Made in America

Made in America

Artisan’s Marketplace, a jewel box of a shop located on Route 10 in Plainville, reminds me of an era when shopping for something special was itself a special experience.

Devoted almost entirely to selling curated American crafts, Artisan’s emerged at a time when artisanal values and aesthetics were ascendant. The national studio craft movement had existed in one form or another since the Industrial Revolution, and by the time President George H.W. Bush was signing a proclamation designating 1993 The Year of the American Craft, craft studios, shows and shops were flourishing everywhere.

Silversmith Martha Couture, who had established her own studio, Silver Sun, in 1980—a pursuit she initially took up to fill time as an “empty-nester”—was ahead of that curve, opening Artisan’s in 1984 upon the realization that “her passion [was] to showcase and generate interest in other artists who were putting their heart and soul into their work,” according to her daughter, Cynthia Logan. The shop didn’t have its own purpose-built location until four years later, in 1988, when Couture’s husband, James, completed ground-up construction on a Victorian house-style showcase featuring handmade glass cases and wooden shelves, hardwood floors, a tin-style ceiling and colorful leaded stained-glass windows Logan created. The house, then, is an American craft in itself. When I first came across it 30 years ago, I found it extraordinary—and still do.

Today, the work of roughly 300 American artisans is represented, from glass and pottery to woodworking, fiber crafts and jewelry, all carefully selected and strikingly arrayed. Logan, who’s taken on management and co-ownership of the shop in recent years, says she “enjoy[s] creating a look for the place that really excites people. To me, the displays should be a work of art on the same level as the crafts we’re featuring.” Whenever I visit, I feel like I’m entering someone’s extremely well-appointed private home, the result of an intimacy that’s more than an aesthetic. “What we’re trying to keep alive for customers is the experience of being able to talk with us about the artists and learn all about their creations,” Logan says.

Some of my favorite items to browse are the housewares, which are often whimsical yet solidly functional. Handblown glass salt and pepper shakers by Giselle ($60-$96) are as imaginative as such tableware gets, especially one set in the form of a dog and fire hydrant and a pair shaped like red tulips with flowing leaves. On a recent visit, I found it hard to pass up bisque-fired stoneware mugs ($39) by Pennsylvania’s Len Hughes, colorfully glazed and decorated with birds and butterflies. Charming and clever dog and cat wall clocks with wagging pendulum tails ($54) from the Litchfield County-based company Pink Cloud have long been popular items (mine has been going strong for more than 10 years). Canadian creations of note include cutting boards fashioned by Basic Spirit of Nova Scotia, including a standout fashioned from a piano-shaped slab of yellow birch accented with decorative pewter “keys” ($74).


Personal items range from clothing and handbags to jewelry and handmade soaps. Summery embroidered Indian shirts sourced by the South Carolina-based fair-trade company Sévya Handmade ($65) and hand-painted scarves ($46) by Nebraska’s Niki David Silks complement lightweight cork fabric purses ($52) from Massachusetts’ Natalie Therése, all vegan and made from renewable resources. Because I’m a fan of funky socks, I grabbed a couple of pairs by Maggie Stern Stitches ($18), also based in Massachusetts, which is devoted to honoring admired individuals (my choices were Rosa Parks and Ruth Bader Ginsberg) and donates a percentage of its proceeds to charity.

Jewelry crafters represented here are countless and evolving, though Logan is particularly partial to two well-known Artisan’s mainstays: Westport’s Michael Michaud, who has created an alphabet’s worth of dainty and intricate botanical jewelry (from acorns to wild violet), and Holly Yashi, a company that’s produced signature oxidized niobium earrings, necklaces, bracelets and hair accents for more than 40 years. I found myself fascinated by Zealandia Designs, based in Idaho, which fashions jewelry into animals, oceans and ancient legends in materials such as fossilized walrus and ancient mammoth ivories, mother of pearl, jasper, ammonite and black mussel and New Zealand Paua shells.

Purely decorative items pop up everywhere, too, including Earth-n-Fire Pottery’s whimsical renditions of Cape Cod seagulls ($34 & $46). Adornments for indoors and outdoors include musical plant stakes ($22.95), colorful memory art poles ($72 and up) and ceramic birdhouses by Michigan’s Black Cat Pottery ($62). One day, I’ll acquire one or more of the hand-painted Grant-Norén photo frames—made in New York using Scandinavian buttermilk glaze techniques—and the Minnesota-made Starrylights luminaries ($42), brightly painted terra cotta tealight holders carved to cast decorative shadows.

Logan says she’s been encouraged to give Artisan’s stock a more global emphasis, but aside from the occasional fair-trade item or import, she remains committed to the shop’s original mission. The growth of the internet, she says, has both helped and hindered her business. On one hand, the rise of online businesses has led to fewer brick-and-mortar boutiques, which means her shop stands out even more as a destination for American craft enthusiasts from all over. On the other, fewer trade shows and crafts studios means that store owners find themselves ordering more of their inventory over the Internet, which makes it harder to assess quality. “You lose that tactile sense of things, that ability to talk to the artists and see their creations firsthand,” she says.

The COVID pandemic also sidelined a number of artisans’ careers, pushing many of them into retirement and leaving Logan scrambling to find new blood. “It’s hard to find young artisans who understand how to sell their work in a wholesale market,” she says. “I’ve tried to mentor people on developing that skill.” Like most small entrepreneurs these days, she’s working hard to keep prices reasonable in the face of higher operating costs—while also contending with the personal challenge of being a primary caretaker for her now elderly mother, which has forced her to temporarily cut back on the shop’s hours.

Nevertheless, there’s fuel left in Logan’s fire, and it comes from customers. “People who come here invariably say to me, ‘Please don’t close,’” she says, laughing. “My ultimate pleasure is seeing how happy they are just walking around, or leaving with something they love. That’s what keeps me going.”

Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean.

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