- Courtesy of Daniel Zeese
- Daniel Zeese
Daniel Zeese, a 34-year-old artist and designer, is the new interim executive director of Frog Hollow Craft Association and its affiliated gallery in Burlington. Zeese is a former staff artist and program coordinator at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson and was a design director at Studio Echelman, the Brookline, Mass.-based studio of sculptor Janet Echelman. Zeese, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, studied sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Boston Architectural College.
“I am so in love with the Vermont arts and crafts community and culture here,” Zeese said in a telephone interview with Seven Days. “I have big dreams of strengthening the infrastructure around the arts communities around the state.”
Zeese assumes a position that has been vacant since the spring of 2018, when former director Rob Hunter resigned. It's a four-month interim role, said Carol MacDonald, president of Frog Hollow's nonprofit board.
MacDonald said that after Hunter’s departure, the organization decided to restructure certain management positions. That meant leaving the directorship vacant and hiring a gallery manager for the Church Street business and a project coordinator to work with the board.
But last fall, when Frog Hollow marked its 50th anniversary, the organization recognized that it needed an executive director to oversee its two components: the nonprofit craft organization and the gallery that exhibits and sells the work of more than 100 Vermont artisans, MacDonald said.
“We needed another level of management … to reactivate the nonprofit, educational mission," she said.
The nonprofit owns the gallery on Church Street, MacDonald noted, adding that "the gallery is able to spin some of its profits off to support the nonprofit programs." (The gallery is closed until February 1.)
For decades, Frog Hollow had an educational program through which Vermont artisans taught crafts to community members. Its original center, founded in Middlebury in 1971, closed in January 2009.
“We really heard from the public how much they love Frog Hollow and how meaningful it is for them to also have a nonprofit mission,” MacDonald said. “We realized it was time to bring somebody else in — and that we have the finances to be able to do that.”
MacDonald said Zeese was an “inspiring” candidate. She cited their commitment to the arts, their own artistic practice, and their skill at managing people and projects.
Zeese has the advantage of being young, she said. “I’m thrilled [Zeese] accepted the position.”
Zeese said they're interested in Frog Hollow’s two-part structure of nonprofit and gallery, yet they envision a possible restructuring within that set-up because they're uncomfortable with hierarchical modes of organization.
“I want to sit down with everyone and really understand their strengths and what they want to learn,” Zeese said of the staff, “and figure out how to create a collaborative team.”
Outside of Frog Hollow, Zeese’s current major project is rehabbing a log cabin on 10 acres in Wolcott — “or I’m going to probably die trying,” they said.
“It’s a really whacky property near a reservoir,” Zeese said. “It seemed like if someone was going to make an investment in trying to preserve this property, it had to be me.”
Zeese, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., metro area, has taken up a new craft in Vermont: whittling.
“I don’t want to make any assumptions about Vermont,” they said, “but something inside of me started whittling tiny pieces of furniture.”
Zeese’s hiring coincides with but is unrelated to allegations of workplace discrimination at Frog Hollow, MacDonald said. The allegations were brought to light in December by a former employee of Asian descent, who described racist remarks directed at her by the gallery manager. A Montpelier attorney is investigating the allegations. MacDonald said she expects the investigation to conclude within a week.