How local makers are making do during the pandemic

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Mark Shapiro, of Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, works in his studio Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Scout Cuomo holds one of her paintings, Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2020 outside her home in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Scout Cuomo holds one of her paintings outside her home in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bluebird plates by artist Molly Hatch.  PHOTO COURTESY OF MOLLY HATCH. 

  • An art installation by Florence-based artist Molly Hatch.  PHOTO BY JOHN POLAK 

Staff Writer
Published: 4/2/2020 12:31:28 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all kinds of industries and businesses, and the arts are no exception. For many artists in the Pioneer Valley, the virus has caused cancelations of shows and events and led to the loss of income.

For Mark Shapiro, the ceramic artist and potter behind Stonepool Pottery in Worthington, the St. Croix Pottery Tour in Minnesota is one of his most important financial events of the year. But it was canceled for obvious reasons. The months of April and May are busy times of year for Shapiro, and he was anticipating making around $10,000 during that time from events that are now all canceled. 

“That’s a pottery tour of six studios and 45 guests,” Shapiro said. “It’s a very large event. People come from all over the country. It’s really a beautiful cultural experience and a celebration of handmade ceramics … We’re going to have some kind of online component, but I don’t imagine that it’s going to be as impactful.”

He added that most of his events involve workshops, teaching or shows where he interacts with people face to face. 

“You can imagine that none of those are going to be able to happen until the situation changes,” he said.

Shapiro is part of the Hilltown6 Pottery Tour, a group of nine ceramic artists who live in the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts. The tour was slated to take place July 25 and 26 but has been postponed until the fall.

“We really can’t go to press with those dates and send our usual mailing with things being so much in the air,” he said. “I doubt that’s going to be a time when people are going to feel like spending money or being close to other bodies yet.”

Linda Post, one of the founding directors of Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton, which features more than 200 artists and artisans, said the festival has been postponed until August 1 and 2, originally having been slated for late May.

“Most of the artists we work with are independent artists and craftspeople,” Post said. “Their main way of making a living is at fairs all over  the place. They travel around … They make work in their studio, but then they have to sell it someplace. So, it’s definitely been a real hardship for them. Their cash flow just came to  this enormous stop.”

The arts festival is still highlighting artists on its website. In the past few weeks, Post said, around 15,000 people have viewed artist pages on the site.

Molly Hatch, a Florence-based artist and tableware designer who sells products online and one-of-a-kind art via a gallery in New York City, said there has been a slowdown in the fine arts market, but online sales are still steady for her.

However, the shows she had planned across the country and in Europe have been canceled, she said.

“I was meant to do a show in Paris in April, and that was delayed and now is just canceled, as well as one in Switzerland,” Hatch said. “Potential sales there are not happening, which is normally something I could count on for income. Now, it’s kind of a big question mark or gray area.”

For Greenfield-based painter Scout Cuomo, the pandemic has impacted not only her work, but her personal life — her father, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, was released from the hospital on April 1 after being treated for Covid-19 for 16 days. 

“My dad actually contracted the virus 20 days ago, and he was around my brother and my brother’s girlfriend,” she said. “The effect of the pandemic was that I didn’t think people weren’t taking it very seriously, and I didn’t feel like my family was taking it very seriously until it happened to us. Having the stress of my family affected by this has already gotten in the way of working.”

Cuomo, who was previously based out of Florence, said one of her main concerns is that most artists are self-employed, whether they own retail shops or sell their work online.

“We’re not protected by unemployment,” she said. “If we tried to file for unemployment, that wouldn’t work.

“We already aren’t protected in a very precarious kind of market situation,” she continued. “That adds a lot of anxiety for everybody. And then, a lot of artists aren’t able to have gallery shows.”

Cuomo has a gallery show at Smith College that is currently closed; she spent thousands of dollars preparing for it.

“I can imagine that a lot of other artists have done that exact same thing, booking up their year, thinking about galleries that they can put their work in. That is just off the table,” she explained. “So how are artists going to make money at this point? How are we going to adapt to this kind of thing? What’s it mean to be self-employed and not have these kinds of protections?”

One way artists are banding together to help out during the pandemic is by making face masks, Cuomo said. About 1,500 face masks have been donated to hospitals in the Pioneer Valley by artists with DIY Masks of Western Mass. Cuomo made 30 of them.

“I see artists really stepping up to the challenge. I see this community of people coming together online to make sure that our health care workers are covered and protected, even before their own needs are taken care of,” Cuomo said.

“Creative people in general are makers and doers,” she added. “They are doing what they can.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.


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