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Handcrafted in the Heartlands

Too many people today have lost touch with how to make something with their hands, but there’s an ongoing renaissance of do-it-yourself-ism in the United States. People are making art for art’s sake and learning how to fashion objects for their own use: They brew their own beer, pour their own candles and throw their own pottery.

Groups can tap into the surge of hands-on art and artisan experiences in these studios, galleries, folk schools and communities throughout America’s Heartland.

Glass City

Toledo, Ohio

Nearly 130 years after Edward Drummond Libbey moved his family’s glass company from Massachusetts to Ohio, Toledo is proudly wearing the moniker “the Glass City.”

Today, Libbey and Owens Corning still make glass products in downtown, and Owens Illinois still operates just across the Maumee River. Pilkington, formerly the Libbey-Owens-Ford Company, still makes automotive and architectural glass in the city.

“The history is still very much entrenched in our culture,” said Cathy Miller, director of tourism for the Destination Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The city’s glass legacy shifted to include art in the 1960s when Toledo became the birthplace of the Studio Glass Movement. At Firenation Glass Studio and Gallery in nearby Holland, groups can take blown-glass classes, arrange for private events, tour the gallery and drop in on demonstrations during open houses. The Copper Moon Studio and Gallery also offers daily classes in fused glass.

The Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion opened in 2006. Architects designed the building with exterior and interior walls made of large, curving glass panels, resulting in a series of see-through spaces in a nearly transparent building. The Glass Pavilion offers daily glassblowing demonstrations when it’s open and has studios where groups can make seasonal glass pieces to take home.

The CVB’s new self-guided Glass City Tour highlights stops such as Edward Libbey’s home in the Old West End neighborhood and the Libbey Glass Factory Outlet, where groups get a 15 percent discount.

North House Folk School

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Nestled on the Lake Superior shoreline in northeastern Minnesota, Grand Marais is less than 50 miles south of the Canadian border. Its picturesque remoteness is part of the reason it became a hub for artists and artisans, but the main reason is Birney Quick, the Minneapolis arts professor who spent nearly 30 years championing the tiny town as an arts destination.

The North House Folk School was founded in 1997 and, shortly after, started restoring two 1930s timber warehouses on the Grand Marais harbor. Soon after, the campus grew to include adjacent historic fishing buildings and two large docks.

Groups of up to 50 can arrange to take the Tour of North House to see the school’s campus and six buildings. A guide gives a short presentation and leads visitors to see what’s happening in the different classrooms, such as spinning, basket weaving and blacksmithing, said program director Jessa Frost.

The school can break up larger groups for half- and full-day classes on bead embroidery, woodcarving, leaf printing, bookbinding, pie baking, making wood-fired flatbread and more, she said.

From June through September, the school has an instructor in residence on campus, “so there is an artisan demonstrating all day long,” she said — or at least from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Groups can buy items made by artisan instructors or peruse books and tools in the gift shop.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.