Classy, fun, and adorable are some words to describe the wide selection of items gathered for you at the shop Artisans at Middle River in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Owner Dot Drobney is enjoying her 4th career as a shop owner and curator of the pieces of art, handiwork, and edibles she has selected to sell. She currently carries work from 38 artists on consignment, 31 of whom are from Connecticut, and sells several local products such as maple syrup, honey, soaps, and candles. What is really interesting is that Dot can tell you fascinating stories about all of the handmade items and the artists who made them. For instance, there are wonderful children’s dresses, t-shirts, scarves, kitchen towels, and table runners in a beautiful shade of indigo. The woman who makes them actually grows her own indigo (a fleshy plant in the bean family,) harvests it, and brews the dye she uses. Another woman hand dyes the reeds and makes the straps she incorporates into her woven baskets, backpacks, and other décor. The Marilyn Mae Farm soy candles are hand-poured, with fragrances including strawberry rhubarb pie and “s’more o’ that.” A portion of the proceeds from several of the candle selections supports causes such as autism awareness and rare childhood diseases. The Juniper Loft Soap Company makes small batches of goat milk soap featuring scents like Lily of the Valley, Berry Riesling, and Lilac Blooms.
A selection of nut butters (no peanuts!) featuring flavors of ginger snaps, cinnamon snickerdoodle, and coconut cardamom, are made by a small company called Ground Up. It is a women-owned busiat Middle River ness that provides job training to women “overcoming adversity through the sale of healthy and delicious nut butters.” Another treat available is Bee Infuzed specialty honey with different flavors including Chai, cinnamon, Matcha, turmeric, and even chili-pepper cayenne!
The Knitty Professor, a craftswoman who turns out adorable knit animals with whimsical features, is an actual UCONN professor who taught herself to knit during COVID. Other artists include jewelry designers, textile creators, a wooden bowl turner, a block print artist, a wind chime creator, and an eco-print silk scarf designer, who are among the many talented people whose work is featured. Family members’ work is also featured in the shop. Dot’s husband Mark makes the eye-catching laser engraved wooden pieces, which are always favorably received by customers. Her niece, Alicia Corsini, crochets children’s clothing and women’s accessories, and also makes “designer” face masks. Dot herself, a “semi-professional” photographer, has her work on display. She specializes in portraits of children and dogs, and has also photographed weddings in the past. In fact, she explains that “I had been thinking about expanding my photo work into more of a gallery type setting and, just as my lease was expiring at my third and final photo studio, the opportunity to rent my space here in Stafford arose...which I took as a good sign. Before I signed my lease, I contacted ten of my favorite artisans and asked if they’d join me in this venture. Within an hour of emailing, I heard back from all ten saying that if I rented it, they would come. That was in May of 2019, and we have now grown to a group of 38 artisans.”
A woman of many talents, Dot has, in fact, had several careers before opening her shop. She says, “I taught for twenty years, earning my Bachelors at the age of 44, and my Masters at 51. I was a dental assistant/practice manager for 20 years before that, and finally pursued my dream to teach fifth grade and up. I was the Curator of Education at a local children’s museum for my first year, then taught a year of Kindergarten, two years as a remedial reading/math teacher, and six years as a fifth-grade teacher while completing my Masters in Reading/Language Arts. I also obtained additional certification as a Reading Specialist and Reading Consultant, and spent my last 10 years as an Early Literacy Specialist in a K-2 school. I retired from teaching six years ago.”
Of her current business she says, “My biggest learning curve with establishing this business was streamlining the accounting portion of the shop. As the number of artisans grew, so did the amount of accounting that was necessary to keep track of sales. Since most of my artisans are on a consignment basis, my husband and I developed a series of Excel spreadsheets for each artisan, and my wholesale accounts as well. Second to accounting challenges is learning how to utilize social media to promote the artisans, and new work as it arrives.”
She is obviously enjoying her latest endeavor and her favorite part is “when someone new walks in the door, pauses to look around, and says ‘WOW’! It makes me feel good that visitors appreciate the quality of the work created by our artisans.”
Artisans at Middle River is located at
60 Main Street in Stafford Springs, CT
Note that Arts on Main, a street-wide celebration, is held the second Friday of every month in Stafford Springs. For more information, check their Facebook page.