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Middlebury arts and crafts school gets new studio space

MIDDLEBURY — With time running out on its tenancy at the Edgewater Gallery at 1 Mill St., the Middlebury Studio School (MSS) has pinned down a new home in which to offer its diverse pottery, crafts and art classes.
The Middlebury Development Review Board last week gave the school a green light to relocate to a vacant building at 2369-2377 Route 7 South that in recent years has hosted such businesses as the Grapevine Grille and Na’s Thai Kitchen. The Studio School expects to be moved into its new quarters by mid-March, according to Executive Director Barbara Nelson.
The relocation will mark an end to the school’s 40-year run in downtown Middlebury’s Frog Hollow district.
It was around six years ago that the MSS split off from the Vermont State Craft Center, which during the 1970s ran a variety of arts programs at its 1 Mill St. headquarters. But the State Craft Center fell on tough financial times and was forced to liquidate its Middlebury assets, including the Mill Street building. Cornwall resident and businessman George Dorsey purchased the property, now home to the Edgewater Gallery. Dorsey allowed the independent, nonprofit studio school to rent approximately 1,400 square feet of space in the lower level of his building, primarily for the its pottery program. But Dorsey informed MSS officials they would have to find a new home for the school this March due to impending renovations to 1 Mill St.
That news sent Studio School officials on a search for facilities in and around downtown Middlebury that might be able to host a school that during the past year drew more than 4,000 enrollees for classes in such fields as oil painting, digital photography, jewelry making, drawing and pottery. The school, staffed by around 20 part-time artists/teachers, also offers classes for children in pottery, painting and crafts, including making castles and dragons.
“We are a proven asset to the community, attracting people from towns in Addison and surrounding counties, as well as having regular participants from New York and occasional students from other states and abroad,” reads an MSS Board of Directors letter to the Middlebury DRB. School directors sought, and were granted, a zoning waiver to run the MSS at the new Route 7 South location.
Nelson and her colleagues believe the new spot will meet the Studio School’s varied needs for classroom, storage and kiln space. The garage on the property will house the school’s kiln — a large, heavy and at-times very hot amenity that is difficult to accommodate in conventional spaces, particularly in the downtown. The garage at the new location has a concrete slab on which the kiln can be placed, along with ample room for storing clay, Nelson noted.
The main building has a number of sinks, an area that can be divided into two classrooms, restrooms, and tile floors that are easy to clean.
“One of the reasons we like the space is that there is very little we have to do to it before we move in,” Nelson said.
Another advantage of the new location, according to Nelson, is parking. The on-site lot will accommodate around 15 vehicles. The MSS has only four designated spaces at 1 Mill St., Nelson noted.
Ideally, school officials would have liked to keep the MSS within the downtown. But they are confident students will follow the program down Route 7.
“We will have greater visibility,” Nelson said in noting another advantage of the new address.
School leaders are content for now to rent the space at 2369-2377 Route 7 South. If it fits the bill, Nelson did not rule out a future capital campaign to acquire the property.
Nelson is grateful for the organizations and individuals that continue to sustain the MSS. The school works in close cooperation with local nonprofits like the Addison County Parent-Child Center, Addison Central Teens and the Mary Johnson Children’s Center. She also expressed gratitude to Dorsey for allowing the school to remain in Frog Hollow following the State Craft Center’s departure.
“We exist because of many acts of kindness from the community,” Nelson said.
In an effort to assist in the Studio School’s move, the Edgewater Gallery beginning  Feb. 27 will host a show of cups, many of them made by folks who were affiliated with the Vermont State Craft Center’s now-defunct Middlebury locale. Half of the proceeds from the sale of those cups will be donated to the Middlebury Studio School for its move, according to Nelson.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
THE MIDDLEBURY STUDIO School is relocating to the former Grapevine Grille and Middlebury Chocolates building on Route 7 South in Middlebury.
 
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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