WILLIAMSTOWN -- Stephen Smithers of Ashfield, master silversmith, holds a small bowl made of silver. Unlike the smooth, reflective finished pieces he has on display, the bowl in his hand is dull and ridged. He lays the bowl on his workbench and carefully taps it with a small hammer.
"If you look carefully, it's gradually ironing out those ridges, and making it smoother," he tells onlookers.
Smithers was one of six local decorative artists who demonstrated their crafts at Sunday's "Free Family Day" at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Head of Education Programs Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer said between 700 and 800 people attended the event. They got to see master artists practicing their crafts and ask questions, as well as learn about a time when most objects were carefully crafted and one of a kind.
The event, one of three free days The Clark holds every year, is meant to help families think and talk about art, Ostheimer said.
"Some people who aren't used to visiting an art museum can feel intimidated," she said. "So we hold these events to make them more comfortable, and to make people used to coming into an art museum. We really believe that the arts enrich family life."
Sunday's event also featured arts and crafts projects for children, a sing-along with local band The Wandering Rocks, and gallery tours geared toward families.
Tim Duncan of Williamstown, whose handmade pottery was on display, demonstrated how he creates clay objects to a crowd of interested onlookers.
Duncan, who also works as a special education teacher at Brayton Elementary School in North Adams, said he set up a workspace in his home two years ago.
"I have my own glazes, and do my own firings," he said.
For Duncan, the importance of the craft goes back to his own purchase of pottery before he started working himself. Something like a handmade bowl can have great sentimental value, he said.
"It's the idea that someone takes it home, and it ends up being their favorite cereal bowl," he said. "Or a mug ends up being their go-to mug on Saturday mornings."
While artists like Duncan learned from another master artist, Smithers is almost entirely self taught -- he never apprenticed under another silversmith, he said, before setting up his first shop in Shelburne Falls in 1979.
"What I learned was mostly from books, but it was also just people giving me antiques to repair and polish and rework," he said. "It was basically trial by error."
Smithers, who works with his sons Chris and Rick Powers, said keeping the tradition alive is one of the most important things to him.
"The pieces represent a time where everyone had a trade and were able to make things," he said. "If you put it in a historical perspective, these are objects all made in this country by people who spent their whole lives using these hand tools and creating these objects of beauty and heirlooms."
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