Adam Nudd-Homeyer of Tappan Chairs in Sandwich (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
On main streets and back roads throughout New Hampshire, artists and craftsmen are busy in their studios and workshops, creating one-of-a-kind products. Making the thing is only one half of their challenge – introducing that product to the right clientele is another task entirely.
That's why, said Sarah Nyhan, communications director for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, the Open Doors Weekend events have become so valuable for the artists and artisans who participate in the event. Open Doors participants agree to open their workspace or gallery on a designated weekend, and invite the general public to stop in for a visit. The League, on nhopendoors.com, lists all participants by region, making it possible for people to plan an itinerary of places around the state to visit over the course of the weekend.
Open Doors was originally started as a late fall event. Starting last year, the League added a spring weekend, and this year's Spring Open Doors Weekend will be held on Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7.
The list of spring participants has grown this year, said Nyhan, who added that there are both participants who have usually signed up for the fall event, as well as some, such as agricultural-based producers, for whom a spring event makes more sense.
The success of the event, in her view, is due to the unusual opportunity it gives creators to meet potential new customers. Most of the artists and artisans focus the bulk of their time on production, and have a limited budget of time and money for marketing. Open Doors, which leverages state grant funds to make it affordable for participants to join, delivers new customers to their door. And, especially for craftsmen, a face-to-face interaction is critical because what sets their product apart from a mass produced item is both the manner in which it was made as well as the story and person behind it.
"(Open Doors) translates into increased traffic and some increased sales, but it's really about starting that conversation, letting people know how things are made, building that relationship," said Nyhan, adding that many of those new relationships will generate sales for years to come.
In Sandwich, Adam Nudd-Homeyer doesn't expect to make an unusual amount of sales this weekend, but he is eagerly looking forward to displaying the 19th Century equipment he still employs to produce Tappan chairs, the ladder-backed, woven-seat furniture styled after Shaker design. Nudd-Homeyer makes his furniture beginning with rough cuts of wood, which he turns on 1800s-era lathes and steam-bends to create the chairs, which are as elegant as they are simple. Tappan Chairs have been produced in Sandwich since 1819, and Nudd-Homeyer is the 17th steward of the brand.
This will be the third Open Doors weekend for Nudd-Homeyer, and he has had as many as 50 visitors come through over the two-day events.
"The first two times I've done it, people were always interested in what's going on inside the barn. It's kind of show-and-tell stuff." Visitors have included both Sandwich residents who were always curious about his business, as well as people who were in the middle of a statewide tour of Open Doors participants. Even if they don't place an order with him, he considers it an invaluable opportunity to meet people who otherwise would never learn about him or his craft.
"You have your magic audience, who went to see you and learn about you. For me, it's all about the story, so that's exactly the kind of people that you want in here," he said.
In Tilton, the Lakes Region Art Association will be opening its gallery for the Open Doors event. BJ Eckardt, a member of the association's board, said that more than 70 local artists have their work displayed in the gallery, and she does hope for some of those pieces to be sold by the end of the weekend. More important, though, is the chance for more people to know that the association, and the gallery, exists.
"We're always hopeful that people will invest in local businesses and craftsmen, but then we're always happy to get people (in here). It's just a good way to get the word out about the gallery," Eckardt said. "We want the community to know that there is a very active art community, and hope they'll come out and support it."