Our first frost (and snow!) has come and gone and we are now bracing ourselves for winter. Suddenly, we realize the holidays are quickly approaching and the holiday shopping must begin! With so many talented artisans here in Vermont, we love to encourage buying local… and one of our favorite local shops is Danforth Pewter, located in the heart of the Woodstock Village.
Danforth is known for their handcrafted pewter goods, such as ornaments, jewelry, mugs, and other keepsakes. Regardless of the object, this brand exudes quality. From oil lamps to baby rattles and special occasion frames, walking into the Danforth Pewter shop screams beauty and tradition. Certainly, a Danforth gift should be considered truly special. We caught up with owner Judi Danforth to gain an inside glimpse of the company itself.
Judi grew up in Claremont NH, and eventually found her love of pewter after taking up silversmithing at RIT School for American Craftsman. A brief apprenticeship in New Brunswick, Canada taught her the techniques still practiced at Danforth today. It was at this time she also met Fred Danforth, fresh out of Middlebury College where he played soccer and studied French and comparative religions. Interestingly enough, Fred’s ancestors were prominent colonial pewtersmiths. Fred had another interest – wood turning. Judi says it took little persuasion to convince him to try his hand at lathe-spinning pewter. Taking to it quickly and adamantly, Fred had designed, engineered, and constructed the tooling for the company’s hollowware designs – including Danforth’s signature oil lamps.
While extremely proud of the work of Fred’s ancestors, Fred and Judi intentionally chose to build their own line of contemporary designs. The family history of pewtersmithing certainly evoked passion and pride in Danforth’s work. However, a line of personal inspiration became important. “Over time,” Judi says, “we have found that our rather unique story is interesting to people, and we have truly embraced the serendipity of it all.”
Vermont was a very deliberate choice for Judi and Fred. Judi has “always felt a deep connection with the landscapes and small towns.” In fact, she would often visit the small shops and galleries of Woodstock as a little girl with her mother. Fred also grew up in a small Ohio town, at the edge of the Connecticut Western Reserve. This gave the town a New England-esque look. As such, Fred feels right at home in Vermont. “Today,” Judi mentions, “we have countless reasons for loving our state, even beside the fact that our two daughters and husbands moved back to raise their children.”
We agree with Judi in that Vermont innately inspires creativity and high quality. Fine crafts, delicious beer, cheese, wine, and spirits are abundant here. Moreover, locals and visitors appreciate and support artisanal, handmade products. “As business people, it is encouraging to be surrounded by so many companies that believe as we do that being good ‘corporate citizens’ is the right way to be in the world.”
Keeping with Vermont tradition, Fred and Judi chose Woodstock when it came time to set up a pewter workshop. In the fall of 1975, they found an old farmhouse and barn with an attached milk house. Judi recalls, “It was just right. It was on Route 106 just south of the village. Perfect!” While the house has since been taken down, Danforth remains a prominent name in Woodstock.
Danforth Pewter has undoubtedly grown in the years following their humble beginnings. With this, the company strives to navigate the ever-changing technology, marketing, and sales environments while also maintaining their core values. Danforth Pewter brings products to the market by making original models and tooling, designing the packaging, and selling from their six branded retail stores, as well as online. Judi calls it “an old model of artisan workshop that we are striving to keep alive and fresh in the 21st century.” The Danforth artisans obviously take great pride in their work, and Judi and Fred feel fortunate to have a cohesive team that believes in Danforth’s mission and goals. “And of course,” Judi adds, “ the best reward for all of us is that we can bring joy to our customers!”
We find it pretty incredible to see a time-honored practice such as pewtersmithing build a notable name for itself in bucolic Vermont. Moreover, Judi and Fred acted on their intention to create a line all their own. From farmhouse to store front, we are proud to have Danforth Pewter in our town as a symbol of both tradition and modern design. Throughout our time here at Cheddar & Gin, we’ve seen a recurring theme of couples creating something beautiful in modest farmhouses throughout the Vermont countryside. Danforth is perhaps the most deeply rooted story we’ve come across, making Judi and Fred two very cool artisans in our mind. This holiday, we suggest stopping by our local Danforth Pewter retail store in the Woodstock Village. You can also visit their workshop store in Middlebury to see artisans at work on weekdays and select weekends. Don’t drag your feet. Check some items off that holiday list and visit one of these beautiful stores today! Happy shopping!