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Molnar: Ties & Sauerkraut

We’ve heard it said that in Vermont you can’t fling a paintbrush without spattering a dozen artists. As a writer, I find that neither can you click on a book title without stumbling on several Vermont writers with similar books.

But I’ve been learning that Vermonters’ creativity extends well beyond the pursuits we usually associate with artists, writers and musicians. There’s amazing, thought provoking, startling originality in all kinds of occupations that we don’t often associate with exceptional creativity.

This train of thought started when I learned of a Middlebury company that for 20 years has been hand sewing silk bow ties, along with neckties, cummerbunds, pocket squares, ascots and cravats, employing dozens of people.

A little later I met a young woman interning in a hat studio in Brandon , where they not only craft one-of-a-kind hats but also raise the sheep that provide the wool. It’s a farm-to-studio enterprise for a product that, like bow ties, ceased to be wildly popular at least a generation or two ago.

Intrigued, I consulted the local phone book and found that there are furniture makers crafting creations that may well belong in museums. There are metalworkers fashioning a stream of unique products, from a gravity-defying cantilevered barstool to a railing comprised of metal seaweed. There’s a woman who makes original lampshades in any wild shape or material. There are about a dozen seamstresses, and they’re not just shortening slacks at the dry cleaners. These seamstresses will sew any garment from scratch. In fact, the bow-tie company was launched when the original owner hired a seamstress to sew bow ties for his personal use.

An internet search turned up pages of stone artisans who will build you an earthen oven, a dry stone arch, or a wall fountain for your living room.

Farmers markets are yet another outlet for originality. The lovely vegetables, the pies and breads, the colorful knit hats, and everything pickled are there. But each season brings new twists on old products – like raw artisan sauerkraut that keeps on fermenting in its jar and comes flavored with dill or garlic or red pepper. For dessert there’s goat cheese turned into delectable chocolate fudge. And if you happen to buy too many of the lovely veggies, there’re people in Vermont who will build you a root cellar.

With the root cellar stocked, you might feel free to enjoy some R&R. For that, you can attend a craft fair or have a canoe built from cedar strips or a custom pair of skis. And when the skis eventually wear out, there’s a Vermont company that will repurpose them into chairs or tables, in the process diverting tons of waste from the dump.

Such creative capital enriches our state’s economy, our reputation, and our daily lives - especially if one has a hankering for ginger-flavored sauerkraut.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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