- Rob Hunter
Frog Hollow is fighting to keep its name. Not the Frog Hollow part, but the four important words that follow: Vermont State Craft Center. When the organization applied to renew its designation more than a year ago, as it does every few years, the state responded with a surprising request: Please remove the words “Vermont State Craft Center” from your signage and marketing materials.
But Frog Hollow doesn’t want to. Executive director Rob Hunter says those words are exactly what make the designation worthwhile. He and his board of directors have stood firm in their camp, and their application has been in limbo ever since.
To be clear, no one’s asking Frog Hollow to take down the sign currently on its Church Street gallery, or to throw away all the marketing and packaging material it already has in stock. The state has simply requested that, when the time does come to replace those items, the “offending” words be left out.
Frog Hollow, which currently represents more than 200 Vermont artists and artisans at its Burlington gallery, got its start in Middlebury in 1971 as an educational craft center for kids. Four years later, it became the nation’s first state-recognized craft center. “We have a pride associated with [the name],” says Hunter.
In 2006, when craft galleries across the state were struggling, Gov. Jim Douglas signed an executive order that revised the process of state-craft-center designation. The idea was to expand the criteria — and thus the potential designees — in hopes of giving a boost to the craft community.
A volunteer committee of craftspeople was formed to lay out the new rules: Craft centers no longer had to be nonprofits; and, rather than representing 100 percent Vermont artists and artisans, they simply had to offer “a high percentage of original, Vermont-made, high-quality craft.”
As a result, two other Vermont galleries won state-craft-center status in 2009: Artisans Hand in Montpelier and Gallery at the Vault in Springfield. What did the designation get them? A presence on the state-run website and stickers and a plaque to display in their windows announcing their distinguished status.
“It’s almost like a car registration, the little decal that you put on your car,” says Hunter. He doesn’t have a problem with other galleries getting the state’s imprimatur, but he thinks that if an organization can’t include the designation in its official name, “there’s absolutely no benefit of being a state craft center.”
Many of the artists Frog Hollow represents agree. Gary Starr, a Middlebury wood carver who displays his bird decoys at both Frog Hollow and Artisans Hand, says those four little words make a big difference. “It’s a stamp of credibility,” he says. “Not for the people who live in Vermont … but somebody else walking down Church Street, who sees the designation.” The little stickers and plaques don’t stand out enough, Starr suggests.
With its application stalled, Frog Hollow is holding out for a new executive order from the Shumlin administration — and Hunter says the prospects look promising.
The designation committee is in the process of reformulating, says Vermont’s chief marketing officer, Kathy Murphy. All but one of its members’ terms expire this year, and the state is looking for new volunteers to serve. They will reexamine the governor’s executive order and possibly revise the criteria, including how venues can display the words “Vermont State Craft Center.” Murphy says this transition has contributed to the delay in responding to Frog Hollow’s petition.
Hunter is determined not to lose those vital words in his organization’s name. “I’m not asking for special treatment,” he says. “But we were the first in the nation. We have that long history. I don’t see why it’s a big deal to grandfather us in.”