History of the Shelburne Craft School
In 1938, a local woodworker invited a handful of youngsters from the Shelburne Village School to learn the fundamentals of woodworking, and the joys of creating from wood, “articles both useful and pleasing to the eye.” The woodworker, Reverend J. Lynwood Smith (image right), held the classes in the basement of the Shelburne’s Trinity Episcopal Church rectory with the belief that crafts, either as a vocation or an avocation, were an indispensable part of our culture. Reverend Smith stated, “education is a process of opening creative doors–and allowing those doors to open to everyone.” That passion and dedication became the foundation for what is now The Shelburne Craft School, one of the oldest craft organizations in Vermont. More than six decades later, those doors still remain open to everyone.
A year after the Craft School’s low-key opening, a milestone was reached when the state of Vermont gave approval for Reverend Smith’s program to be moved to a corner of the boys’ locker room in The Shelburne Village School, and provided $200 in funding. In 1941 a larger facility was made available for two years to see if the project was a “sound one.” The larger facility, originally a harness shop and later a meat market, was purchased for one dollar from the owner. Volunteers from the community shored, shimmied, strengthened, re-roofed and painted. This building, known as the Harness Shop, is still part of the Craft School and is used for administrative offices and artist studios. With the move to the new campus, it became possible to also offer instruction in weaving, a program begun by Sara Holbrook of the University of Vermont. Other classes were added in pottery, visual art, and jewelry making.
Four years later, in 1945, the Shelburne Craft School was officially incorporated as a nonprofit institution dedicated to providing a place for professional craftspeople to work at their craft and to teach that craft to the community. The popularity of the program necessitated the search for even larger quarters that became available in the form of two wooden frame buildings built in the early 1800’s and originally used as dormitories for workers on the Rutland railroad. These “bunkhouses” were purchased for $2,500 with a gift from an anonymous donor.
Through the efforts of Aileen Osborn Webb (image right), a dynamic force in the American Craft movement, the Shelburne Craft School expanded programs to encourage the development of professional craftspeople. She brought graduates from The School for American Craftspeople, a school that she had founded at the Rochester Institute of Technology, to the Shelburne Craft School to begin their careers as craftspeople and to teach. In 1948 the School built a new structure to house a pottery kiln with the proceeds from a gift from Aileen Webb. In addition to her contributions, annual membership fees sustained operations. Children paid one dollar a year, while adults paid five dollars plus a fee of ten cents an hour for use of the studios.
A gift from the family of Lila Webb Wilmerding made possible construction of the new and much larger woodworking studio, which was built in 1962 and dedicated to her memory. At that time an additional small, windowed studio was designed and placed between the long buildings known as the Bunkhouse, and these were joined into one building. All of these facilities were constructed or renovated through an outpouring of community support that included the money, labor, skills, and commitment of young and old alike.
In the decades that followed, the Craft School offered Shelburne an arts & crafts program and provided art instruction for all public school students within the community and surrounding areas. With the construction of the Shelburne Middle School in 1967, the town began to pay its own instructors and to rent the Craft School facility for classes. Industrial art classes continued to be taught daily at the Craft School until 1987. At that time, the Middle School created its own woodshop facilities so they could house all classes under one roof. As a result of these actions, programs at the Craft School were reduced.
In 1988, a group of former students formed a new Board of Directors to bring the school to full operation. A director was hired and a new residency program began in 1991. In the 1990s the School continued and expanded its artist residency programs and classes. Trinity College and the Craft School partnered to offer a bachelors degree in Arts Entrepreneurship. The School also began to offer classes collaboratively with St. Michael’s College and Burlington College for graduate and undergraduate credit. The School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995 with a gala dinner and benefit art auction at Shelburne Farms.
Today, the Shelburne Craft School has studios for ceramics, woodworking, stained glass, jewelry, and fine art. A core group of professional artists and artisans teach a variety of classes and workshops throughout the year. The School’s programs for children include drop-in, after-school, and summer camp programs. The School hosts several events throughout the year, and continues to revitalize programs, including upgrading the facility at 64 Harbor Road. Through school partnerships with Burlington College, Vermont Woodworking School, Shelburne Community School, Lake Champlain Waldorf School, and other area schools the Shelburne Craft School continues to collaborate with the education community year round. The Harness Shop’s front space now showcases work made by the School’s students and teachers.
With its history of active community participation and a committed board of directors and staff, the Shelburne Craft School will continue to carry out its mission of enhancing lives through creative experiences, with classes, workshops, and events. The Shelburne Craft School continues to provide an incubator and education space for emerging artists and craftspeople of all ages.
THE SHELBURNE CRAFT SCHOOL TIMELINE
1938: Reverend J. Lynwood Smith Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, invited a small group of boys from the Village School to woodworking classes on Saturday morning in his well-equipped workshop in the basement of the Church Rectory. Reverend Smith’s grandfather and father were woodworkers and he was apprenticed as a carpenter when he was young.
Lyn as he was called wanted them to learn the fundamentals of woodworking and the joys of creating from wood “articles both useful and pleasing to the eye.” Reverend Smith believed that crafts either as a vocation or an avocation were an indispensable part of the culture.
1939: The State of Vermont gave Lyn approval and $200 in funding to move the program to a corner of the high school boy’s locker room at the Shelburne Village School.
1941: Mr. Derrick Webb contributed $300 and the School Directors allotted $100 for a larger facility. A room was partitioned in the basement of the school lumber was provided. Lyn volunteered his services and purchased several sets of hand tools. (Source: 1941 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 24) Seward Webb bought all the tools. Dunbar Bostwick, son-in-law of J. Watson & Electra was another contributor for many years. These men were champions of the crafts education for school students.
1943: Harry Webb and Sam Webb, Sr., sons of J. Watson and Electra Webb, were early contributors to the Craft School Woodworking program. Mr. Sam B. Webb contributed funds to purchase a fairly good-sized new lathe with an electric motor. The addition of the lathe met the State Department of Education Requirements for a regular shop course. (Source: 1943 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 24)
1943 – 44: The boys enthusiastic response prompted Lyn Smith to seek a larger location. An agreement with Henry W. Tracy II he obtained permission to use a red building later purchased for $1 that was part of the early village shopping area on Harbor Road. Originally an adjunct to the Blacksmith Shop (moved to the Shelburne Museum in 1957), it consisted of a harness shop on the first floor, a wagon paint shop above with a removable ramp that led down to the street, and a livery stable that stood behind the harness shop.
From 1900 until the middle of the 1930’s, it was a meat market with an ice house at the rear. The building had been unoccupied for years and required extensive repairs. Community volunteers and the boys from the school receiving considerable practical experience in fixing it up.
(Source: Shelburne, Pieces of History, Turman Webster, c. 1994, pgs.67-68)
A representative committee attended a Shelburne School Directors meeting requesting permission to move the craft shop equipment from the basement of the school to the new location. Mr. John E. Nelson, State Director of Vocational Education and Supervisor of Trade and Industrial Education in Montpelier stated his approval of the proposal. After due consideration, the School Directors voted unanimously to grant the request.
(Source: 1945 Shelburne Town Report, pgs. 23-24)
1945: The Shelburne Craft School was incorporated as a non-profit institution dedicated to providing a place for professional crafts people to work at their craft and to teach and the focus at this time was still woodworking.
1947: A $2,500 gift from an anonymous donor allowed the purchase of land from Henry W. and Charlotte M. Tracy that included two yellow wooden frame buildings built circ 1849 as bunk houses for labors building the Rutland Rail Road. Upon completion of the railroad they were converted into bowling alleys. They were later moved to their present site and provided housing for two families.
(Source: Shelburne, Pieces of History, Turman Webster, c. 1994, pg. 68)
1948: A monetary gift from Aileen Osborn Webb, a potter in her own right with her own studio at Shelburne Farms, was used to build a pottery building housing a kiln. Mrs. Webb was a dynamic force in the American Craft Movement. She brought graduates from the School for American Crafts People, (a school she founded at the Rochester Institute of Technology) to the Craft School to begin their careers and to teach. She was committed to adult crafts education and played an active role in the administration of the Craft School.
1949: The Craft School purchased a house across the street on the south side of Harbor Road which was remodeled into three apartments for resident craftsmen and their families to live.
1951: Art instruction, taught by Betty Atwood of the Shelburne Craft School, is being offered one day a week for grades 3 – 6. (Source: 1951 Shelburne Town Report, pgs 22, 25)
1953: Girls in grades 7 and 8 are enrolled in weaving and the boys in woodworking. (Source: 1953 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 28)
1955: Girls and Boys are now enrolled in classes in pottery. (Source: 1955 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 43)
1961: Mechanical Drawing has been added to the woodworking pre-vocational student classes at the Craft School.
(Source: 1961 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 57)
1962: A new much larger woodworking studio was built as a gift from the family and dedicated to the memory of Lila Webb Wilmerding. An Additional small window studio used for painting was built between the yellow bunk house building joining them into one building.
1963: Arts and Craft classes are being conducted for students in 4-6 grades. (Source: 1963 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 56)
1967: The opening of the new Shelburne Middle School, led the School District to sign an agreement on August 9, 1967 to assume responsibility for the employment, supervision and payment of teachers for a more comprehensive arts and craft and industrial arts program. Fine Arts for grades 3-6; Introduction to Industrial Arts grades 5-6; In-depth instruction in wood working, planning and drafting. This course meets the state criteria for and industrial arts program. (Source: 1967 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 57)
1987 – 1988: After several years of study, the decision was made to move the Industrial Arts Program out of the Shelburne Craft School to an in-house program. This program now resides in the Living Arts Rooms. Woody Smith deserves praise for relocating this new program so efficiently. (Source: 1987-88 Shelburne Town Reports, pgs. 133, 141)
2004: A grant from the Lintilac Foundation enabled the Shelburne Craft School to resume the relationship with the Shelburne Craft School. This partnership, which had been a part of the education offered by the school many years ago, helps us meet some of the State of Vermont Technical Education requirements. In addition it is a unique educational opportunity only available to the children of Shelburne. (Source: 2004 Shelburne Town Report, pg. 173)
2004- 2009: The Craft School expanded and re-branded to become the Shelburne Art Center, this included a larger Gallery Space, events and representation of nationally respected artist and craftsman. Due to economic down turn in 2009 the Center moved from the larger gallery space and down sized and returned administration offices and gallery space to 64 Harbor Road.
2011: Shelburne Craft School launched Returning to Our Roots campaign, re-branded the School, and re-named the School to its original name, The Shelburne Craft School
2015: SCS celebrated its 70th anniversary of being incorporated as a non-profit. SCS also received State Designation as a Vermont Craft Center, for excellence in Craft Education.
The Shelburne Craft School is proud of its 75+ year history. We are constantly learning and sharing stories about the school’s history. You can read them HERE.
We are always looking for images and stories from people who have experience of the school from the past. If you have a story to tell, send us an EMAIL.
Financial support from the community allows us to take care of our historic campus, improve it, and make sure it is around in the future. Please consider making a donation today!