At first I was a little stymied when I started thinking about today's blog in which I'm focusing on “funky towns, things, places.” No surprise to readers that I tend to see the Lake Champlain Region more as world-class, not really “funky," but after I looked up the word “funky” and read one definition: fashionable in a way that is unusual and shows a lot of imagination, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about and headed toward Wadhams.
In the Beginning
Wadhams is a bit north of the community of Westport on Route 22. It actually is a hamlet within the Town of Westport. At first glance, it appears to be somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but the reason for its location is shared with many other Lake Champlain Region communities; it rests on the banks of moving water, the Boquet River. A visit to the Ticonderoga Heritage Museum had educated me as to why our communities developed where they did. That waterpower was needed at the time of early settlement to turn the machinery and operate the mills during the beginnings of the industrial age. Wadhams was once known as Wadhams Mills. You can see evidence of aged machinery even today.\
A rusted wheel of sorts rests next to the roadside within this hamlet and serves as a decorative, sculptural-like reminder. When I recently visited this peaceful and charming community we’d experienced a very dry late summer/early autumn, but that water power was still evident in the falls, though a little diminished.
Agriculture thrives within this community, but its idyllic beauty and charm has also drawn many artisans and artists to make it their residence too. Wadhams provides the perfect setting for their work as well. I had hoped to begin my adventure at precisely one of those places, The Dogwood Bread Company right at the hub of the hamlet. Just the thought of their wood fired artisan breads, and creative culinary sensations starts me salivating, but I found them to be on their September break and not reopening until October 8th.
Flavor of the Region
“Fiddle-dee-dee” would have been a better mannered reaction, but no one was within earshot anyway. This bakery is high on my recommended “must” list to visitors in the area. Using only fresh, locally-grown products their creations have become synonymous with a “flavor of the region.” Their community involvement expands beyond the ovens. On special evenings both your palette and your desire for a first-class musical performance can be satisfied as they host fantastic performers like the Taylor Haskins Quartet or the R. Bailey Trio. Watch the events calendar and reserve early for performances as they frequently sell out.This bakery also contributes to other community organizational efforts. On October 17th, the Boquet River Association (BRASS) will host a 4 mile Cookie Run. Participants will be gifted with a fresh Dogwood Bakery cookie! Runners should not need any more incentive than that.
On the Studio Tour
I left the hamlet proper to venture just a few miles down the road to see the work of other Wadhams’ artists on Westport’s Spirit of Place Studio Tour. You may recall my former blog on Westport’s Heritage House Spirit of Place Art Show and Auction that took place this past summer. Many of the artists that participated in the show opened their studios for tours on the last Saturday of each month from July through September. This was my final opportunity to visit a few of them. Wandering on back roads along the banks of the Boquet through picturesque farm fields I found Aerobie Fields Pottery on Merriam Forge Road.
Aerobie Fields Pottery
Meredith Johnston, potter, and Linda Smyth, painter, were both there in the midst of artistic creations. Meredith took the time to walk me through the process of making a little serving plate from clay. From the rolling out of the clay, to the graceful application of texture and design, to its pillow rest for a few days of air-drying, she patiently explained the whole time-consuming process. The little plate was to receive considerable more attention once air-dried, including various glazings and kiln firings to enhance the design and texture and create a finished product.
I could envision the final result since a good share of her completed work was on display. I so admired her tasteful incorporation of natural elements in design, often impressions from leaves she collected right outside the studio door, and how the various glazings brought them to life. Other completed works, like bowls and mugs, had to have spent some time on the potter’s wheel as well. It was fascinating to see a work in progress. Her completed works are regularly seen around the region at shows, farmers' markets, and retail shops, like The Bessboro Shop in Westport and Made in the Mountains in Port Henry.
Port Henry's Public Artist
I stepped outside of the studio to see Linda Smyth working on a watercolor painting. Linda is well known as “Port Henry’s Public Artist.” Numerous works can be seen throughout that village adorning buildings and structures, and adding a colorful and playful element to the community that prides itself on scenic beauty.
Often Linda’s work is somewhat whimsical. The bright colors and abundance of detail always brings a smile to my face. It is the type of light-hearted art that will bring sunshine to the darkest day. Aside from seeing her work around Port Henry’s village, you can find individual pieces at the Made in the Mountains shop as well.
For the Shear Fun of It
I could have spent the entire afternoon with these two artists, but moved a bit down the road to visit Caroline Thompson on her studio/farm. Caroline is a textile artist and raises her own supplies, so to speak. I arrived during the demonstration process of shearing Caledonia (aka Callie); a llama that was not too happy with the whole ordeal and being the center of attention. I ventured about the grounds meeting additional llamas, sheep, goats, and chickens. The farm celebrated life around every corner.
Caroline is a wealth of knowledge on different types of natural textiles. She explained the felting process by which the individual fibers of hair become almost woven together to create a material suitable for use in making garments, decorative elements, and a wide variety of useful products. Examples of her work were on display and she pointed out the distinguishing characteristic of each different type of wool used in creating the product. In case you are wondering, llama felt is very soft.
The day was ending and I never made it to the Art Farm Trail and the Crooked Brook Studio. Renowned artist and theatre director, Ted Cornell has teamed with Champlain Area Trails to create a new CATS Trail that meanders through Ted’s property and passes some of his outside sculpture. More of his work was to be on display that day inside the Crooked Brook Studio. It was obvious I should have gotten an earlier start to include his studio. I plan to enjoy his outside sculpture on a future Art Farm Trail hike. Personally I think combining two of my favorite elements, art and nature, is pure genius.
Watch for the Funky Folk throughout the Village of Port Henry coming in early October. These creative, well-dressed, stick figures will be interspersed along Main, Broad, and some village side streets. Take the public art tour while there and don’t forget to find more local artists’ work at Made in the Mountains!