Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

By Ilène Dubé,

Grants for new technologies allowed the historic craft village to thrive

Register for a workshop at Peters Valley Craft School it was like taking a trip back in time. You could have an immersive experience by studying, for example, blacksmithing, ceramics or weaving, living in a community in the historic village of Bevans in Layton, NJ

These were the times before.

Last spring, during the pandemic, Peters Valley – a utopian retreat in the natural surroundings of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – entered the online world for instructor presentations, workshops, even its famous craft fair. .

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

It all coincided with the 50th anniversary of Peters Valley. While some may have hoped for more – the slogan for the anniversary year has become “50 Years in the Making” – the organization has succeeded with several major efforts: an exhibition at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, “From the Ground Up ”, organized by Elizabeth Essner (a project started in 2017); the publication of a large catalog retracing 50 years of history; and a short film on the craft village, available on the Peters Valley YouTube Channel.

While only 10 people could attend the museum’s exhibit at any given time, the online component attracted viewers from around the world.

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

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The anniversary gala was held online. “People who had come to Peters Valley in the 1970s, who might not have traveled, could catch up and share stories,” says CEO Kristin Muller.

In December 2020, Peters Valley received a grant of $ 67,525 from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts through its COVID Relief Fund to help overcome significant losses suffered during the pandemic.

Peters Valley successfully restored a residential facility with funding from the New Jersey Cultural Trust and the National Park Service, rebuilt the Noborigama oven, optimized the website for virtual programming, and presented free online programming to over 2,300 viewers , as well as a series of online workshops, removing barriers for those who might not otherwise be able to attend Peters Valley in person.

Last year, an anonymous donor funded stipends to teach artists whose workshops had been canceled due to the pandemic, allowing weekly online presentations seen by up to 200 viewers from as far away as the UK , Hawaii and Australia. All artist talks are available on the Peters Valley YouTube channel.

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

“Another thing that kept us going,” says Muller, who has been at the helm since 2009, “was the support we received from students who had already paid for tuition, housing and meals.

Students were given the option of taking credit for future workshops, rather than a refund, and about half chose to do so, with about 10 percent donating their deposits.

“It’s really encouraging when you get such support,” Muller continues. “It allowed us to hold on and keep our small staff working from home. We were able to bring the gallery online, using new e-commerce tools, to showcase 1,500 pieces with curbside pickup or mail delivery.

Technology plays a major role in the historic craft village these days, allowing instructors to screen their demonstrations, eliminating the need for students to congregate up close; assistive listening devices for the hearing impaired to maintain full participation at a physical distance; access points to studios remote from Thunder Mountain; and the ability to stream live instructor presentations hosted on campus.

“We are not computer scientists,” says Muller. “We learn by doing it.

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

As per state and CDC guidelines, in-person classes are returning to Peters Valley this spring. After a day of welcoming newcomers, including a cohort of GlassRoots fellows, Muller said what has kept her awake over the past year, in addition to having to temporarily put staff on leave, was to know how to fulfill the mission – to enrich life in a community of and emerging artists around the world – during the closure.

Emphasize community, like coming together to do things.

“There is no real substitute for hands-on learning in the community,” says Muller.

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This year, the craft village partnered with the Newark-based company GlassRoots to bring several young people from the city to Peters Valley for 12 weeks.

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

24-year-old Erlea, who had just completed a clay mono-printing workshop, was immersed in a bucolic environment, far from the urban landscape to which he is accustomed. He loves trees, a small waterfall, seeing the stars at night. “While kayaking on the pond, I saw a rabbit running along a path and I knew that had to be the way to go,” he says. “A lot of us are city people, just trying to survive. Here we are trying to change the course of our lives.

Networking with other artists and studio assistants, Erlea says that while making a living as an artist is difficult, he discovers opportunities, such as gallery assistantships. He understands that he may have to volunteer to step in the door.

While the Peters Valley dining hall has yet to reopen – at the time of publication, a chef is wanted – and the organization is set to operate at 25% capacity, Muller observed the sheer joy that the students, instructors and fellows have experienced it. to be back.

“We miss the fun communal meal sharing,” says Muller.

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

Many workshops this summer are only on the waiting list, although there are still places available, at the time of this writing, in the areas of ceramics, woodworking, fiber arts, blacksmithing / jewelry making, photography and youth classes. The renewed interest in crafting objects during the quarantine last year has translated into a greater interest in classes in a craft village.

Making Matters: new perspectives in the arts and craftsThe annual exhibition showcasing the work of the season’s guest instructing artists and summer artistic staff, can be viewed both in person (the gallery’s maximum capacity is five at a time) and virtually.

Peters Valley began in 1970 as a planned colony of resident blacksmiths, ceramists, fiber artists, metallurgists, carpenters and photographers who populated the site’s 18th and 19th century buildings. Over time, Peters Valley’s educational (non-degree) mission has evolved into the craft school it is today, bringing together locally, nationally and internationally renowned students and artists for immersive workshops .

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

Peters Valley is located on land that was the ancestral home of Munsee Lenni Lenape, whose ancestors were the first craftsmen and makers of the land until Dutch and British settlers forced their displacement from the 17th century. Muller looks for new ways to honor Munsee’s legacy.

Peters Valley came into being as a result of the failed and controversial 1950 proposal to build the Tocks Island Dam, which would have created a 37-mile reservoir between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but instead became the area of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation. Among the 72,000 acres acquired by eminent domain was the village of Bevans.

Many village structures remain in use as studios, living quarters, galleries and offices, and the Peters Valley Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the top five institutions of its kind in the United States, along with Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (Maine), Penland School of Craft (North Carolina), Pilchuck Glass School (Washington) and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Tennessee).

Fifty-one years in the making: Peters Valley is back

The original Craft Fair was designed by the founders of Peters Valley to gauge interest in the value of a craft community to the National Park Service. With 30 exhibitors, hundreds were expected to attend; thousands have come.

After a successful transition to an online craft fair in 2020, the annual event is expected to return in person at the Sussex County Fairgrounds on September 25-26. The craft fair is a major source of income for the craft village, and this income stream was not sustainable in an online format.

“We have applied the resilience and skills that craftsmanship teaches us to meet the needs of our time and the future,” says Muller.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. This time, we have shown that we can use our ingenuity and our curiosity to innovate.

originally published: 20/06/2021

About the Author: Ilene Dube is a writer, artist, curator and filmmaker.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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