Building block of the creative economy: Baustein Building’s role in reviving section of Holyoke

  • Susannah Auferoth, co-owner of the building, works in her own studio at the Baustein Building in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susannah Auferoth, co-owner of the building and artist works in her studio in Baustein Building in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susannah Auferoth, co-owner of the building and artist works in her studio in Baustein Building in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susannah and Dirk Auferoth, owners of the Baustein Building in Holyoke, on the third floor where 20 artist studios are located. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Orlando Santos of Izm Prizm works in his studio at the Baustein Building. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Imo Imeh in his third-floor studio with his work in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. He shares the floor with about 20 other artists, each with their own creative spaces. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Dirk and Susannah Auferoth, owners of the Baustein Building in Holyoke, on the 3rd floor with other art studios. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Imo Imeh in his studio with his work in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Imo Imeh in his studio with his work in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Susannah and Dirk Auferoth, owners of the Baustein Building in Holyoke, on the 3rd floor with other art studios. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Imo Imeh in his studio with his work in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Work by Imo Imeh in his studio in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Imo Imeh in his studio with his work in the Baustein Building in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Baustein Building in Holyoke, owned by Dirk and Susannah Auferoth. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2021 5:28:13 PM

For years while operating an architectural woodworking business in the city, Dirk Auferoth would look at the late 1800s former National Thread Factory building downtown and envision its revival.

And for the better part of the last decade, Auferoth and his wife, Susannah, have worked to make that happen. After buying the 532 Main St. building eight years ago, the couple began renovating the space. Today, they rent out artist studios to a community of 20-plus artists on the third floor, which range from photographers to bookmakers, painters and woodworkers. The Auferoths, who live part of the time in Hatfield and in New York City, also operate their own art gallery inside the building called Readywipe Gallery.

Shortly after buying the Main Street building, the Auferoths renamed it to the Baustein Building to better reflect their vision for the space.

“Baustein in German means ‘building block,’” Susannah Auferoth explained. “We named it because the building takes up a whole block, but also because we felt like we were part of the building block of revitalizing this area of Holyoke.”

The spacious three-story building includes about 40,000 square feet per floor. In addition to the artist studios on the third floor, space on the first two floors is rented to different businesses.

“We have 20 studios. They’re all rented,” Susannah Auferoth said. “We have a waiting list and we still have space on the third floor to turn into about 15 more studios; smaller spaces. And it’s an ongoing process.”

They hope to finish the additional 15 artist studios sometime after the pandemic.

While the Auferoths are proud of their contribution to the revival of the area (the PULP art gallery on Race Street is a distant neighbor), they acknowledge the significant hit Holyoke’s arts scene took last month with the permanent closure of Gateway City Arts as a venue for arts, music and live entertainment. Gateway’s owners Lori Divine and Vitek Kruta are looking to sell the building with the hopes of new owners restarting the venue.

“Honestly, it’s a huge blow,” Dirk Auferoth said. “We know Vitek and Lori personally and they did an amazing job to bring art and music and food culture. This is a huge blow for all of us. They were kind of the pioneers down there and we as a community can only thank them for starting that.”

Susannah Auferoth said the investments that Kruta and Divine made to the building remain, despite the closure of Gateway City Arts.

“Someone can easily purchase that property and basically step right into a full working business because the renovations that they did were so wonderful and complete,” she said. “This is something that needs to happen. The growth needs to happen once the pandemic has subsided. We’re all waiting for that to happen.”

Art continues

Meanwhile, art is still being created every day on the third floor of the Baustein Building, with artists such as Imo Imeh, a professor of visual arts at Westfield State University, who paints out of his studio in Room 316.

“My artwork tends to involve large scale figures and themes that are connected to the history of African body, the African black and brown body in historic spaces, but also using the black body as a way to have a larger set of conversations about race; about justice; about beauty as well; about trauma and about triumph,” Imeh says. “For me, these large bodies that are twisting in the air and seem to have a hard time finding the ground, are suspended in washes of ink as background. These large bodies are a site of a number of conversations.”

Imeh started working at his studio during the summer of 2018. That space has been a constant source of inspiration for his art.

“I feel like the space matched where my mind was and allowed my projects to grow in the dimensions where I have been seeing them for so long,” he said. “When I first came in here, I stared at the ceiling and I stared at these huge 15-foot walls and I was inspired to fill them with the images in my mind. I feel like that’s what I’ve done during the past two years.”

Though the artists on the third floor are primarily engaged in their own independent projects, a small community has developed at the Baustein Building.

“We don’t have meetings every week or every month, but there is a sense of community here. I think one that’s still developing as well,” Imeh said. “With each new person that comes in, they add a different texture to that. For me, leaving my doors open while I’m working, it’s usually a way of welcoming people in if they want to come and talk. I’ve gotten to know the other artists here in that way.”

New Jersey native Dominic Perri is a food photographer who moved to western Massachusetts in 2017. While his wife, Brandy Perri, is in a doctorate program for sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he works out of his photography studio in Room 310.

Perri said his clients range from international companies such as breakfast chain Dunkin’ Donuts to local restaurants such as Daily Operation in Easthampton and The Alvah Stone in Montague.

For Perri, the community at the Baustein Building has developed naturally among artists over time.

“There are times where I’m like, ‘I have to get right to work. I have to get in there,’ he says. “I’ll walk in and Imo will have his door open and I’ll be like, ‘Hey how’s it going?’ I feel like it take me forever to get to my studio because I stop and talk with everyone there.”




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