Open on the ‘net: Arts & Industry building in Florence hosts virtual open studios event

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  • Painter Christine Labich hangs pastel landscapes in her studio in advance of the annual open studios weekend at the Brushworks Arts & Industry building in Florence; this year the event will be primarily virtual.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Painter Christine Labich hangs pastel landscapes in her studio in advance of the annual open studios weekend at the Brushworks Arts & Industry building in Florence; this year the event will be primarily virtual. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A sample of Christine Labich’s pastel landscapes in her studio at Brushworks. Labich will also offer some in-person visits to her space during the open studios event, which begins Nov. 14. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Daiber displays one of his hand-designed and illustrated books, which features an essay by 19th-century American naturalist John Burroughs. Beneath it are some direct rubbings taken from black walnut and hemlock tree stumps in Goshen.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jane Herzenberg, who makes artisan clothing, will be part of the Brushworks Arts & Industry virtual open studios. She said she’s had to upgrade her website significantly this year to make up for postponed trade shows where she typically makes many sales.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jane Herzenberg, who makes artisan clothing, will be part of the Brushworks Arts & Industry virtual open studios. She said she’s had to upgrade her website significantly this year to make up for postponed trade shows where she typically makes many sales.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Book arts artist Steve Daiber displays a nature print, a direct rubbing taken from the stump of a black walnut tree in Goshen. Daiber will be part of the virtual open studios at the Brushworks Arts & Industry building; he’ll also be available for limited in-person visits. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2020 2:55:37 PM

For over 25 years, artists at the former Brushworks factory in Florence have been opening their studios to the public in mid-November, offering customers some early options for holiday shopping and celebrating their own sense of community.

In 2020, though, the pandemic has raised its ugly head, seeming to scramble the tradition.

But on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14-15, artists in the Arts & Industry building at 221 Pine St. in Florence will open their studios virtually — and in some cases for limited in-person visits — to keep in touch with customers, offer their usual holiday bargains, and to try to maintain their own ties with each other.

The open studios weekend has traditionally “been an amazing event,” said jewelry designer Emily Rosenfeld, who’s been taking part in it for over 20 years. “I’d say we get upwards of 2,500 people coming through the building, and it’s just a great opportunity to talk to people one-on-one. ... There are also different layers to seeing artists in their spaces. And we do make a lot of sales.”

“I think we all felt it was important to keep this event going this year, even if it’s under pretty different circumstances,” said Rosenfeld, who’s been designing jewelry for close to 30 years; her work includes Judaica and other spiritual-themed items. “It’s something that can still help us and keep us connected.”

Painter Christine Labich of Amherst, who previously held an open studio event in that town, says she’s always looked forward to the open studios at the Arts & Industry building. “It’s really a culmination of my year’s work, when I get to share what I’ve been doing,” she said. Given painting is a mostly solitary exercise, she added, “I love interacting with people.”

Labich, an oil and pastel painter who specializes in landscapes, notes that she paints many of them outside in good weather, and she particularly enjoys having customers identify places she’s painted that they also like to visit. “Getting that kind of feedback is really important to me,” she said.

Over 30 artists

Over 30 artists, as well as yoga instructor Arden Sundari Pierce, feature sales and special deals through their websites for the upcoming open studios event, and several are also offering virtual appointments as well as in-person visits, with safety protocols such as face masks in place.

The full list of participating artists and their contact information — included are ceramic makers, photographers, rug makers, sculptors and more — can be found at brushworksopenstudios.com.

Artists in the Brushworks building also say a mostly virtual open studios event seems a logical extension of sorts of the way the year has gone for them since the pandemic arrived. Rosenfeld, for instance, saw all the trade and retail shows at which she normally sells her goods get canceled. Fabric artist Jane Herzenberg, who designs handmade clothes, says the craft shows she normally attends were all shut down.

Printmaker Steve Daiber makes hand-designed books for his business, Red Trillium Press, such as one that features the essay “Speckled Trout” by 19th-century American naturalist John Burroughs and is hand-bound with black walnut-dyed paper. He says he typically sells most of his work to special collections of college and university libraries, which he visits personally.

Not surprisingly, that hasn’t happened this year — “Universities have bigger problems right now,” Daiber said — and like any number of other artists, he’s had to find new customers online.

“I’ve had to restructure a whole body of work,” said Daiber, who has created a market for that on Etsy, the e-commerce website that’s focused on handmade and craft materials. “It’s been a real learning curve.”

Labich said she’s promoted her paintings through her website for some years but hadn’t sold them directly through that until this year, preferring instead to meet one-on-one with potential customers in her studio. She’s spent a lot of time redesigning the website to factor in direct sales and other factors connected with them — shipping costs, framing options — and has also made cards and prints for sale.

“Everyone has had to make an adjustment in one way or the other to this situation we’re in,” she said.

Herzenberg, who’s been designing clothing and specially dyed fabrics for over 40 years, says the pandemic has forced her to recalibrate as well.

“I never felt I had to make a huge effort in online commerce until now,” said Herzenberg, who spent much time building up her website; she has also made “hundreds” of face masks this year, she noted, for essential workers and friends and family.

Rosenfeld, the jewelry maker, says she’s had a pretty strong online presence for some time, which has helped her weather the worst of the shutdown of craft and trade shows. “And I’m so grateful to the stores that have continued to sell my things, and the customers who have stuck with me from over the years and now are buying things from me through the website.”

Neither she nor Herzenberg will open their studios to in-person visits for this year’s event, though Rosenfeld is arranging virtual appointments for customers. Daiber and Labich, though, say they are available for in-person appointments. Labich in fact began scheduling them earlier this week and will continue to book visits — one person at a time — through Nov. 30.

“I figured it made sense to space out (appointments) if it would just be one person at a time,” she said. “Even with the pandemic, I appreciate talking directly to people.”

The Brushworks Open Studios event officially launches Nov. 14 at 10 a.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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