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Preserving & Promoting Heritage Arts

When the Craft School opened in 1966 there were 44 students learning the art of handweaving on looms either purchased or loaned by a group of weavers from Princeton. New Jersey. A lot has changed over five decades. Today the Thousand Islands Arts Centre ~ Home of the Handweaving Museum, offers more than 100 arts & crafts throughout the year. And the complex boasts a collection of over 20,000 catalogued objects.

Like the Antique Boat Museum, the origin of the Arts Center stems from the Thousand Islands Museum, which was created in 1964 by a group of people determined to preserve the heritage of this area along the St. Lawrence River. By 1964 the T.I. Museum was fully accredited with a permanent charter granted by the New York State Board of Regents.

In 1965, the Board of Directors decided that a Craft School would add a new dimension to its ever-widening scope of activities. Ms. Emily Post was selected as the Crafts School’s first Director. Ms Post came to Grindstone Island from Princeton, New Jersey in 1951. She was a retiree with an interest in weaving and other crafts.

Under Ms. Post’s direction the Workshops were expanded and respective crafts were taught that ranged from rug hooking, early American decoration, pottery, to ceramics and the Japanese process of “Raku.” In those days, every effort was made to utilize native products indigenous to the Thousand Islands. Students were known to travel to old Indian campsites on nearby Grindstone Island to dig clay to be used by the craft school.

By 1969 the craft school had outgrown its space in the Thousand Islands Museum and was ready to find a home of its own. A steering committee was formed and money was raised to purchase the Tetrault house, a Victorian residence and carriage house at 314 John Street. Members of the original steering committee were Vincent Dee, Mrs. J. Vrooman, Dale Kenyon, Lewis Carr, Elizabeth Haxall, Bernard Heinman, and Emily Post. The Tetrualt house is one of the oldest houses in the village of Clayton, built ca. 1850. The building was renovated to include classrooms, and one room containing testimonials was reserved as a memorial to Antoine Tetrault, a faith healer, who lived in Clayton from 1949-1963.

The Berta Frey Memorial Library was established in the early seventies when Mrs. Frey donated to the school her books, samples, and looms. Since then the school has accepted collections from other twentieth century weavers including, Emily Belding, Myra Young, Majorie Ruth Ross and Mary Snyder as well as others.

Ms. Post continued as Director until 1976, making the Craft School a leading institution in the field of craft education. The school continued on its tradition of studying new trends in the handcrafts as well as reviving the established arts and passing on to students a heritage of the folk arts and crafts. Ms. Post, prior to her retirement, designed the “Thousand Islands Tartan” a plaid which has green as its dominant color. The green was chosen to represent the verdant greenery of the Thousand Islands. A deep-blue line represents the St. Lawrence River with accent of orange. This is the Craft School’s legacy.

In 1983, the organization was granted a provisional charter from the state of New York department of education under the name “Thousand Islands Craft School and Textile Museum: This name change emphasized the importance of the unit under a single governing authority. The New York State Board of Regents granted an absolute charter on April 27, 1990.

Today the Arts Center collection includes: woven samples, clothing & hangings, extensive color studies, books on weaving, spinning, dyeing, and surface design, over 93 periodical titles from the 1920s to present, personal studies of regionally and internationally recognized weavers, study notebooks of drafts, tie-ups & treadlings, historic manuscripts, and a collection of looms and tools. The Arts Center just completed a two year federally funded IMLS grant that allowed for the digitization of the collection. We soon hope to bring the collection to the world by making it electronically accessible. Over 11,000 images were taken as part of the grant which is significant since most of the textile collection is in storage.

In addition to more than 100 arts & crafts offered each year, the Thousand Islands Arts Center also offers an After School Arts program for elementary school children and the weaving studio is open every Wednesday for weavers. The Arts Center campus also includes the Arts Center Store and features unique fine art and handcrafted goods.

The Center built a dedicated pottery studio in 2006, and this year it welcomed Christin Bentley as the studio’s staff member.  Christin has been a ceramic-arts practitioner for thirteen years.  Her father, a master woodworker, was her early inspiration for appreciation of heritage arts.  Her interest in ceramics was developed at Webster Schroeder High School at Webster,NY, and she has studied at several Rochester-area studios, Jefferson Community College, and SUNY Potsdam.  Christin’s work emphasizes the simple-and-elegant form of pottery.  She enjoys working with stoneware clay and loves the multitude of colors that can result from using high-fire techniques. Christin keeps an updated schedule posted in the Pottery Studio breezeway for studio hours.

The Catherine C. Johnson Gallery hosts a variety of scheduled art shows and exhibits open to the public year round.  The Arts Center Store and Gift Shop sells original art works, prints, jewelry, fiber art, pottery and carefully selected items from regional artists. 

By Rebecca Hopfinger

Rebecca Hopfinger became the Executive Director of the Thousand Islands Arts Center ~ Home of the Handweaving Museum in June of 2009.  Rebecca is very pleased to be a part of this multi faceted gem, knowing she, along with her staff, has made a difference in the North Country arts community.  One of their popular winter programs, reviewed by Rebecca for TI Life  in the past. is their winter photography exhibition titled: The Glass River.

Posted in: History, Artists
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