Exeter Fine Crafts has been supporting handcrafted arts and craftspeople in New England for almost 50 years. Having first opened our doors to the public on October 31st, 1966, the idea for our gallery had long been in the making.
Early Days — The Exeter Craft Center:
Before there was an arts and crafts gallery in downtown Exeter, there was the Exeter Home Industries Group. This nonprofit group, made up of 280 people by 1966, was a part of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, one of the oldest and most recognized craft organizations in the country. With a membership that numbered over 3,000 individuals, the League was organized into several regional groups, including Exeter Home Industries.
Active in the seacoast area for over 25 years, the Exeter group was well known for it’s annual Christmas fair that featured unique displays of craft media and exceptional home baked food. Seeing the need to provide a venue to serve the rapidly growing seacoast area, the Exeter group sought to establish a permanent brick and mortar location in downtown Exeter. Encouraged by the success of the League’s summer season and record breaking annual craftsmen’s fair that year, the Exeter group, headed by chairperson, Merle Walker and League craftsmen, Carolyn and Freddie Pulsifer, worked diligently to open their, “year-round shop.”
With a generous grant of $750 from the New Hampshire Charitable Fund and $400 from the League to go towards remodeling, the group established their new craft center in the former Extension Service Office within the Masonic building on Water Street. Called the Exeter Craft Center, it was the first League shop to open since 1951. Boasting that the center would offer a full roster of classes as well as a selling area, it was everyone’s hope that the Exeter Craft Center would serve as the focal point for craftspeople in southeastern New Hampshire.
After many weeks of planning and innumerable hours of volunteer efforts, the Exeter Craft Center was completed. Not only featuring the work of juried League members, the craft center also sold products from local craftsmen who were accepted into the shop by the craft center’s own regional jury.
“Talk about activity— once the members decided to go ahead, the chips began to fly. Committees were formed, volunteers jumped in to construct, paint, hang, change and viola!” Joe Trippetti, Executive Director LNHC, 1962-1969
Among the articles for sale were woodwork, pottery, hand-wrought silver, polished pewter, decoupage, toys, hand-knit goods and other items. A small section of the shop was also used for selling edibles since the Exeter group was well known for its baked goods. Set to open daily, Monday through Saturday, the craft center would also feature special events and demonstrations throughout the year.
A true community effort, one paper boasted that the Exeter Craft Center was well worth a visit as it represented what local people can accomplish when working together towards a common goal. Under the guide of Merle Walker who managed the shop from 1967- 1972 and Freddie and Carolyn Pulsifer, who served as the Education Chairman from 1966- 1969, the Exeter Craft Center blossomed into a bustling retail gallery offering year-round classes to the greater community.
Reflecting on the success of establishing the Exeter Craft Center, Merle gave credit to both Freddie and Carolyn Pulsifer stating, “The trials of getting the Exeter shop on the road- the midnight hours of planning, painting, building and the satisfaction of success include (the Pulsifer’s) constant presence and support.”
Exeter League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (ELNHC):
Gaining a reputation of attracting talented craftspeople, over the next several decades, the Exeter Craft Center prospered. In addition to supporting local artisans, the center also offered a full roster of classes with everything from jewelry, pottery and weaving to basket making, stained glass and chip carving.
“There is something unique about your group which radiates good will and cooperativeness. Every craftsmen who has had reason to visit the (Exeter Craft) Center has kind words about this special something and they are one of your best barometers outside the local membership.” Joe Trippetti, Executive Director LNHC, 1962-1969
In 1985, as a response to changes in tax laws that complicated the League’s ability to function as both an educational nonprofit and retail outlet for it’s craftspeople, the League split into two groups: the nonprofit League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Foundation and the Crafts State Corporation (CSC). During this period there were many changes in the way the shops related to the League, their names were changed and some chose to leave the organization and go on their own. In 1989, the Exeter Craft Center’s name was officially changed to the Exeter League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (ELNHC). The shop maintained it’s local jury and was still represented by it’s own board of directors.
It was during this time that the ELNHC shop became one of the most successful fine craft galleries in the state. All the studios were updated and the sales floor got a facelift. More educational programs were instituted including a free monthly Artreach program and a yearly weeklong summer workshop for children. As the decades passed, the ELNHC shop also became increasingly independent from its parent organization.
Exeter Fine Crafts:
The ELNHC shop sustained its connection to the League throughout the nineties and into 2000. Beginning in 2001, with shifts in the way the League dealt with its retail galleries and dissolution of the regional juries, the shop eventually made the decision to run as an independent arts and crafts gallery. By standing alone, the ELNHC shop would be able to jury more local crafts, replacing the requirement to carry more statewide juried products. On April 1, 2001 the ELNHC shop officially became Exeter Fine Crafts. In the year that followed, the shop expanded its space to double the original size and added many new artists to the fold.
Although it has grown and changed over the years, Exeter Fine Crafts continues to offer the best of traditional and contemporary fine craft from more than 200 juried artisans. Having become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2012, we are even more focused and determined to serve as a resource for craftspeople and appreciators of fine craft in New England. Echoing the sentiments of its founders long ago, Exeter Fine Crafts is still a place to learn, appreciate and support handcrafted work. A true community venture, Exeter Fine Crafts is as much the vibrant artistic community as it was back in 1966.
Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri & Sat 10 - 5:30
Thurs 10 - 7 • Sun 12 - 4