Starting From Scratch
There is a rich history of making useful and beautiful things by hand in Lebanon. For starters, the former H.W. Carter and Sons factory in downtown Lebanon was founded in 1859, with more than 175 skilled crafters making jeans and overalls well ahead of the industrial revolution. Today, the AVA Gallery and Art Center continues the tradition of making art in a space that hummed with the sound of sewing machines for more than 125 years.
So it is fitting that the trio of owners at Scratch, the new makerspace just down the street on the Lebanon Mall, have chosen to create a space for people of all ages to make things. With a nod to traditional artisans of the past, Scratch is designed to meet the needs of contemporary creatives who lack a studio space of their own.
Artwork by young makers
Karen Zook, Jessica Giordani, and Travis Griffin moved to the Upper Valley from Connecticut and originally had in mind starting an artists’ and writers’ retreat center. But according to Karen, a Dartmouth graduate pursuing her PhD in literature, a new idea emerged.
“When both of the other owners said to me independently that they wished they could just knit (Jessica) or paint (Travis), we decided there was no reason we couldn’t just do our crafts all the time, so we created a space that gave us the opportunity to do it.”
The group identified with both the history and tradition of being a ‘maker,’ and designed the space with a slant toward fine arts and craft instead of technology, a focus of other makerspaces in cities like Manchester and Portsmouth.
The Scratch owners were drawn to Lebanon for largely personal reasons. Karen liked the Upper Valley and her Dartmouth connection, Jessica and Travis are married and have children who are members of the new Scratch family. They all wanted to stay in New England, and the former Shoetorium space was available.
The Scratch sewing bar
“I feel like this is where I should mention how crazy this whole plan was,” says Karen. “We packed up two households including kids, birds, dogs, and ourselves, closed Jessica’s bakery, bought a house in Lebanon, and opened Scratch, all within the course of a summer.”
Despite the whirlwind nature of the venture, Karen says Scratch has been well received by the community. “We’ve been so grateful—at our grand opening, there was a line down to the door at Omer and Bob’s. Just about every day someone mentions offhand how glad they are we’re here, or how much the area needed something like what we’re doing.”
A steady stream of makers has been exploring the various activities, including a free craft night on Thursdays, needle felting, and embroidery. Scratch also offers a sewing bar, tool and craft libraries, printmaking space, book clubs and writer’s workshops, and Carvey, a machine that cuts a maker’s original designs from just about any material.
Scratch appeals to all age groups, according to Jessica. “We set out to make Scratch a family-friendly place, and it’s been exciting to see the families with younger children find us. There’s a group of high schoolers who have identified it as a welcoming, art-kid-friendly place, and lots of young professionals who have the urge to do something with their hands in their free time.”
The Scratch tool library
While Scratch is not currently a formal gallery or exhibit space, Jessica, Karen, and Travis have established a relationship with the Center for Cartoon Studies to show and sell their artists’ work. According to Jessica, “It’s a great deal for us—we get to have it on the walls to enjoy, and the artists get the opportunity to sell their work in a more commercial environment than might otherwise be available.” Yarn, fabric, and art supplies are also for sale.
Scratch joins two other Upper Valley makerspaces in progress—one in Claremont and the other in White River Junction, initiatives of the umbrella organization TwinState MakerSpaces. One has to wonder—could these do-it-yourself initiatives be signaling a return to the craft guilds of medieval Europe, artisan collaboratives intended to support the trade of handmade goods threatened by the industrial revolution? It’s hard to say, but Scratch is off to a great start creating a multi-generational community gathering place in a town that has long celebrated the art of the handmade.
Cindy Heath is a staff writer for The Lebanon Times, and makes original art quilts in her home studio in Plainfield, N.H.