In 1971, Mill Street in Middlebury offered three main attractions: an old abandoned mill building, an overstuffed second-hand shop, and a popular bar called The Alibi. Some have said that the area wasn’t the kind of place where you would want your kids to hang out. At the time there weren’t many successful businesses in the village, and residents hadn’t yet considered the potential of inviting tourists to town.
Enter Allen Johnson. With the assistance of several key friends, he envisioned and created the Frog Hollow Craft Center. The main purpose of the craft center was to give local children a chance to work with their hands and interact with professional craft artists. Johnson initiated excitement about the potential for the old mill building adjacent to Otter Creek Falls, and soon the building was cleaned out and renovated.
The first resident potter at Frog Hollow was Dick Wissler. Dick's ceramic monsters became legendary, as did the work of other Frog Hollow resident artists. Visitors could witness craft artists in action, and soon a small shop full of their creations was set up. The early gallery setting was informal and displays were simple. Visitors were invited to relax on a couch, have a cup of coffee and enjoy good conversation. In the summer months, crafts were displayed outdoors on an improvised roof patio. Classes in virtually any craft were offered at Frog Hollow and quickly became an integral part of Middlebury's cultural identity. In the spirit of the times, the craft center's graphic images were hand-drawn and rather funky.
In 1975, Frog Hollow was honored as the nation's first state craft center. Although the title did not entitle the craft center to state funding, it did establish Frog Hollow as one of America's premiere fine craft centers.
In 1991 and 1992, Frog Hollow added galleries and educational programs in Burlington and Manchester, respectively.
As times changed and the needs of both the community and the organization evolved, the Manchester and beloved Middlebury galleries and educational components were closed. The base of operations was relocated to the busy Burlington location where it continues today, exhibiting the work of over 200 Vermont artisans on a rotating basis and making it one of Vermont's largest non-profit arts institutions. None of it would be possible without the vision of people like Allen Johnson or the support of Vermonters and visitors to the state. Things have changed a lot in 40 years, but the common thread between then and now is a love of fine, handmade craft.