The word “quilt” usually suggests a patchwork assemblage in regular or geometric blocks of pattern and color. Melissa Sarris’s quilts are more like paintings — playful, organic, free-form. Although she isn’t a painter, Sarris studied photography and sculpture at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. After graduating with honors in 1987, she moved to Maine, where her B.F.A. degree (as she likes to joke) enabled her to find work milking cows and substitute teaching.
She made her first quilt 21 years ago as a gift for her mother’s 50th birthday. “I was clueless, I didn’t understand scale — I didn’t even have a sewing machine,” she says. “But it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do it. I cut everything out, and made a quilt with lots of triangles and a big 50 in the center. It was all made of clothing that we’d both worn, so it had a sentimental shtick going for it. Ninety percent of the way in, a good friend bought me a basic sewing machine. It was a medium that landed in my lap.”
Sarris went on to teach herself quilt-making, moved to Chatham in 1990, and started her company soon after. Because she didn’t care for most traditional designs, she began drawing her own, freehand. “I’d make wonky, askew drawings, and it took me a while to realize that’s what I wanted the quilts to look like,” she says. “I hadn’t learned any of the rules, so there was no little voice saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ If you’re working with triangles and squares, you cut them out and sew them, and it’s kind of tedious: cut, cut, cut, sew, sew, sew. I developed work that kept me interested.”
Although her contemporary-looking designs are often made of hand-dyed cotton fabrics, Sarris says she loves the “rich, wonderful history of quilts. What I’m most enamored of is their sentimental component. I’ve made quilts for people out of children’s clothing. Or when a beloved grandmother passes, incorporating pieces from her old garments with hand-dyed pieces. Making the fabrics work together is an interesting puzzle to solve, and it’s a segment of what I do that I really love.”
Unlike many quilters who have snazzy sewing machines, Sarris uses a 60-year-old industrial Singer. “It’s very simple,” she says. “It does one thing: it makes straight stitches, and does it so well.” She hand-quilts the finished product.
Quilts and wall hangings are mostly custom made, but there are pillows and tote bags in inventory, and some are also available as kits. “People are welcome to come to the studio by appointment if they don’t mind a messy workspace,” the cheery Sarris says.
Sarris Quilts. 15 Elm St., Chatham. 518-392-6323; www.sarrisquilts.com
» Next: Gilmor Glass, Millerton
A Glass Act
John and Jan Gilmor have been producing their beautiful, translucent works of usable art for 32 years now, first in Pine Plains, and for the past 14 years at their studio and gallery in Millerton. It’s a tiny business, with Jan handling design and John creating the pieces along with two other glass blowers, Dean and Eliska Smiley, who studied in the Czech Republic “and have wonderful skills,” Jan notes.
Neither Gilmor set out to be a glass artist. Jan trained as a dancer, and John worked in clay before becoming smitten with glass in graduate school. The couple met in Pine Plains when John moved there from his home in Ohio to open a glass studio as part of a new crafts community. After they married, Jan started working in the studio. “I said very brashly that I could design, so I was pressed into service,” she recalls. “The first piece I designed became part of a big juried exhibition curated by the Corning Museum and went on a world tour,” she recalls with wonder. “Even though I wasn’t trained in it, apparently I had something to offer!”
The Gilmors create their own glass recipe, based on an old Italian formula, instead of buying raw materials already mixed. What looks like cake flour is ladled into the furnace and melts at 2,300 degrees. “We make our colors old school,” Jan adds, so that the molten glass emerges tinted. (Most glassmakers melt clear glass and apply color during the blowing process.)
Gourd-eous: Perfect for fall, some of Gilmor Glass’s decorative pieces are shaped like pumpkins
Photograph by Randall Stuebner
“After eight hours, you have malleable glass, hopefully free of bubbles,” Jan continues. “It’s worked at just under 2,000 degrees, so you have to know what you’re going to be making. It’s not like a potter’s wheel where you can take your time.” The process is fascinating to watch, too. Check the blowing schedule and you can see the artists at work in the studio.
Hand-blown glass is an expensive art form — but there are bargains. Lovely Christmas ornaments start at $20. Or you can head to Gilmor’s back room where everything is half price. “Some pieces are clearance and some have tiny esthetic flaws,” Jan Gilmor says. “But even things we consider less than perfect have their own unique quality. A lot of people get pleasure drinking out of Gilmor Glass seconds.”
Coming next: glassware in animal prints — zebra, leopard, tiger — as soon as the Gilmors figure out the technique.
Gilmor Glass. 2 Main St., Millerton. 518-789-6700; www.gilmorglass.com
» Next: Victoria Gardens, Rosendale
On the Grid
Recently unveiled at Victoria Gardens nursery in Rosendale: a “green” wall around the entrance, where cold-hardy succulents like sedums and sempervivum (aka hens and chicks) are thriving in soil-filled, vertical gridded panels (like the one pictured above) attached to the building. If you have a drab concrete wall that needs brightening up, this might be just the thing. Freestanding panels could screen an unsightly propane tank or air conditioner. It’s so new, at press time Victoria Gardens had yet to price the specially engineered panels. One caveat: Tough as these plants are, an automatic drip system to water them is a good idea unless you’re super-diligent.
Victoria Gardens. 1 Cottekill Rd., Rosendale. 845-658-9007; www.victoriagardens.biz
» Next: DeSantis Birdhouses, Pine Bush
Fly away home: Armando DeSantis’s whimsical birdhouses are fashioned from salvaged wood and found objects
For the Birds
Birds won’t be building nests until next spring, but the ones who winter in the Hudson Valley often use birdhouses for shelter. At the home of retired commercial artist Armando DeSantis, they have plenty of choices. DeSantis, who lives in Pine Bush with his wife, Sue, makes whimsical birdhouses out of salvaged wood and found objects, and has many dotted about his property. They’re popular with all kinds of birds, he reports, although their bluebird house has yet to attract an actual bluebird. “This year there’s a tree frog living in it,” Sue says.
One-of-a-kind birdhouses start at $35. 845-744-3626.