Over the weekend of November 13th and 14th, the Franklin County town of Colrain, Massachusetts hosted its 18th annual Crafts of Colrain self-guided tour.  

The event featured 19 different artists and artisans who opened the doors to their workshops, and visitors were able to follow a map of the town to stop in to each one for a behind-the-scenes look at their operations.  

Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan met up with two of those artisans – Neil Stetson (Stetson Wood Collection) and Sarah Schoedel (Compound Creations) – of the tour and brings us the story. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Over the weekend of November 13th and 14th, the Franklin County town of Colrain, Massachusetts, hosted its 18th annual Crafts of Colrain Rain self-guided tour.

The event featured 19 different artists and artisans who opened the doors to their workshops, and visitors were able to follow a map of the town to stop into each one for a behind-the-scenes look at their operations.

Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan met up with two of those artisans ahead of the tour and brings us the story.

Brian Sullivan: The quiet hill town of Colrain, Massachusetts, rests on the southern border of Vermont and has a population of roughly 17,000.

But this Franklin County bedroom community wasn’t always so sleepy back when agriculture employed a majority of its residents. And those not working in the farm trades were likely employed by the local mills.

Now, with those days in the rear view for over half a century, the town has undergone not only a major economic change, but also one of identity.

Neil Stetson, Stetson Wood Collection: There’s a lot of people that moved to the Hilltowns in the 60s, you know, kind of back to the land movement, the hippie movement. Several other different things.

And they kind of stayed and had kids and grand kids. And they’re part of the land now and they’ve brought a renaissance to the arts.

Brian Sullivan: It’s the kind of town where a former electrician and pastor like Neil Stetson can turn his passion for woodworking into his post-retirement career.

And Sarah Schoedel, who spent her career in education? Well, she can finally tap into her artistic side now.

And the community has taken notice. For the better part of the past two decades, the town has hosted a unique event known as the Crafts of Colrain studio tour.

Unlike art shows, and farmers markets that tend to be centralized to one location, the Crafts of Colrain is a self-guided tour of several artisan studios and workshops scattered throughout the town of Colrain. One of them is right here in Neil Stetson’s garage.

And for anyone with an affinity for the sound and smell of their high school wood shop, this garage is a little slice of heaven. A quick glance around the room and one may get the impression that Stetson has been up to this for most of his adult life, but it’s really something he just started only a few years ago, following a 35 year career as a pastor.

Neil Stetson: I’ve always wanted to do this, so I started shopping on Craigslist and Marketplace and all those places for tools. And I had a fairly good set of tools, my own mostly hand tools, and just started making things.

And somebody said, “Hey, you should take this to a farmer’s market.” So we did.

And then they said, “Hey, you know, this is better than farmer’s market material. You need to start going to juried art shows.”

Brian Sullivan: Those juried art shows helped create the demand for items like these shaker boxes and cutting boards, among other things. This opened the door for Stetson to then enter the Colrain show a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town is someone who is no stranger to the Crafts tour, having taken part in each of the past ten. First time tour goers will likely enjoy traveling along the scenic byway of Route 112 that cuts through the center of town to get there.

The beautiful hillside property of artist Sarah Schoedel shouldn’t disappoint, either. In fact, it was the inspiration for the name of her company.

Sarah Schoedel, Compound Creations: My son-in-law had named our place here the Compound, because we kept adding on over the years, thirty-six years that we’ve been here. We built our house, then added on the studio.

And I not only do baskets, but I paint and do jewelry. And so I feel like, well, that’s a good name. Compound Creations.

Brian Sullivan: The baskets tend to be the big draw, and while I was able to see those that were on display, watching them be created was something I’d have to wait until the warmer months to witness.

Sarah Schoedel: My basket studio is above my garage and it’s not heated, so I am not actively making baskets at this time of year. I have to work in the spring and summer, just in the mornings before it gets too hot.

And — but I tried to set up my home and my studio display for people to come in and see what I do, and can make a purchase if  they happen to be in the shopping mood.

Brian Sullivan: Watching artists and artisans like Schoedel and Stetson, who seemed to be doing something they’ve waited their whole lives to do, may serve as an inspiration for those of us still navigating through our first acts that there is a chance for a second act.

Neil Stetson: I never feel like I’m going to work. I always feel like I get to uncover what God created today, you know?

And every piece of wood has a story, and I just love uncovering that story.