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Wayne Post
  • Rochester Folk Art Guild hosting Holiday Festival of Crafts

  • The Rochester Folk Art Guild, which has for decades passed down its knowledge of such crafts as woodworking and weaving to members and the community, will hold its 51st annual Holiday Festival of Crafts this weekend.

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  • It has been three decades since Annie Schliffer, looking for a place to study pottery in a non-traditional setting, decided to join the Rochester Folk Art Guild as an apprentice.
    At the guild’s 350-acre farm in Middlesex, she found an education that she said is distinct from one she would have received at a large art school — and she’s stayed ever since.
    While traditional art schools might encourage students to stand out, she said, pottery artisans at the guild work anonymously — each piece of pottery is signed with the guild’s stamp, not the artist’s signature.
    “It is not that we get rid of our egos,” said Schliffer. “What our aim is, is that to truly work well, something must be allowed to flow through that doesn’t belong to us, something much bigger.”
    A tradition in crafts
    Schliffer is one of about 40 members of the guild, a not-for-profit arts community and educational institution that was formed in 1957 and purchased its farm in Middlesex in 1967. The guild has worked in crafts for over 50 years, an idea that was developed by guild member Louise March, who passed away in 1987, said guild member and woodworker David Barnet.
    “She had a vision of working in crafts,” said Barnet, who moved to the farm 37 years ago when he was 23. “Crafts became a vehicle of the study of attention.”
    Among the areas the guild specializes in are woodworking, boat restoration, pottery and weaving.
    As many as about 25 people live on the farm at any given point during the year, and others live in the surrounding communities, said Barnet. The guild offers classes, as well as an internship program, which last a few months, and apprenticeships, which last a minimum of a year. Some apprentices continue for as long as 10 years, said Barnet.
    Over the years, people have come and gone through the guild, which he said has something to offer that sets it apart.
    “There’s pressure here like there is everywhere in life,” he said. “But it’s less than in an urban setting, a suburban setting. There’s a closeness to nature. We grow most of our own food. We eat simply.”
    Fostering creativity
    With years of experience working in pottery, Schliffer now passes down the creative process she learned years ago to current apprentices.
    “Through the process of repetition, something is allowed to go in the body that almost bypasses the thinking, analytical mind,” said Schliffer, who has been teaching for about 25 years. “Something changes, and it becomes very freeing. That’s how I teach.”
    Each of the pottery artisans in the guild began as an apprentice, she said, and they all also teach, even the ones who have been with the guild for only a short period of time.
    Page 2 of 2 - “One of the best ways to learn a craft is to show other people,” Schliffer said.
    Pottery apprentice Nicole Hummel, who learned about the guild during its annual Craft Weekend event three years ago, said her experience with the guild “felt really natural from the start.” She had planned to stay on the farm for a month or two, but it has now been a year and a half — and she have no plans to leave.
    “It’s really cool because (Schliffer) gives you a lot of responsibility,” she said. “You get a lot of independence with what you want to make. ...I really like the support the whole community gives to the creative process.”
    The learning never stops
    Barnet, who learned the craft of woodworking from fellow guild member Sterling Klinck, said he enjoys passing down what he has learned to others, but that he still has a lot to learn himself.
    “I come up with new things, new ways of doing things, everyday,” he said. “I might say I’m still an apprentice, in a way. I feel I am still learning.”
    One of his apprentices, Scott Calpin, joined the guild about a year and a half ago with minimal experience in woodworking after pursuing a career in audio engineering in Nashville, Tenn.
    “You need a master of the craft to learn from,” he said, of Barnet.
    He added, “The more you put into it, the more you get out. That’s why they call for at least a year (for the apprenticeship), so you can actually develop into something. After a year, I’m not ready to leave. I feel I’m just getting my start.”
    Showing the world their work
    This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the guild will host its 51st annual Holiday Festival of Crafts at The Harley School in Brighton.
    Almost all guild members are participating in the festival — the guild’s largest show of the year, said Barnet.
    “It provides a focus for us to gather around,” he said. “It’s a celebration for us. It’s as much a sharing among us as with the public. It’s a huge effort.”
    Among the array of goods at the festival will be natural fiber clothing, wooden bowls and toys, pottery and art glass jewelry by guild member William Glasner of Victor. Funds from the show, which last year drew about 1,700 people, will support the guild.
    “It’s a time to see all our friends,” said Barnet. “They’re more than customers. They’ve participated in our growth.”
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