PERU - Something's happening at the old Community House in Peru, where the Historical Society occupies the second floor, but whose ground floor had lain vacant for the last decade or so.

Susanne and Rich Ragone have been hard at work, plastering, sanding, and painting.

"Lots of people have been poking their head in and ask what's going on," she says with a twinkle. "It's so exciting!"

Ed Brown of Windham is making the sign now: "The Main Street Makery, Community Craft Workshop, Peru, Vermont."

It's the incarnation of a dream that Susanne has had since she arrived in Londonderry 35 years ago.

"I fell in love with this space, right here, when it was occupied by Chris Miller, a woodworker," she said, even writing a letter to the town of Peru, expressing her interest in the event it became available.

Susan Ragone applies another coat of paint to one of the walls of a new arts business she and her husband are opening in Peru.
Susan Ragone applies another coat of paint to one of the walls of a new arts business she and her husband are opening in Peru. (Laura Yanne photo)

Susanne and her husband eventually moved to Peru. Meanwhile, she'd periodically return to her native New Jersey, lie on the beach and shape her vision. She'd dream about starting a place for people of all ages, of all abilities and varying interests, to be able to gather in a creative space, learning, teaching, making crafts. The idea was to "share, inspire, create."

After dreaming aloud to a group of Peru women at one of their monthly craft/social gatherings, one friend suggested that she make a proposal to the town council to try to secure the very space in the Community House that had first captivated her decades ago. Susanne set to work: she priced out construction costs "to restore the building to its 100-year-old personality.


Advertisement

" She outlined her idea of using the space for community craft-making. She brought examples of the kinds of work she plans to create: bead bracelets, a hooked rug, floor cloths (in Colonial days, torn ship sails were painted and used as floor coverings), handmade greeting cards The items she makes will be available for sale.

"The council said, 'Great! Go for it! Just don't ask us for any money,'" she laughs.

Holding a degree in art therapy, Susanne is skilled in jewelry making, printmaking, oil and watercolor painting, basket making, but surely her greatest asset is her imagination. An experienced teacher and crafter, her talents are wide-ranging, and she's both whimsical and practical. She can talk about painting stones and wreath-making with the same enthusiasm she has for leading demonstrations on chair caning and stripping furniture. She describes a vision of collaborative community collage, or a monthly project where many people can contribute to an art piece. She indicates where there will be cabinets full of yarns, buttons, stones, beads, paints, recycled objects.

Her ideas come shooting out of her like sparklers, but the fact that she's sheet-rocking and plastering and painting the Community House demonstrate that she's eminently capable of realizing them.

"Since I was about four years-old, I'd hang out in the basement with Dad, a pipefitter. He'd bring home bits of copper pipes, bags of glitter, or rolls of colored paper, coils of wire, and we'd just make stuff," she said.

Her mother taught her to sew. "I come from crafty parents!" she added.

She worked at Dutton's Farmstand in Manchester for six years, where the signs she painted colored the place, along with her jokes and friendliness. "I left on Father's Day, in honor of Dad," whose craft legacy and small inheritance are enabling her to manifest the dream.

Susanne's ideas are as unstoppable as a cork in a shaken bottle of champagne. She gestures to a bright sunny spot by a window. "If three little old ladies want to get together and hang out and knit, they can come here," she says. "We'll have tea every day at three."

Rather than have a formal membership, Susanne wants to keep the doors open and offer low-cost instruction for people of all ages.

"The school bus stops right outside here, so we could have an after-school art program, or kids' birthday parties."

The revitalization of the little community of Peru will include the reopening of the JJ Hapgood store, a traditional general store and that will include an eatery.

"In the winter, if one or two of the people in a group don't feel like going skiing on a particular day, there'll be something else for them to do - they can get a bite to eat and then come over here and make something."

With the fresh new look in a lively little hamlet that's been waiting for someone like the imaginative, energetic Susanne Ragone to bring the old Community House back to life, the Main Street Makery will open its doors the weekend of the Peru Fair, Sept. 28.

Check out progress of the Main Street Makery on Facebook.