Just a little over a mile north of the town green in Guilford off Route 77 resides a hidden gem of a place nestled in the woods which artists and lovers of art have enjoyed for 50 years. And it’s called the Guilford Art Center (GAC).
Originally launched as the Guilford Handcraft Center, their first local artisan show was displayed on the Guilford Green in 1957 — and ten years later the Guilford Art Center was born.
GAC now serves as the most comprehensive art organization on the Shoreline, including the largest public exhibition space called The Mill Gallery and a non-profit school that annually serves over 2,000 students, from preschool-aged through senior citizens, with over 350 classes, including ceramics, jewelry, metalsmithing, weaving, glass, drawing and painting, blacksmithing and stone carving.
“We have on campus a real working blacksmith forge,” says Lisa Ste. Marie, the Marketing Specialist at GAC. “This is one of our programs really growing in popularity, especially for teen boys and girls. The GAC forge is one of the largest in CT with the of widest variety of classes offered to beginners and more experienced students.”
Along with the blacksmith forge, the Center also gives students access to a weaving room, a pottery studio, a metalworking studio and painting and drawing studio all within the same modernized light-filled building. There’s also a children’s classroom space.
Then there is the Shop, the third component to their campus, which offers a selection of unique contemporary American crafts and jewelry handmade by artists from across the country.
“The opportunity to shop local, as well as buy American-made goods is very important to people,” says Guilford Art Center Executive Director Maureen Belden. “The shop is an extension of the mission of the Center. It’s there to help people explore and appreciate the arts, while also supporting American artists.”
Faculty members are also invited to display and sell their work at the Shop, which many do.
“We have a lot of potters and other artists from our faculty who sell their work here,” says Lisa. “It represents a lot of what we do. We want the items we sell at the Shop to hopefully inspire people who love and appreciate handmade work. Perhaps they’ll even try a GAC class to make their own art!”
The Shop is open 7 days a week and happens to be the place where their annual holiday event Artistry is held.
This year is their 39th annual Artistry show, which features a wide-range of American crafts including ceramics, candles, glass, fine art, metal, jewelry, fiber, wood, ornaments, cards, specialty foods, soap, leather, and toys spread throughout the Shop and the adjoining gallery.
“It’s a very large space and we’ve taken extra care to make it inviting for people. It’s beautifully decorated for the holidays.”
Dee Dee Hakun, a longtime pottery student and assistant who had a long career in retail, is the display guru and has designed a special walkway that allows the shopper to wander and explore.
The layout of the space is a lot different than in years past. Space is organized in sections of women’s clothing, pottery, households, candles, children’s gifts and clothing, crafts, housewares, food items, etc. A trail of delicate white lights lines the walls with one of a kind Christmas ornaments hanging down along the walls.
“There are so many things to see that you are going to want to go around and around again,” says Dee Dee. “And maybe even a third time!”
Elena Albergo, the shop manager, has been busy cultivating new artisans to consign their wares.
“We are bringing in some new artisans and designers that may be more appealing to the younger 30 something crowd,” says Elena. “There are new men’s accessories, there are leather goods.”
For instance, a display from FSA Studio shows off a handsome leather and brass desk tray along with bracelets in sterling silver and rose-gold and yellow tone.
“This is a new artist,” says Elena. “Charlie is from upstate New York and makes unisex jewelry and accessories. He describes his work as ‘edgy but classic.’ We are constantly looking for new and fresh.”
New, fresh and one of a kind. That might describe the antique spoon necklace made by Felt and Found by Penelope.
“Now that’s a conversation piece!” says Elena.
Lisa shows off the birdhouses in the corner of the gallery.
“These birdhouses from cShoresal are made from recycled license plates!” says Lisa. “I love the colors! They are really vibrant, they just pop out.”
Here are a few more of the incredible artists that you will find at this show:
A New-Haven based potter originally from San Cristobal, Venezuela, Kiara makes stoneware, porcelain, and decorative pottery and will have her vases, mugs, bowls on display.
Holly is a Guilford-based artist who creates needle-felted art and will be offering her “whimsical animal ornaments, created from premium wool and yarns.”
Based out of New Orleans, Jimmy creates “small batch handmade leather goods for everyday life” such as leather wrap bracelets and leather coasters.
Twin sisters Jessica and Monica Giovachino have created a modern home accessories line made from sustainable bamboo where the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Bowls, candlesticks, menorahs, and votives will be available.
Raisa Lawrence West
Founder of RaisaAntonia Textiles, Raisa uses the highest-quality linen, cotton, wool, and alpaca to create “hand-loomed accessories” such as bags, wraps and decorative pillows in her converted barn in Hancock, New Hampshire.
All proceeds from Artistry will benefit the exhibiting artists and the Guilford Art Center’s educational and community programs.
“The truth of it is that you can buy any gift for any occasion at any price and that’s what’s amazing about this event,” says Elena. “You can spend $5 or $500 so it works for everyone. We want people to experience this event, to get off the beaten track, come off the Green and come down this way. You will be amazed!”