Written and photographed by Daniela Forte

There is a hidden gem in the Four Corners area in Brookfield — the Brookfield Craft Center. The BCC has had an exciting year and continues to move forward with a new board of directors and various programs that will only help expand the love for art and creativity.

“A lot of people that live in Brookfield, don’t know what this red building is on the corner of Four Corners,” said Howard Lasser, Executive Director of the BCC.

The board of directors includes Lasser, Mary Daniel, Allison Fulton, Jacqueline Salame, Kathy Reiff, Timothy Deakin, Cassie Dunn, Gamal Abdulrahman, Mark Zerbe, Marianne Gaffey.

Lasser said one of his missions is to expand awareness and reach out to the community and beyond Brookfield to let people know what BCC does and encourage everyone’s participation in its programs.

The craft center made a lifetime commitment to promote fine craftsmanship through education, exhibition and marketing, marking its 60th anniversary in 2014. In years past, the craft center successfully underwent several incarnations of a major improvement project at its campus.

In the decade leading up to 2014, the BCC’s financial picture became bleak, with no significant opportunities for a turn-around, given the national economy. In 2010, it announced it was closing its doors due to financial difficulties, however, two months later, steps began to reinvent it. The center reopened in the fall of 2010, after restructuring part of its debt, arranging for the elimination of its debt to its artists, and being chosen to receive a matching grant from a philanthropic foundation.

The previous board of directors set out to forge a new business plan, with help from its core team, which identified both short and long-term goals. It sought the help of a consultant, Support Center for Non Profit Management, (which had experience in dealing with nonprofit organizations) to study its operations and the factors that impacted the business and install an interim director to help move the center forward.

In 2014, the board of directors initiated a program to reestablish the BCC as a vital and vibrant part of the community as well as the local economy.

It now has a Gallery Shop which has been open throughout the year, providing sustaining income to the over 150 artists that participate and maintain the historic buildings. The BCC was also able to reopen its Woodturning studio, reestablishing its course curriculum.

Some of the BCC’s course offerings include jewelry, fiber arts, glass arts, blacksmithing, ceramics, woodturning and drawing and painting. The BCC offers over 150 different courses and has hosted over 300 students in its seven studios.

Lasser said they are now hosting art exhibits, and last year opened the gallery, allowing half of the retail space for exhibitions.

On July 16 through August 6, the BCC will hold the exhibit “A Moment in Time: The Painting, Enamel Work and Jewelry of Joanne Conant,” with an opening reception on July 16 from 5 to 9 p.m. Also through July 4, the BCC will host “Fragments of the Whole: The Ceramic Art of Elizabeth MacDonald.”

Amber Vlangas, manager of charitable giving for the BCC, said she recently had the opportunity to watch artists make lampwork glass beads in an open studio night. The BCC has an open studio program where artists have access to all the center’s equipment and can spend time working on projects. It also allows artists to socialize with their peers.

“We’re looking for people that want to get involved that are in different areas, because at this point we’re very heavily concentrated in Brookfield. We have board members that just joined from outside the area, but we’re very specifically looking for folks in the Litchfield County area,” said Vlangas. “That would be a great opportunity for somebody to get involved and it’s not directly about asking people for money, it’s about bringing relationships to the craft center.

The BCC has also been able to offer a youth program for children as young at 11 a chance to expand and experience their creativity in the organization’s glass and ceramic studios at the Good Forge. It has obtained a grant that allows the BCC to expand the programs at the forge as well.

Lasser said another hidden gem is the blacksmith shop on the BCC campus. The grant provided for the programs at the forge has also allowed the BCC to offer scholarships to children who might not otherwise be able to participate and take advantage of this opportunity.

“The perception of the craft center for many years was that it was for very high-end artists. That is not necessarily encouraging to our youth. But my attitude and the attitude the board brings to now is fine craftsman have to come from somewhere and we really want to encourage kids to explore their creativity,” said Lasser.

The center of the nonprofit organization’s campus is an circa 1780 grist mill, which was sitting abandoned until 1952 when Nancy Dubois Hagmayer, a New York City school teacher, purchased it for $5 to turn it into a craft center. Two years later, she and her husband John, launched a campaign to renovate the facility, a project that has been vastly expanded over decades.

Lasser said farmers would come to the campus and while their grain would be milled, they would sit and talk and share ideas — it was a community meeting house.

“What we would like to do and one of my goals is to make it that meeting house for artists,” said Lasser. “That sharing of ideas and creating a support network for our artists is also a key element of our goals.”

Lasser said this year the BCC plans to do five exhibitions, beginning with a student art show of works from area high school art students. It was a juried show that exhibited about 80 students, allowing for a wide variety of people to experience what the craft center is and learn about its mission and participate.

“One of our goals also is to grow our volunteer base,” said Lasser.

Lasser hopes to get the word out that this is not a closed community, but that it is open for participation and that the BCC belongs to the people.

“We do rely a lot on the volunteers, but it’s about getting people, growing the board,” said Lasser. “In the first transition a lot of the board was primarily Brookfield people, and that hadn’t necessarily been the case in the past. Now we’re at the point where we are really reaching out to get a more diverse demographic and diverse geographic representation.”

The BCC currently has two board members from lower Fairfield County and is seeking two more board members from Litchfield County.

Mark Zerbe, the chairman for the BCC, said, “The transition in some way signals a degree of stability that wasn’t here. When Mary Daniels came in with Allison Fulton, they practically saved the craft center. And now the BCC is looking to expand to a broader array of people.”

Lasser said they are always looking for people who have a specific area of expertise. One of the things he did when he began with the volunteers was create teams of people who work in various functional areas.

“We try to focus and bring people on that have areas of expertise. One of the areas of expertise we are lacking is in construction,” said Lasser. “One of the things we noticed that was lacking for many years is the maintenance of the structures, so we think somebody with that kind of background on the board could help us develop the proper plans to ensure the maintenance of the structures.”

There are several projects the BCC hopes to accomplish in the months and years ahead. This includes rebuilding the ceramic studio, painting the landmark sign on the main building, working on the Miller House building on campus and landscaping, among other projects.

Vlangas said the BCC is also open to working with different groups. The BCC works with local Boy Scout and artist groups, and they are willing to do tours and special programs for them in an effort to branch out.

“We are also reaching out to local school systems to see if there is an opportunity to create some after-school programs. Collaborating with local school systems to fill that needed gap is something we would really like to do,” said Vlangas.

Zerbe said they would like to foster relationships and alliances with other non-profits as well. “It’s something the BCC has not been able to find a good fit to work with. We want to work with other organizations.”

The Brookfield Craft Center is located at 286 Whisconier Road (Route 25) in Brookfield. For more information, call 203-775-4526 or visit www.brookfieldcraft.org.