Experience Artistic Energy on Finger Lakes Art Trails

Oil painting by Kathleen Armitage.

Here’s a unique opportunity to explore the creative side of the Finger Lakes Region – grab a brochure and map, and follow the open-studio art trails. The locations are marked with signs and coordinate with the map.
There are three.

• The Southern Tier Potters of Steuben Open Studio Trail, Saturday, September 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• The Naples Open Studio Trail, October 6 and 7, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• The Greater Ithaca Art Trail, Saturday and Sunday, October 6 and 7, and October 13 and 14, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitors who travel the open studio trails are welcomed by local wineries, restaurants and shops. “Shop locally and take a piece of art home with you,” said Ithaca Trail Program Director Robin Schwartz. “You will be supporting area artisans directly.”

Why it’s cool

Choose a craft that intrigues you. Maybe it’s painting, sculpting or glassblowing. Follow the map’s directions to the open artists’ studios, and visit them up-close and personal in their own workspace.

“The energy of the artist is in his environment,” said Lynda Pownall-Carlson. She and her husband Kurt own Carlson Glassworks in Middlesex, where they demonstrate and educate about their craft during the Naples Open Studio weekend. “We’ll do tours of our home and land, too, if visitors are interested.”

The artists on the Ithaca and Naples trails have national reputations and sell their products in galleries all over the country. Some are university professors. For a brief time though, they invite “company” into their studios to share the intimacy of creating art.

“They get to see the nuts and bolts of my lifestyle as an artist, along with the environment in which I work, my tools, my collections and the ways I organize myself,” said ceramic artist Kala Stein from Canadice.

Similar to wine trails

In some respects, an art trail follows the wine trail models of touring the region. Like them, it is unstructured, but planners provide visitors with possibilities to spend part of a day or two complete weekends touring studios. Demonstrations, such as a pottery raku firing, are common.

Also like the wine trails, “one size fits all” doesn’t apply. The Ithaca Art Trail with its large number of participating artists and 20-year history might be considered a super-sized event. On the other hand, The Naples Open Studio Trail, considered a medium-sized event, is in its 11th year. A relatively new mini tour, The Southern Tier Potters of Steuben Open Studio Trail, is just 3 years old.

Each trail was born out of the passion of a small but dedicated number of artists willing to cooperate together. From there, Ithaca and Naples built workable models that suited their individual budgets and hospitality needs. The Southern Tier Potters are in the infant stage and laying the groundwork through their own initiative and funding.

How it all works

Artist trails in individual counties and Finger Lakes cities such as Watkins Glen and Elmira have come and gone through the years due to diminished grant funding, lack of commitment from local sponsors and time constraints of the people involved, said Ginnie Lupi, executive director of the Arts Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (www.earts.org). “These are labor-intensive activities that involve active participation in the management by the artists. Hopefully, these trails will come back as they have been missed.”

The Greater Ithaca Art Trail encompasses not only the immediate Ithaca area, but also Tompkins County, with 50 artists participating. The Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County administers the event. Robin Schwartz has been the trail’s paid program director for 19 years. “Two weekends seem sensible,” she said. “You get to make some choices here that fit with your time schedule.

“Art is year-round in Ithaca,” Schwartz added. In addition to overseeing the trail in the fall, she also organizes art activities during other seasons. Ithaca sponsors a First Saturday event each month, for instance, when participating artists may choose to invite visitors by posting their open-studio signs. Schwartz also encourages people to contact artists throughout the year to make appointments to visit their studios.

The Naples Open Studio Trail, held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., embraces Springwater, Canadice, Honeoye, Naples, Middlesex, Canandaigua and the surrounding countryside. This year, it will include about 20 artists. “It takes a little planning to figure out your route depending upon your approach,” said Pownall-Carlson.

The trail is administered by a core group of volunteers. “We do not have a lot of money to hire marketing specialists,” said Pownall-Carlson, who gathers sponsors and creates the brochure. “We rely on local area sponsorship and the advertising skills of volunteer Jo Anne Alliet, who has the professional background. We are not funded by a grant.”

The artists on the Southern Tier Potters of the Steuben Open Studio Trail all have their own style and unique purpose to their work, said Mary Ann Good of Goff Creek Pottery in Avoca. The four studios – in Bath, Avoca and Cohocton – will provide a different insight into pottery design and construction, ranging from functional tableware, to frost-proof garden ware to decorative wall hangings.

“We do our own advertising, local mailings and we use our national customer list to get the word out,” said Goff. “This year we are hoping that other artist friends will open their
studios along the way, too. We are growing.”

Each of the potters looks forward to having visitors and wants them to linger awhile. No purchase is necessary; they simply hope their new friends will walk away with a better understanding of their artistic nature.

The dialog

Stopping in at an open studio is an opportunity to engage with an artist, and allow curiosity about a particular craft to make sense through questions and answers. “It’s the best way for people to understand my work, which incorporates silk with felting,” said fiber artist Anne M. Fischer from Canadice, on the Naples trail. Her work – in various stages – is visible in her studio, left there on purpose as conversation starters and for explanation. Sample pieces are intended to illustrate steps in the process of designing vests and scarves with color, fiber and texture in mind.

“Next to making art,” she told us, “talking to people about how I make it is almost as much fun!”

“I love the conversations,” agreed Ithaca artist Mary Ann Bowman. “People see things in my art and will tell me their ideas. It is inspiring for me.” Her studio is filled with a cast of characters all made of clay, but instilled with a joyful, sometimes mischievous spirit.

“It’s wonderful to talk with students and others taking up the craft,” said Suzanne Fraser, ceramic artist and member of the core group on the Naples Trail. “We feel that we are changing people’s lives.”

“People return to the trail year after year and become our friends,” said Albie Alliet of Grape Moments Studio in Naples. “It is different from having our work in a gallery where we usually have no involvement with buyers.”

Bowman added, “My art is meant to make you laugh. I love to have someone do it so I have connected with him. People come specifically to see my studio and it is nice to be recognized.”

Make plans to take a ride through the vibrant fall colors in the Finger Lakes, and enjoy an art trail at your own pace. Perhaps that perfectly designed art treasure is waiting for you.



The Greater Ithaca Art Trail
(Downloadable brochure and information)

The Naples Open Studio Trail 
(Downloadable brochure and information)

Southern Tier Potters of Steuben Open Studio Trail
Goff Creek Pottery
Alan and Rosemary Clay Studio
2 Crock Pots
John Keddy, Rocky Hill Pottery

by Kay Thomas

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