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Hit the road for art
Stan Moeller and other artists at the Mills at Salmon Falls in Rollinsford, N.H., are taking part in two open studios next month. (Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe)

Artists are putting their colors on display, and so is nature

It's a two-for-one seasonal special: fall foliage and out-of-town open studios

Summer now has cleared away. Edward Hopper light follows leaf peepers out of the city as red maples, russet oaks, and mango beeches burst forth like vivid watercolors. It's the most colorful season in New England, and the fall leaves aren't the only stunning visuals on display. Artists and craftsmen in Boston and beyond are also opening their doors, which makes it the perfect time of year to explore the region's beauty, inside and out. So hop in the car and treat yourself to a little something we like to call art peeping.

A treasure map
Beth Drainville's studio in Rockville, R.I., is what Global Positioning Systems were designed for. Take a left at the wooded fork in the dirt road and you half expect to see a hobbit, not a pleasant impressionistic painter with a warm smile.

Drainville is one of 30 artists displaying work this weekend along the HopArts Studio Trail a string of tucked-away artist studios in sleepy Hope Valley, a former blue-collar farming area. These mid-career artists, who ditched Providence and New York for more space and less noise, created the open studios trail last year to prove that art happens in rural areas, too. And at a perfect time of year to boot.

"Everyone likes to get out this time of year and look at the foliage - it's the peak week," said Drainville, who paints the bucolic beauty around her in a restored outbuilding on her 18th century farm.

The trail is in such a remote part of the state that even Ocean State natives call it "the woods." Driving through lush county roads bordered by tall trees, old houses, and empty fields, you can visit 19 studios, each more hidden than the next. "It's a bit like an Advent calendar," said Leah Grear, a printmaker and art teacher who works out of a restored Victorian in Hope Valley Center. "You never know what's behind a door."

The eye candy of the turning leaves will fortify your soul, but not your stomach, so pack a picnic and a full tank of gas.

"People tell me it's an adventure," said Drainville, whose husband, Steve, is opening up his sculpture workshop in a hayloft a few yards away. "We are like treasures they look for on a map. Once they get here they say 'Oh, we found you.' "

HopArts Studio Trail, Hope Valley, R.I. Oct. 13-14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Map online. hoparts.org

From Boston, take Interstate 95 south to Route 138, before the Connecticut border. Soon, flaming trees, barns, and farms will replace gas stations and convenient stores in this serene inland area.

Keeping artistry alive
The Salmon Falls River, which divides New Hampshire and Maine, gently curves through tiny Rollinsford, N.H. The mighty falls that powered the long-closed textile mills cast a potent spell over the village; in autumn, warm light dances on the leaf-covered water.

One of those mills has been practically reclaimed by artists, who turned the space into studios called the Mills at Salmon Falls. It's among the 75 stops on the League of N.H. Craftsmen Open Studio Tour on Veteran's Day weekend, an ambitious event that includes studios from the seacoast to beyond the White Mountains about a 100-mile trek in all.

At the Mills, fabric artist Tinka Pritchett keeps silk cocoons in her studio to demonstrate where her stunning woven scarves and wraps come from. "It's funny," she says, "lots of people have never seen this before and have no idea where silk comes from."

Over in Exeter, N.H., people no doubt have driven past Dottie Bragdon's Colonial house for years without knowing that several times a month, the frequent insomniac fires up her backyard kiln at 2 a.m. to transform clay into elegant bowls. Bragdon's black-bear pots fetch $100 apiece at League gift shops.

Bragdon will be working on her potter's wheel during open studios to teach visitors how to make their own clay pots. This is all part of the mission of the 75-year-old League: to keep artistry alive in the state. "It's not really about selling," Bragdon said. "The League wants us to educate."

Back at the Mills at Salmon Falls, Barbara Smith McLaughlin, who pushed papers for 14 years as a corporate negotiator for General Electric's Jack Welch, now makes necklaces and bracelets out of sea glass she finds on Rye Beach.

"People have to know you can make a living doing your craft," she said. During open studios weekend she will demonstrate jewelry-making with a torch and solder.

Next door, Wen Redmond's creative warren is an inspiration in itself. Along a bank of windows that overlook the rocky falls, a cluster of crystals line one windowsill, sea shells another. To make her dreamy scenes, Redmond drapes transparent fabric over photos of rocks and trees. "Making art is all about reality," she said. "You put into it what you have inside."

League of N.H. Craftsmen Open Studio Tour, Nov. 9-11, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Map available at nhcrafts.org

The Artists of Salmon Falls River Open Studios, Nov. 17-18, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 1 Front St., Rollinsford, N.H. millartists.com

Take Interstate 95 north to Portsmouth and get off at Route 236 North. Then slow down: You don't want to miss the pumpkin patches and late-harvest corn and apples sold at roadside farm stands. Once you reach the town center of Rollinsford, a small bridge takes you across the gurgling Salmon Falls.

A big-city vibe
North Adams is a city that takes autumn seriously. It holds an annual fall foliage parade and has now added open studios to its seasonal festivities.

When the first open studios were held last fall, the artist-friendly Berkshire town was buzzing. "This took the organizing committee by storm. It was really good for the local economy," said Ed Sedarbaum, spokesman for North Adams Open Studios whose husband, Howard Cruse, will be displaying his cartoons in one of five Main Street storefronts-turned art space this weekend.

This weekend, 85 artists, writers, and musicians will open their studios, including Ed Carson, who paints Wayne Thiebaud-esque slices of blueberry pie and cakes in the honking Eclipse Mill along the Mohawk Trail.

The former economically depressed town along Route 2 started attracting artists when Mass MoCA moved into the Sprague Electric industrial complex eight years ago. Now a Boston/New York vibe courses through the city, even at Cup and Saucer, a café where photographer Jennifer Goodhind, who's known for her giant bees and flowers, will show her work.

There are added perks to being an open studio-goer in North Adams: you get free admission to Mass MoCA, and you can hop a free trolley when your feet get tired.

It may take you a few hours to get here, but when you consider nature's striking red, gold, and orange fall palette on display along the way, it's almost as if you'll be looking at art all day long.

North Adams Open Studios, Oct. 13 and 14, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Map available at northadamsopenstudios.com.

Take Route 2 west to North Adams. Traffic thins once you pass Gardner, and horses replace Hummers in your rearview mirror.

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