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Rosenfeld: Pulse Of Vt In Jamaica

08/17/12 7:55AM By Paul Rosenfeld
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(Host) Earlier this year, as part of a digital storytelling class, Middlebury College students Paul Rosenfeld of Saint Louis , and Tik Root of Ripton, decided to explore Vermont 's Route 100. Along the way, they stopped to meet people and learn about life in contemporary Vermont.

Near the Massachusetts border, Route 100 passes through a number of small towns that cater to out of state visitors, winter and summer. It's a part of Vermont where the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

One of those town is Jamaica, and it's where Root and Rosenfeld's travels in search of the pulse of life in contemporary Vermont concludes - with a visit to a glass-blowing workshop owned by an independent-minded member of the state's diverse craft community.

(Rosenfeld) One of the most fascinating things about traveling Route 100, was hearing how each person we met carves their nitch into the state. In Jamaica, we happened upon Hank Schwartz, co-owner of the Hot Glass Works store on Route 100. Hank, and his wife Toby, are both master glass blowers. They came to Vermont in 1978 with no intention of staying forever, but, as Hank explained with a smile, they were finishing up with school and trying to decide what to do next when Toby made an interesting suggestion.

(Hank) She said my family has a piece of property we could build a little storage shed, leave everything there and go traveling.

(Rosenfeld) They managed to get to Vermont before they ran out of gas for the truck and Hank says the rest is history.

(Hank) Well, we didn't have any money to travel. I mean we didn't have any money to begin with. We were college students. So we lived in that storage shed which was 16x20 for eight years.

(Rosenfeld) As accidental settlers, Hank and Toby had to find a way to make ends meet. They did this by putting a very unusual skill to good use in less than ideal conditions.

(Hank) We blew glass outdoors for three years-to blow the glass, to sell the glass, to make the money, to buy the nails, to build the building. Our first winter was really hard. We had no firewood. Welded a handmade wood stove. And somehow we made it through that first winter.

(Rosenfeld) The second winter was also hard, but not as hard as the first one. Hank says living in Vermont has been a bit like climbing a ladder.

(Hank) And I tell people if you start at the very bottom, there's nowhere else to go but up!

(Rosenfeld) Today, Hank has a philosophical view of those early years.

(Hank) Boy, when we were blowing glass outdoors people thought we were struggling, we were having the hardest time. And we thought we were doing great, we had our freedom, you know, nobody telling us what to do. Now, I have this store, and everybody thinks that I'm doing really great, and I know we're struggling we don't have our freedom.

(Rosenfeld) Hank says that when his kids graduated from college, he took them aside...

(Hank) ...and I said, I'm gonna apologize to you now for all the glass you're gonna have to deal with when I die cause I don't plan on stopping making it. And my daughter, with her master's degree, looked me straight in the eye and said why don't you sell it before you die.

(Rosenfeld) So now Hank's a storekeeper, and he says that's something else he never planned on.

(Hand) Life throws you these hooks, you know. Or like my wife says I jump off cliffs with both feet and then I look. The work in here spans thirty years. So, I mean, I look at them and I don't necessarily see the piece, I see that part of my life.

(Rosenfeld) When Tik and I look around the Hot Glass Works store on Route 100, we see a small enterprise that's both practical and creative. It's pretty emblematic for the state itself, and a good way to wind up our travels in search of the pulse of Vermont.

For Tik Root and myself, I'm Paul Rosenfeld.

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