It’s been a fair amount of time since I last visited North Adams for the annual Open Studios Event there. My last foray was as a guest exhibiting artist. This time out was as an interested spectator and arts indie blogger.
The decumbent autumnal greyness overhead saw the tires of my vehicle coming to rest in the attached roadside visitor’s lot of the Eclipse Mill, allowing a beginning terminus for the day’s planned cultural sortie. Well, not quite a sortie, but I had envisioned an ambitious agenda and wanted to take in much during a limited amount of time.
Photographer Stacey Hetherington was greeting visitors at a hallway table inside the main entrance of the mill. When I arrived, she was in conversation with ceramicist Gail Sellers. Photographer and ceramicist are, of course, only one each of the talents both engage in as both are multi-talented and very accomplished in many fields.
Sellers I’ve known for a time now in regional arts circles and Hetherington, I was just making acquaintance. During the card and information exchange, I was bemused to learn, not for the first time, that the arts indie aura, presence, whatever it’s becoming, preceded me. Fine. Teamwork and good branding in action. Bravo to all that have helped and supported!
So, I decided a start from the upper floors down might be the best way to go here and used the stairs to effect the plan. First off, though, I don’t want to mislead and say I took it all in. Not possible in the brief time I had and even a vastly more lengthy time as well, so I’ll just share a few accounts in a kind of breeze through manner to illustrate and illuminate a few tiny sections of the tip of the iceberg.
Four floors the building has. All with hallways filled with artwork created by the mill’s live-in artist residents. And that’s just the hallways. And that’s just the hallways. Twice for emphasis.
This being an open studio event, studio doors, it follows suit, were open. Liz Cunningham’s studio was the first studio I entered. Cunningham, a longtime practitioner of the healing arts, has, over time, experimented with a broad range of media and combinations there of, but has found in her field and artistic practice, satisfaction in working as a printmaker with mixed media elements combined, particularly with found objects from nature. Of her work, Cunningham states, “If my art does not evoke an emotion in me I do not consider it a finished piece.”
Next, I visited with Wayne Hopkins, Tippy, and Cathy Wysocki. The three share one of the larger spaces in the building. Tippy is the studio manager and naps and treats specialist.
Hopkins is a premium caliber veteran and has shown widely in high-profile galleries and museums. A graduate and later instructor at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, his work may be found in the museum’s collection, as well as The Fuller Museum of Art, The Zimmerli Art Museum Rutgers, and The Bank of Boston. Looking through the galleries on his website, as well as what may be seen in his section of the space, one discerns that Hopkins paints broadly and completely from a core that ranges stoically from quiet, serene places to, well, decidedly and deliberately, not so quiet and serene places.
Wysocki is best known for a body of work centered around the Lumplanders. In Wysocki’s words, “The Lumplanders are a society forming & devolving simultaneously. A mangled & mutated lot. Some in search of power and control, others trying to survive, and the hopefuls…they are looking for escape (perhaps to the sea). Various theories have been posed by scientists, religious figures, and the medical community concerning their origin and their possible contagiousness. The Lumplanders as a society are in the early stages of formation. Only time will reveal their final outcome – hopefully, not a dismal repeat of past societies and civilizations throughout history.”
After leaving the welcoming, readily symbiotic cohesiveness of this trio, a floor down, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Betty Vera amidst her work and Jacquard weavings. Vera garners inspiration and composition ideas for her weaves from all that she sees. The world that surrounds her is her reference subject and her process begins with the most striking of imagery and evolves as she works, gleaning and building in an improvisational manner to the finished piece.
Her top choices for inspiration are firmly landscape based and more specifically are thematically linked by urban elements such as street surfaces, walls, and alleyways. Primarily, she works abstractly, which I liked and found compelling, though in some work she moves decidedly close to pure representational and often combines abstract and representational elements in a single piece. Because each work begins in a setting of richly and heavily topical environs, a deep and abiding narrative is built into the work; one can imagine entry-level factory workers struggling and failing to make ends meet in minimum wage jobs, desolate and roughly graffitied back alleys, and glass and needle littered dead-end mugging scenes.
From the second floor, I descended again via the stairwell to the first from whence I started and had a look at the current gallery show taking place in the mill’s Eclipse Gallery. This artist-run space is used to showcase not only the work of resident artists, but non-resident artists based in the area as well. The current show, “Progresiones”, features recent work by Joan Carney and Lichtenstein Center for the Arts studio artist Julio Granda. Carney is showing abstract work on glass and Granda selections of his abstracts on canvas.
Carney was in the gallery meeting with visitors. During our conversation, we connected more dots and I received more illustration about how the former Berkshire Artisans thread runs strong through the North Adams arts scene. Both Carney and Granda were heavily active in Berkshire Artisans, as was William Bettie, whom I encountered a bit later this day at Gallery 107.
Before leaving the Eclipse for points onward, I ducked in quickly to say hey again with Phil and Gail Sellers at their homebase River Hill Pottery. Both are longtime fixtures and icons of the regional arts scene and it was great to finally have a chance to see where they create their magic. I was running way behind in my self-induced agenda, so we didn’t have time to talk more, but I was lucky enough to see Phil in action at the wheel working on a piece.
As I mentioned previously, I did more dot connecting in regards to the Berkshire Artisans thread when I encountered William Bettie at Gallery 107. Bettie, another member of Berkshire Artisans, knew both Carney and Granda, above, as well as Mario Caluori, whom I interviewed and featured at St. Francis Gallery in the post just prior to this one, and photographer Nicholas De Candia, a colleague and mentor of mine featured in other arts indie posts as well. Bettie, now retired, has recently become more active with his artwork after a hiatus and is looking to return to showing more often. Bettie works in pastels primarily en plein air for reference and finishes details upon returning to his studio.
Initially I had hoped to visit every stop on the Open Studios map, but it just wasn’t meant to be in the timeframe I had available. I still wanted to zip down to Great Barrington for an opening, then zip back north to Berkshire Community College to do photography coverage of the “4th Annual Berkshire Drum & Dance Fest.” So after my conversation with Bettie, I got back in my truck and started zipping.
With now freshly buffed disks and pads, I arrived in Great Barrington with a bit less than a half-hour left in the announced time of the opening reception of “Nudes ‘n’ Trucks”, the delightfully quirky pairing of Roselle Chartock’s mixed-media collage nudes with Scott Taylor’s boldly painted, bright and colorful acrylic on canvas trucks.
The venue is The Emporium Antiques & Art Center, 319 Main Street. Proprietor Arthur Greenstone has recently hired Bethy Bacon as manager for the business and as curator for a new series of art shows in the venue. Taylor’s trucks, along with some fine samples of his landscape work, hang in the southern room of the two-chambered space, while Chartock’s nudes hang on the southern wall of the northern.
Because I still needed to be punctual for the photography gig at BCC, I again was pressed for time and barely had a chance to say hello and goodbye here, but I did manage to snap off a few photos in my hurry. Yes, and it is possible to travel from Great Barrington to Berkshire Community College in less than a half-hour while consuming a McDonald’s #6 meal.
Be that as it may, I was on time for this appointed assignment and throttled down to take in the scene as it unfolded before me, rather than feeling internal self-drive to rush my work and be on edge to find ways for making it happen quicker.
The Berkshire Drum & Dance Fest is an annual showcase for some of the area’s finest talent on percussive instruments and accompanying dance. Organized by Environmental and Cultural Educator Aimee Gelinas, this year’s edition featured youth performers in a high-spirited evening of multi-cultural, intergenerational, family-friendly entertainment.
Beginning at 7:30PM, BCC’s Robert Boland Theater in the Koussevitzky Arts Center pulsed and undulated with the unifying language of rhythm and movement. Artists from the Berkshires and beyond performed with passion traditional pieces from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, including West African, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and more.
Individual and group performers appearing on stage included Berkshire Pulse, Williams College Kusika Drum & Dance, Youth Alive Step Dance Team & Drum Corps, Christopher Hairston, Matthew “el diablitto” Perez, Adams Youth Center Inc., & Berkshire Rhythm Keepers, Grupo Folklorico El Coqui, Hillcrest Educational Center Drummers, Tommy “Two-Step” Brown, Beat Mob, and Iroko Nuevo Junior.
The grand finale included performers from all of the above as well as guests and a special, large-than-life appearance courtesy of the Robbins-Zust Marionettes.
Phew and wow. It was quite a day. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and viewing the account. I’d meant to have this piece ready some days earlier, but life and other arts indie work pushed the posting out a bit further than I intended. However, busy is good and knowing the folks in the subscriber list, I know your days run in similar fashion. Hope all is well with all and hope to see you soon at something. Take care!
Leo Mazzeo is a visual artist working primarily in oils, as well as in watercolors, pastels, photography, video, and various mixed media. He’s also an arts blogger at artsindie.com; leomazzeo.com