Open the doors and explore: Artists to open their studios in Easthampton and Florence

  • Painter and art instructor Sharon Leshner, whose business is called Sharona Color, is looking forward to having people visit her studio in Eastworks Nov. 6 and 7.  Courtesy Kim Carlino

  • Staff at Prosperity Candle in Eastworks will be greeting visitors at the open studios event this weekend. The business employs female artisans who previously lived for years as refugees and now make a living wage as candlemakers.  COURTESY KIM CARLINO

  • Volante Design in Eastworks designs clothing aimed at making “ordinary people ... feel extraordinary,” as the company’s website puts it. They’ll take part in open studios at Eastworks this weekend. Image courtesy Kim Carlino

  • Shawn Farley, whose studio is in the Brushworks building in Florence, says people will get a much better sense of her mixed-media scupltures at the Nov. 13-14 open studios. COURTESY SHAWN FARLEY

  • “Untitled,” gouache on paper by painter Sean Greene, one of the 40-plus artists and craft workers who will take part in open studios at the Brushworks building in Florence Nov. 13-14. Image courtesy Shawn Farley

  • Painter Christine Labich, who specializes in oil and pastel landscapes, will be part of open studios at the Brushworks building in Florence Nov. 13-14. “It’s really a culmination of my year’s work, when I get to share what I’ve been doing,” she says.  Photo by Robert A. Jonas/courtesy Shawn Farley

  • Kim Carlino, seen here painting a concrete barrier for the Northampton Public Arts Festival in summer 2020, helped organize this weekend’s open studios event at Eastworks. “Everyone is really happy to have that kind of personal contact again,” she says.  Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2021 3:00:05 PM

For so many artists, in a wide range of fields, the pandemic has meant lost opportunities to perform or display work. And most will say that’s meant not just a loss of income but also the chance to connect one-on-one with audiences and customers.

But though COVID-19 is still hanging around, the air has cleared enough that music has moved back indoors, galleries are open, and artists can meet with people again. Case in point: Two centers of the local arts community, Eastworks in Easthampton and Brushworks Arts & Industry in Florence, are hosting open studios this month.

Over 50 artists and craft workers will throw open their doors on Nov. 6 and 7 at Eastworks, which will also host live music, art workshops and events such as community mural painting. On Nov. 13 and 14, Brushworks gets into the act, with more than 40 participating artists. Visitors will be required to wear face masks at both locations, but there are no other restrictions.

On display at both locales will be a huge range of work: painting and photography, glassware and prints, ceramics and sculpture, clothing and jewelry, decorative candles and more.

Last November, Eastworks canceled its long-running open studios weekend, while Brushworks held an online version, with a few artists opening their doors for limited in-person visits.

While it’s one thing to sell items via the internet, it’s no substitute for talking to visitors in person and having people be able to see and even handle your work firsthand, says Shawn Farley.

“There’s such an energy to having people in the building, walking the halls and coming into your studio,” said Farley, a mixed media artist situated in Brushworks who has helped organize the open studios. “You can’t get that through a computer.”

And, Farley noted, you can’t touch the fabric of a handmade piece of clothing, say, or know how an earring will feel and look unless you try it on. Her own figurative sculptures, made from found materials, painted wood and foundry molds, are best seen and appreciated in person, she noted.

“So much of art is tactile,” Farley said. “I for one can’t wait to have people back in our building.”

Kim Carlino, a painter and muralist based in Eastworks, has helped organize this year’s open studios in the converted textile mill. She says as far as she’s aware, she was the only artist in the building to stage a virtual open studio last year, along with some limited in-person slots. There was no building-wide event, given so may artists were “kind of hunkered down on their own,” she said.

When she and other organizers began looking this summer at staging a new open studios event for the fall, Carlino said, “We weren’t sure what to expect — how much interest there would be, and if we could actually have something take place.”

But, Carlino added, “We discovered interest was quite high. There was a real desire [for artists] to connect with the community…. Everyone is really happy to have that kind of personal contact again.”

There’s also the pragmatic consideration that for many participating artists, open studios in  late fall are a prime means for selling and displaying their most recent work, especially as holiday gifts.

Losing the ability to show their work cost artists opportunities, noted Carlino, who said she was able to paint some murals in 2020 but lost out on some other jobs.

Sharon Leshner, a painter and muralist who uses the handle Sharona Color for her work, moved into Eastworks a year ago after coming to the Valley from Philadelphia. At her old studio, she’d led community art workshops, but during the pandemic she was forced to move those online.

Now, though, she’s begun hosting in-person workshops and lessons in her Eastworks space, and she’s excited about welcoming visitors this weekend.

“It feels like my grand opening here,” said Leshner, who added that she’s also hoping to use her studio as a community space for other artists on Sunday afternoons. “I’m really looking forward to connecting with other artists and the whole community.”

At Eastworks, planners have also beefed up a music program for this weekend. Jon Carroll, a musician and songwriter who has gigged with many others over the years — he was a longtime keyboard player with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band, as one example — has organized eight 45-minute shows, which will be staged on the building’s first floor.

The music, which begins at noon both days, includes bluegrass, jazz, blues, Spanish guitar and more, with musicians playing mostly in small groups. Carroll sees it as something of an extension of some small live shows he began holding in his Eastworks studio a few months before the pandemic hit.

“I’ve been kind of doing my own thing since then, a lot of recording for different projects,” he said. “But the original idea was to get some different musicians together [in my studio] and kind of cross-pollinate, to work off the variety of music we have in the Valley.”

For open studios at Eastworks, “We’ll have some of that flavor, so visitors can check out different studios and listen to different music.”

At Brushworks, painter Sean Greene is also looking forward to welcoming people back to his studio on Nov. 13-14. He didn’t take part in last year’s online open studios event, saying he believes art “is really an in-person experience. Open studios are great for building community and making connections.”

Farley says she suspects that area residents, not just artists, have missed open studios at Brushworks, which has hosted the event for nearly 30 years. In the past, she says, there’s been “a lot of support for our work from the community, which is one of the things that makes being an artist here really special.”

“I’m hoping we’ll have more of the same this year,” she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at  

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