by Lee Edgren
If you are rushing through your shopping, looking frantically for “something” that will do, sit down for a minute and think about the importance of sharing not only an object, but also the importance of your heartfelt presence carried—or not—by the gift. As Sarah Susanka wisely observes in her book The Not So Big Life, “The sad reality is that no amount of stuff can fill the void created by our own absence….”
When I give a handmade gift, a gift of writing or music, or well-prepared food, I feel like I am expanding a magic circle of energy. Most artists, artisans and craftspeople love creating. And that positive energy is there in the object. You know that you are either directly supporting the artist, or supporting both the artist and the market for their goods. What you buy will be unique. And you are participating in a transaction that supports the artistic community in and around Brown County.
Handmade can be as small (and fragrant) as a bar of soap or as grand as a metal sculpture or oil painting, with lovely jewelry, wall hangings, art dolls, hand knit and handwoven wearable art filling in some of the spaces in between.
Brown County artists and artisans (and musicians and writers) offer you an opportunity to touch deeply into the experience of giving. Original art is readily available in many galleries and studios in Brown County, as are more utilitarian handmade goods. All of the galleries here are careful to include items that are easily affordable.
Some people are intimidated by the thought of going into a gallery. Every new experience has that moment of slightly breathtaking unfamiliarity to it. But that little strange feeling can be seen as a positive one.
Brown County gallery owners (and the artists who work in the cooperative galleries) are almost universally friendly folk, who love to talk about their art. If you are lucky enough to be in town on the second Saturday of the month from April to December, the Village Art Walk is a great way to make your way through the original and amazing world of Brown County art, enjoying refreshments, including wine and cheese and often delicious treats made by the artists themselves. It is a delightful way of learning about the art available, getting to know some of the artists, and finding the perfect treasure to take home.
Many artists also welcome visitors to their studios and even have open studio hours. If you are thinking of visiting a studio, check with the artist first. Some of the artists who welcome visitors can be found on the Art Alliance of Brown County website; staff at the Brown County Art Guild and the Brown County Art Gallery can also be helpful in showing you the work of both contemporary and classic Brown County Artists.
I can remember my own hesitation, many years ago, to visit the studio of an artist whose work I’d admired. I did it, though. We talked about the themes in her work, how they had emerged from her life, and through that contact began to create a friendship that has lasted now more than 30 years.
The story that goes with the purchase is also a wonderful part of the gift. Compare. “I got this gift card off the rack in the drugstore,” to “I’ll never forget walking into The Brown County Weavery and discovering Sally Baldwin dancing around her loom to fabulous latin rhythms from Putamayo. I was so impressed by her spirit. How could I not buy one of her rugs?”
I consider books and CDs by local artists as local, handmade art. Don’t overlook our independently owned book store (The Book Loft on Jefferson Street) which carries chapbooks by local poets, and an astonishing variety of other works—history, fiction, cookbooks—by local and area writers. And if you are inspired by the musicians you’ve heard here, be sure to stop in Weed Patch Music to check out the handmade instruments and locally produced CDs.
Researchers studying the subject have found that giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of our human interaction. Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift. And it is absolutely true that you can become richer as you shop in Brown County by simply opening to the creativity that is all around you.