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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Recognizing Danforth Pewter

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2015-12-17

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    LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to take a moment to celebrate the success of another Vermont business, Danforth Pewter, which this year celebrates 40 years of producing quality, hand-crafted pewter products. Danforth Pewter--owned and operated by Fred and Judi Danforth--opened for business in 1975 in Woodstock, VT. What started as a family business operating in a milk house in an old dairy barn has expanded to a workshop and flagship store in Middlebury and a network of retail stores in Burlington, Waterbury, and Woodstock, VT, and in Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

    This rich history of Danforth Pewter, however, dates back more than two-and-a-half centuries, when Thomas Danforth II opened his pewter shop in Middletown, CT in 1755. Generations of Danforths followed in the patriarch's footsteps until 1873. A century later, Fred Danforth and his wife, Judi, also an artist, rekindled the family tradition and, following in the footsteps of his great-great-great-great-great- grandfather, reopened what is today a thriving business with a reputation for quality that extends far beyond the Green Mountains of Vermont. Fast forward to today, and the Danforth pewterer legacy lives on. Using the same techniques to cast pewter today as were originally used by Thomas Danforth II is an even greater testament to the longevity of fine craftsmanship and the quality of the goods produced at Danforth Pewter.

    Every time Marcelle and I visit Danforth Pewter, we are impressed by the time and effort that goes into each piece. We shared the quality of this craftsmanship in 2008 when we shared palm stones crafted at Danforth Pewter with other delegates at the 2008 National Convention. Whenever we are in Middlebury, Marcelle and I try to stop in the store and see what new pieces are available. Our home in Vermont is dotted with Danforth Pewter pieces, and many hold special memories for us. These pieces are part of what makes our house in Vermont truly our home.

    The Burlington Free Press recently ran an article highlighting the long history of Danforth Pewter, punctuated with images of some of the company's most historic pieces. I ask unanimous consent that this December 11, 2015, article entitled ``Inside the world of Danforth Pewter' '' be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the Burlington Free Press, Dec. 11, 2015] Inside the World of Danforth Pewter (By Fred Danforth) In his wonderful book ``The Connecticut,'' Walter Hard tells of the development of trade along the Connecticut River by the American colonists. In one chapter he describes itinerant peddlers with horse-drawn carts who were the first to distribute the wares of the 18th-century artisans of the Connecticut Valley.

    Some of the wares on those carts were most likely pewter mugs and plates made by Thomas Danforth and his six sons in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

    Thomas Danforth opened his pewter workshop in Middletown, Connecticut, on the banks of the Connecticut River, in 1755 and his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons continued crafting pewter in their respective workshops until 1873, when the last of the early American Danforth pewterers died. Some of the pewter pieces made by these Colonial and early American Danforths have made their way into the Smithsonian, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, the DeWitt-Wallace Museum in Colonial Williamsburg, and many other American museums.

    Fred and Judi connect In the middle of the 20th century, Judi Danforth, who was then Judi Whipple, also grew up on the shores of the Connecticut River, in Claremont. New Hampshire. Fred Danforth, whose father was the family genealogist, came to Vermont from Ohio to attend Middlebury College. When Fred and Judi met in Middlebury, they discovered that they not only liked each other a lot, but they had a common interest in pewter. Judi had studied silversmithing and pewtering at the school for American Craftsmen in Rochester, New York, and was determined to become a pewterer.

    Fred aspired to fine woodworking and knew that the four pewter pieces on his family's mantle were made by his great- great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Danforth and his family. With a little cajoling Fred shifted his creative interest from wood to pewter. After a short apprenticeship in the basic skills of pewtering and a brief stint working for an entrepreneur in Nova Scotia, the two returned to Vermont and found the perfect spot to follow their new passion in Woodstock, and 102 years after the last of the early American Danforths stopped working in pewter, the Danforth family pewter trade came to life again, once more in the Connecticut River Valley.

    Using the rampant lion from Thomas Danforth's touchmark on their first sign, Fred and Judi Danforth opened their pewter shop in Woodstock, Vermont in 1975.

    Fred says ``We were inspired by the burgeoning revival of the American Crafts movement in Vermont in the 1970s. We were brimming with design ideas and our goal was to make well- designed appealing functional pieces that people could use every day and enjoy for generations.'' The shop in Woodstock was in the milk house of an old dairy barn. The makeshift showroom was in their living room in a tired 1789 farm house.

    `Into the woods' After two years of successfully attracting both locals and visiting tourists to their fledgling business, they decided to move closer to friends in Addison County to begin raising their family and to pursue a new approach to their business.

    ``We moved into the woods,'' Fred continues, ``some might say back to the land, in Lincoln. This presented new challenges for our business and we had to work hard to make it succeed. In order to reach customers we began attending more craft fairs and selectively selling our growing product line to stores around Vermont including Frog Hollow. We created our first touchmark based on the same rampant lion of Thomas Danforth II.'' ``And this was when Judi became a sculptor. She began carving wax into a whimsical range of buttons in the shapes of animals and flowers. They were immediately popular on the craft fair circuit, not to mention on the sweaters of our two beautiful young daughters.'' The business grew in new directions as the couple went to trade shows and sold their buttons and pins and then ornaments to stores all over the country.

    Expand to Middlebury By 1988, they had 12 employees and had outgrown the workshop in the Danforths' barn in Lincoln. They built a new facility next to Woody Jackson's Holy Cow in Middlebury. Soon thereafter Judi's carving skill won them the license to make Winnie the Pooh pewter for Walt Disney, which led to another period of growth in a new direction.

    In the late 1990s, the company returned to its roots and refocused its energies on Fred and Judi's original designs. In 1997 Danforth Pewter was honored by the SBA when Fred and Judi were the co-winners of the Vermont Small Business Person of the Year Award.

    In 2006, the company took another big step, putting their flagship retail store in Middlebury into the same building as the workshop. One set of observation windows lets guests see 100-year-old lathes being used by skilled artisans to make oil lamps, candlesticks, baby cups and other holloware. Another set of windows gives a look into the casting shop where visitors can see molten pewter being carefully poured into some of the hundreds of vulcanized rubber molds the company uses to make jewelry, holiday ornaments and figurines.

    Network of pewter stores Today, the company employs around 60 people, and the network of Danforth Pewter stores has grown to include a boutique on Middlebury's Main St; stores in Burlington, Waterbury, Woodstock, and Williamsburg, Virginia; a holiday kiosk in the University Mall in South Burlington in November and December; and several retail events around New England. The company also has a thriving online business at www.danforthpewter.com, as well as a national wholesale business. In addition, Danforth makes custom designs, such as the bottle stoppers for one of Whistlepig Whiskey's high-end offerings, and holiday ornaments for Life is Good.

    A lot has changed since Thomas Danforth II opened his pewter workshop in 1755, but there are a lot of things that he'd recognize if he walked into Danforth's Middlebury workshop today. The process of casting pewter by pouring molten pewter into a mold is a technique he used that's still in use today.

    Hopefully, he'd also recognize a passion for good design and for quality craftsmanship. And he'd certainly recognize some of the pieces of Colonial-era and early American Danforth pewter that are on display in each Danforth store, including one or two that he made himself all the way back in the 1700s.


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