a while until several of our summer residents bought it. They had no concrete plans for the building, but aimed to save it from crumbling into oblivion and hoped to discover a viable purpose for the revered historic building.
In the spring of 2011, as major renovations to the building’s exterior were reaching completion, a group of local artists and gallery owners (called The Kingdom Craft Alliance or KCA) were searching for exhibition space as they formulated plans for a display of local art that was part of the state-wide initiative, State of Craft. When The Miller’s Thumb was offered as a place for their exhibit, KCA members jumped at it and quickly laid down plans for a cooperative gallery exhibit where artists could display and sell their work.
The show opened on the 4th of July weekend, 2010 and the response was amazing. People flocked to the building, some merely curious and others drawn by the shopping opportunities, but everyone was thrilled that the beautiful old building had found a new purpose in life. KCA decided to continue the show throughout the summer and artist volunteers took turns supervising the gallery. The exhibit was not only an artistic success, but a financial one as well, which highlighted in a unique way the need for such an attraction in the center of the village.
The exhibition also provided a much needed retail outlet for local artists, but when the owners proposed a continuation of the cooperative arrangement for the following summer, KCA declined. An on-going cooperative gallery presented greater challenges than the group’s leadership felt they could handle. Never the less, the building’s owners were so pleased with the successes of the previous summer that brought just the kind of attention and positive vibe that they had wished for, that they sought a way to continue the gallery model. Eve Passeltiner, one of the KCA artists, was hired as the gallery director for the summer of 2011, and crafts and artworks from all over the state of Vermont were offered for sale.
This is where things got confusing! Although KCA members were all invited to participate in the gallery in the summer of 2011, they would no longer run it, which left the organization in a bit of a dilemma: the gallery was their original reason for existence, and without that responsibility, they found themselves rather at loose ends. So during the winter 2010-11, they rolled up their collective sleeves and decided what, if any, purpose they could serve now.
It was agreed that all who had participated in the first-year venture had enjoyed working together and meeting on a regular basis. The name of the organization was changed to Caspian Arts and it was decided that the group would provide networking, educational and marketing opportunities for local artists. In their first year, a brochure listing the location of CA artist’s studios was produced and distributed throughout the area, a website (www.caspianartsvt.com) is in the works, and plans for an ambitious summer event are underway. There will be a Caspian Arts Studio Tour (10-5) and Raffle Party (5:30-7) on Tuesday, July 31. This is an opportunity to visit with artists and see creativity in action. Visitors will collect tickets at each studio visited and the tickets will be entered into a raffle of artworks donated by participating Caspian Arts members. This is a unique opportunity to own art created by local artists!
The Miller’s Thumb Gallery and Caspian Arts are now two separate entities, but their histories are firmly intertwined. Hopefully this little history lesson will help clear up any confusion about who’s doing what and also serve to remind everyone that both entities need support. It is a joy to see The Miller’s Thumb bustling with activity once again, but in order to thrive, it needs not just tourist dollars, but local support as well. Caspian Arts members appreciate the opportunity to educate the community about art in general, and the art they produce, in particular. Buying art from Greensboro artists is not only a way to “buy local” but is also a way to support your friends and neighbors whose creativity enriches us all.