Open Doors a passport to handmade goods

MERRIMACK – With the holidays drawing nearer, find unique and exotic handmade gifts for the loved ones on your list through a custom map and passport unlocking the secrets of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Made’s 2011 Open Doors statewide shopping and touring event is slated for Saturday and Sunday .

More than 150 locally owned crafts shops, restaurants, performing artists, specialty food and drink vendors, cultural and agricultural attractions, retail stores and authors/publication producers, and lodging establishments will open their headquarters for a special two-day adventure Nov. 5 and 6.

Each participating business – from the White Mountain region to Merrimack Valley – invites New Hampshire shoppers to bounce around the state to experience the unique fare New Hampshire has to offer. Though store hours vary at each location, shoppers can spend the weekend following the NH Open Doors map, which directs consumers to the best quality products made in the Granite State.

But if you’re looking for some of the higher end crafts in the state on the Open Doors tour, look no further than your own neighborhood.

Members of the Craftworkers’ Guild in Bedford are participating in the promoting-local tradition this year as they open up the historic Kimball House behind the Bedford Public Library from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

A group of 50 or more artisans from Bedford, Merrimack, Hollis, Brookline, and beyond, make up the nonprofit organization, which strives to bring together people interested in handcrafts and the fine arts.

Athena Chisholm, of Merrimack, is known as the “Lathe Lady” for her decorative acrylic turning pens, made on a lathe.

“It’s just a little hobby that I do on the side,” said Chisholm, who is also a full-time teacher in Goffstown. “It’s just fun. I think I like making them, but I like seeing people receive them.”

Chisholm said she’s made hundreds of pens since she learned how to do her unique craft. But she’s still held onto a fancy purple utensil – the first pen she ever made, she said.

Georgia and Bill Godfrey, of Merrimack, share their fabric art hobby as a couple.

Georgia does sewing, quilting, machine embroidery of pillows, quilts and baskets, while her husband does weaving and sewing to make decorative bows and other goods.

“It’s a de-stresser,” Georgia Godfrey said. “You don’t make a lot of money off of what you sell. I think most crafters will say that, too, that mostly we do it because we enjoy doing it, and we enjoy making it for other people to appreciate.”

Bill Godfrey said it’s been a fun activity to share with his wife.

“It’s great partnership stuff,” he said. “I’m always bringing something new for her to do.”

Three times a year, the Craftworkers’ Guild opens its Kendall House headquarters for spring, harvest and holiday arts and crafts shops filled with members’ original well-made products.

“Our season begins in the fall with the harvest fair, which generally runs from the end of September through Columbus Day,” Carol Davis, Guild president, said. “Then typically we go into the holiday fair which opens the day after Thanksgiving and runs pretty close to Christmas. We also have a show in the spring, which is approximately the two weeks before Mother’s Day. That keeps us mighty busy.”

Typically, the shops run a minimum of two weeks at a time. The New Hampshire Open Doors tour is the Guild’s first stint at a quick weekend opening, Davis said.

“We’re right smack in the middle between our harvest fair and holiday fair,” Davis said. “It’s nice knowing that there are folks who are real fans of New Hampshire Made and have come to really enjoy their shops tour, so hopefully they’ll have a chance to come in and meet us and become one of our fans.”

The Guild has been operating out of the Kendall House since the early ’90s, Davis said. For years, people have asked the Guild to open up the store beyond their usual seasonal shops.

“It takes a great deal,” Davis said, explaining the craft shows. “Everybody who’s a member of the Guild volunteers their support. We have no paid people. … It takes a huge amount of volunteer effort. Everyone is expected to pitch in toward these goals and it works pretty well.”

Whenever the Guild puts on a craft show, people bring in handmade goods and a crafts jury determines which products are the appropriate quality to be put on display, Davis said. The committee then arranges the goods throughout the Kendall House, Davis said.

Products are sold like a consignment shop, Davis said.

People who make the goods in the shop earn part of the sale’s proceeds, while some of it goes into maintaining the Guild, including its community involvement and grant obligations.

Every year, the guild gives a scholarship to a high school senior going into the arts, Davis said.

Members from around the area also will have their crafts on display this weekend.

Jan Schlerf, of Bedford, makes fashionable winter wear out of jazzy fleeces and fabrics, embellished with a pin or fancy button. Her hobby began when she saw a beautiful hat on a shopping trip, and she decided to make them on her own, she said.

“I saw hats somewhere and got carried away,” Schlerf said with a laugh. “I went to the fabric store and started buying all these fleeces and thought, ‘Boy, I really should sell these.’”

Sherry Chakrin, of Bedford, who is an embroiderer by trade, makes a variety of fiber art goods, including basket liners, bottle toppers, tooth fairy pillows and jewelry, in her free time.

“I’ve been doing it since I was a kid,” Chakrin said. “It’s a great creative outlet. I’m not a person to be sitting still, so especially with the smaller things, needle felting is really portable and I can take it with me when we’re traveling or watching TV or that type of thing.”

The Open Doors tour is the perfect recipe for the “buy local” movement in America, Craftworkers’ Guild members said.

“I think there’s been a real push for keeping everything local, buying local food, products, crafts,” Chisholm said. “It just makes sense. I think as more and more things are imported from China, and more and more Americans say, ‘This stinks,’ it’s another great way for people to support other local people in the community.”

And there’s no better time for people to tour up and down the state for handmade goods, Chakrin said.

“I think part of it is the emphasis on local, and supporting your local people’s efforts,” Chisholm said. “But in addition, it’s entertainment. It’s a beautiful time of year to get in your car and drive around and see what the state has to offer, but when you have treats all along the way to stop and meet people who are doing creative work, that’s a bonus.”

Adventurers who use NH Open Doors passport can even win prizes if they accumulate 10 signatures and dates from stops on the tour.

Participants who mail the completed passport into NH Open Doors have a chance to win an overnight stay at the Mountain View Grand Hotel or theater tickets at the New London Barn Playhouse, among other New Hampshire native prizes.

For more information about the tour, or to access your map or passport, visit www.nhopendoors.com.

For more information about the Craftworkers’ Guild, visit sites.google.com/site/craftworkersguild.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).