Written by: Brian Hand, Executive Director Cook Forest Sawmill Center for the Arts

Sawmill Theatre (5)When I first arrived at the Sawmill it reminded me of a location that a troupe of Shakespearean characters might happen upon in the Forest of Arden. The Cook Forest Sawmill Center for the Arts is truly is a jewel in the heart of the forest.

The original building was a sawmill built by John Cook in 1826. By 1976 it housed little more than a small museum. That is when our visionary founder, Verna Leith, stepped in on a mission to repurpose the facility. Verna’s dislike of unused buildings motivated her on a campaign to gain the State’s permission to use the building to house an arts center.

Her tenacity and leadership expanded the original building to include offices and a modern classroom. A theater, aptly named the “Verna Leith Theatre” was added in 1984 and the Sawmill as we know it was complete. It is truly a story of the love of art, love of this area and a love of people.

The Sawmill Arts Center hosts an artisan market which sells the wares of numerous local artists and classes at which artisans and amateurs alike learn and hone their art. These missions interrelate to make each discipline at the Sawmill much, much more than the sum of its parts.

It is no secret the Sawmill has seen better years as compared to recent times. The demographics of our artists, volunteers and supporters have changed. The prevalence of electronic devices for use in entertainment makes it difficult to attract a new generation to live performances and hands on arts and crafts. Yet I see these challenges as opportunities not road blocks. We too will adapt to changing times. It is in our nature — given to us by our entrepreneurial founder Verna Leith.

The leadership our revitalized board and new staff is dedicated to the vision of making the Sawmill an “arts destination”. We will evolve and change. The buildings may look the same but the programs will rise to meet our challenges and we will soon convince our critics that the best is yet to come for the Sawmill.

While we regroup we continue to host, literally, generations of artists, theatre goers, locals and tourists — all of whom continue to enjoy an exciting facility set in the peaceful setting of Cook Forest. Come join us soon and at the place, “where nature meets the arts”.

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