Shopping Center

Shopping Center

One of the area’s best venues for holiday shopping may also be one of its best-kept secrets. Guilford Art Center’s annual popup shop, located just off Route 77 in Guilford, is filled for the season with American handmade crafts just waiting to be wrapped in festive paper and tied with a bow.

For most of the year, the space serves as a gallery hosting exhibitions of contemporary art, including juried events; biennials in ceramics and, starting next year, fiber arts; and work from other local arts groups. But every fall, the space is transformed into a holiday shop—this year, open through January 9. Here, beneath a ceiling draped with red chiffon and white lights, you’ll find pottery and ceramics, jewelry, hats and scarves, beeswax candles, baskets woven from fabric and wire, leather wallets, fused glass picture frames, paintings, printed holiday cards, ornaments, whimsical decorations including little reindeer made of sticks and logs, beautiful yet functional kitchen gadgets like wooden cutting boards, glass trays and ceramic wine corks and much more.

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New Haven Symphony Orchestra

In a sense, the shop is an indoor version of the center’s popular three-day Craft Expo, a gathering of nearly 200 artists on the Guilford Green that began in 1957 and is expected to return after a two-year pandemic hiatus in July of 2022. “The arts center actually grew out of the Craft Expo,” says Maureen Belden, executive director. “People loved that event so much that they were like, ‘We should start a school where people can study ,’ and the founders found the site 10 years later.”

Located in an old mill a stone’s throw from exit 58 off I95, the art center is a collection of cheerful, multicolored buildings that includes the school—“really at the heart of what we do,” Belden says—and, across a courtyard, the gallery and offices. Alongside classes in painting, drawing and photography are more specialized, harder-to-find offerings. An outdoor sculpture studio is a draw for those who want to work in Stony Creek’s distinctive pink granite as well as other types of stone. Inside a small barn, two forges offer the opportunity to make everything from jewelry to functional knives. In a weaving studio, each student gets their own loom for the session, while students learn metalsmithing in a space next door. A pottery studio with wheels for 12 students also hosts a yearlong residency for an emerging artist in ceramics. During the pandemic, the pottery facility was expanded, and a new classroom was added, bringing the school’s square footage to 6,368.

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About 2,000 students of all ages are served each year over the course of four semesters, Belden says. The winter catalog offers 89 classes—most in-person and a few online—plus numerous one-time workshops. The cost of adult classes ranges from $26 for a one-time workshop on “Pastel Exploration—Color & Techniques” to a weekend-long “Making a Chopping Knife” workshop for $525, with most classes running in the $200 to $300 range. Financial aid is available, and registration is currently open.

The art center is a vital part of the larger community, Belden says, noting that “the arts have always been beloved here and also well-supported by the community.” But you don’t have to live in Guilford to be a part of it. “We’re not that far away,” she notes. “We have free parking.” And right now, of course, you can find the kinds of holiday gifts and treasures that aren’t in the mall or the search bar.

Guilford Art Center Holiday Shop
411 Church St, Guilford (map)
Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm, Sun noon-5pm through 1/9/22
(203) 453-5947 |

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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