Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rocks Marketplace artisan spotlight: Joan Hannah, potter

Among the myriad locally-crafted gifts filling the shelves in the Rocks Marketplace is the artful pottery made by Joan Hannah. Joan grew up in nearby Sugar Hill, and after a 26-year hiatus to Vail, Colorado, returned to her roots to run the family’s farm, which she did aptly from 1992 until selling the property in 2001. She’s an Olympic (1960, 1964) and World Championship (1962, 1966) ski racer, a hardy Yankee farmer, and a skilled artisan.

Joan began making pottery during high school, studied the art at Bennington College, Mills College, and the California College of Arts and Crafts and later at the Kansas City Art Institute. Her mother was an accomplished sculptor, and both parents were skilled ski racers, both talents Joan has carried on. She is likely the only artisan we work with at The Rocks who has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, which she did in February 1962, the year she won a bronze medal in the World Championship giant slalom. She’s also a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Joan spends much of her fall and winter working with clay in her Sugar Hill studio, just down the road from the farm where she grew up, creating her signature bowls, mugs, casserole dishes and other beautiful pieces. Here, she explains a little bit about what goes into her pottery…

How did you get started making pottery?
I took sculpture and pottery in college and had the same teacher as Mother. I chose pottery because I can make things that are functional, and it’s something I can sell. I enjoy working with clay, and through many years of study and practice in making pottery, I continue to enjoy the challenge of creating interesting, useful pieces. It’s fulfilling to start with a block of clay, envision a piece, and work to create the finished product that someone will use in his or her home.

Your pottery is also beautiful, though, beyond being practical.
My ceramics are very classical in shape. The shape is the art. It’s not just a palate to paint on.

How have you balanced making pottery with your other work? You were a ski instructor at Vail for 26 years, and when you came home you were running the farm and caring for your mother.
When I first went to Vail in 1968 I rented a space in a studio. Then I set up my own kiln and worked with other potters. When I lived there, I made pottery in the summer. When I came back to the farm, I kept making pottery to keep myself busy when I wasn’t farming. Now I don’t make pottery in the summer. I play golf and have my own gardens with too many vegetables. In the winter I teach skiing two days a week at Loon and ski Saturdays at Cannon with the masters racing program. I make pottery in between.

What does the process entail, from start to finish?
Well, I start by buying a ton of clay. That gets me through a winter season. I have to knead it before I throw it on the pottery wheel. Then it has to dry for a day, and I trim it and dry it more over the furnace. It gets fired first in the electric kiln. I make all my own glazes and stencils. After a piece is glazed, it gets fired for 12 hours in the big propane-fired kiln. I have a 1,000-gallon propane tank, which I need because the kiln burns a million BTUs an hour when all the burners are lit. The temperature gets up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a long process. The mugs I made yesterday will be done by January, maybe December if I’m lucky.

For shoppers at The Rocks Marketplace, there's no need to wait for the next batch of Joan's fabulous wares our shelves are stocked with her beautiful pottery, from mugs and bowls to casserole dishes and syrup pitchers, along with a wonderful array of gifts from artisans down the road and throughout the New England region!

Shops at The Rocks are open daily (closed Thanksgiving Day) from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Christmas Tree Time at The Rocks!

Frasers and Balsams and Canaans – oh, my! Looking for a fetching fir to trim for the holidays? Well, it’s Christmas tree time at The Rocks Estate! That’s right: the farm opens for the Christmas tree season Saturday, November 21st, and will stay open right through Christmas Eve. (Closed Thanksgiving Day.)

With row upon row of perfect Christmas trees, two gift shops brimming with unique finds, and all the holiday trimmings even Mrs. Claus could want, The Rocks is ready for the season! You’ll find wreaths and ornaments, skillfully crafted gifts from a myriad of local artisans, and fragrant firs perfect for any room.

On weekends, there are horse-drawn wagon rides through the historic estate. The Rocks’ own Green Father Christmas visits Saturday afternoons through December 12th. There will be marshmallows for roasting at the fire pit, and Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country will be serving up hot beverages and other treats for hungry shoppers and tree seekers.

For more information about The Rocks and the holiday season at the farm, visit TheRocks’ online calendar

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Tree Grows in Bethlehem: Rocks Estate featured in Yankee magazine

If you’ve picked up the most recent issue of Yankee magazine, you may notice a familiar scene: the fields of The Rocks Estate! The Rocks is thrilled to be featured in New England’s favorite magazine, and the experience of working with the Yankee staff to bring The Rocks’ story to the page was wonderful.

“I’d been asking Yankee to do a story on The Rocks for probably 12 years,” said longtime Rock Estate manager Nigel Manley. Last spring he finally got the call he’d been waiting for, from Yankee editor Mel Allen, who was interested in featuring The Rocks in its holiday issue.

Photographer Matt Kalinowski takes a shot of Manley and dog Keswick.
“It’s the magazine’s 80th anniversary year, and they were looking for New England places that have been around for a long time. The Rocks fit that bill,” Manley said. “The editors were really great about scheduling, both for photographs and interviews, making sure the weather was right and no one felt rushed. I’m really impressed with how much effort they put into it to make sure the end result was really good.”

Allen and contributing editor Annie Graves spent an entire day with Manley at the farm last spring, talking with him about his nearly 30 years at The Rocks, the process of growing Christmas trees, the estate’s long and storied history, and the enduring spirit of the holidays that permeates The Rocks year-round.

Once the snow fell in December, art director Lori Pedrick and photographer Matt Kalinowski spent another day at the farm, traipsing through freshly fallen snow and weaving through neat rows of Christmas trees. They took countless photographs – of Manley in the fields, the Rocks’ wreath-makers hard at work, the volunteers on the horse-drawn wagon rides, staff members in the shop, and customers at the farm.

“I’ve always loved to read Yankee, and my family gets our Christmas tree at The Rocks every year, so it wasn’t really much of a stretch to spend a morning wandering the fields, playing in the snow, and checking out the trees,” said Meghan McPhaul of Franconia, whose family was recruited for the photo shoot. “We’d already picked out our tree the weekend before, but it was great to have a bonus day at The Rocks – and we got to visit the horses and take one more wagon ride, which the kids always love.”

The story, titled “A Tree Grows in Bethlehem,” is featured in Yankee’s “Finding Christmas in New England” issue, published this month.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Local artisans at The Rocks: Hillary McMahon of Wild Oaks Farm

We’re proud to offer a plethora of locally-made items in the Rocks Marketplace, and we make it a point to seek out artisans and their wares from surrounding towns and throughout the New England region. One of these is Hillary McMahon of Wild Oaks Farm, not far down the road from The Rocks Estate in Landaff, New Hampshire.

Winter Hike soap in festive shapes
Hillary makes goat milk soap in a variety of scents, from traditional Tea Tree and Cedar Wood to seasonal offerings like Santa’s Tree, Winter Hike, and Snow Day. She manages her 10-acre farm between shifts at her day job, working for her family’s painting business. She also moonlights this time of year as a wreath decorator at The Rocks.

We asked Hillary to give us some insight into Wild Oaks Farm and her fabulous soaps – and Hardy Hand Salve. Here’s what she told us…

Are you the sole Wild Oaks proprietor?
Yes I am. The farmer, the grain and hay hauler, hoof trimmer, milker and the soaper! But I get a lot of support from my family and friends, who have been great about lending a helping hand when I need it.

How many goats do you have at the farm, and what breed are they?
We have up to 20 goats in summer, with all the kids. Right now I have two breeding bucks and seven does. They’re Oberhasli goats, a Swiss breed known to be very friendly and docile. In the peak of milking season our girls average 8-10.5 pounds of milk daily. Excess milk is either used in our household or fed to our pigs – they love it! Beyond the goats, we have two pigs (seasonal), one mini horse, 24 laying hens, and two ducks at the farm.

How did you get started with goats – and making soap from goat milk?
About 10 years ago, we had a couple of Oberhasli goats as companions for our aging horses. I wanted a way to nurture my love for animals and also have an income from that love – hence the farm and goat milk soap business. I began creating the formulas for my products in the spring of 2013 and selling them that fall. I love creating, testing and marketing new products! Last year I came out with Hardy Hand Salve. As a farmer and working in the store, my hands are constantly cracking to the point of bleeding. I knew I needed to make a product that penetrated, healed and protected my skin without being too oily so I was unable to carry on with day-to-day tasks. I now have happy hands!

What else goes into your soaps?
I take pride that goat milk is the first ingredient on my label! I believe if you are purchasing goat milk soap you should get the most milk per bar possible. Along with goat milk our bars are created with a blend of oils and cocoa butter. All oils and butters lend their own special qualities to soap. Wild Oaks Farm does make different varieties of soap - we have a Bug-OFF bar that is popular in the spring through summer months, an All Four Paws bar that is formulated to be a very conditioning bar for all animals, three different scented shave soaps, and a kitchen scrub bar that removes everything from garlic and onion to gas and oil smells. We offer our bar soaps unscented, unscented with oats (for extra nourishment), scented with essential oils and over 30 varieties scented with fragrances.

You’ll find soaps from Wild Oaks Farm and myriad other fantastic, locally-crafted items in the shops at The Rocks this season!