| Artists Dialog 1:
When artists meet, like most
craftspeople, they talk a different language. Artists speak heart to
heart, eye-to-eye, disregarding cultural, age or least of all, state
It is the hope of this column that it
will become a dialogue between artists groups, and artists as
individuals, whatever their discipline. It a the fondest wish of the
editors of Journays that this dialogue will broaden vision and ignite
creative fires, and touch hearts and souls. Least of all, it is
envisioned that this column will begin a sincere dialogue that broaches
time and distance, to bring together the artists of Southern New England
in a new, exciting venture as a group, with collective power and push,
and most of all, promise.
this first column, we went to Worcester, the place where the Blackstone
River originates. The river was the source of power for the early
Industrialists. But for artists, the Blackstone River is inspirational
for its beauty, nourishment and effervescent life-giving support. Today
the river still inspires both artists and naturalists to do more to
preserve its ever-flowing beauty. The River has never known any
boundaries between states or political aspirations. So this column will
take a tip from the River and cross man-made boundaries as it hopefully
will serve as a force for unification.
An old mill city built at the beginning of what has
become known as the Blackstone Valley Corridor, Worcester became
important during the industrial age, and now has many old mills standing
vacant in its midst. 36 Harlow Street, the address of one such mill
building, the Sprinkler Factory, is abuzz with artists. Today it is the
home of the Worcester Arts Group, the Blackstone Print Studio and
Fireworks, a group of twelve ceramists, plus other individual artists
and a theater group upstairs.
Artist Nina Fletcher who maintains a print studio in
the Old Sprinkler Factory feels there’s definitely been an increase in
profile and visability in the arts during the last five years.
Ms. Fletcher talked about the proposed arts district
that was recently redrawn by the Mayor.
“You don’t have to have an arts district,” she
feels. “Artists scattered throughout the city are fine with me.
“The city has been slow to really put their money
where their mouth is,” she added. “Artists need a benevolent
government or a benevolent landlord. Artists can’t pay high rent.
Worcester has lots of buildings and lots of space. It takes a landlord
with some vision to put something together. Everyone complains that
there’s no umbrella organization. Everyone dreams of an art district.
But somebody has to anti up.”
Another area of town that is
becoming affiliated with artists is Quinsigamond Village, on the
southeast of town.
Pastel and monoprint artist Kathy
Murray maintains a work space at One Ekman Street in the Village. She
says her building is 101 years old, and formally the home of the Swedish
religious group called the Vasa Society. Building owner, Mike Keating,
originally offered free studio space to instructors at the Worcester Art
Museum, of which Ms. Murray is one. There are now five
instructor/artists with studios in the building. Bill Griffith, who
taught Mr. Keating, now has a studio in the building. Master Printmaker,
Kerry Manahan, and painter, Randy LeSage, make up the five artists who
currently share the space.
Ann McTigue, Director of Arts
Worcester which is located in the Main South area of town, keeps a very
active member and artists mail list for people desiring to purchase
artists work, as well as grants, or artists just wanting to connect with
other artists. The Center hold various workshops on how artists can make
it in the business world. In the words of Ms. McTigue, “How to grow as
“Art shapes life,” she adds.
Director since 1998, Ms. McTigue
says she’d like to see a lot more collaboration between cultural
Main South is the area that the City of Worcester had
designated as its cultural center. Ms. McTigue says, “Main South area
is blighted, it is a repository of vice. Lots of low income families
live here. Forty one percent don’t speak English, so they don’t
vote.“ There are currently very few artists working in Main
South. Somebody has to support the concept of a cultural district.
Somebody has to buy into the vision. You get back what you give.”
Worcester has its own 2,000 square foot gallery, which Ms. McTigue says
hosts new shows every six to eight weeks, including both artist member
Built in 1856, the Worcester Center
for Crafts is the oldest school for crafts in the country. Today the
Center holds classes in ceramics, wood, metals and jewelry, weaving and
fiber arts, and photography, and also has a gallery and retail shop.
They also have visiting artists’ workshops, and an artist-in-residence
Ceramic sculptor, Joseph Fastaia,
is currently serving a ten-month artist in residency program at the
Worcester Center for Arts and Crafts.
He calls the program
“fantastic” and “great” and Craft Center as invaluable, due to
the available equipment, time commitment and cameraderie with other
He likes to sculpt what he calls
“earth moving vehicles”, which include dump trucks, graders, road
construction, and any machines that literally are used to move the
He says he likes to study the relationship people have to their
landscape. “How we associate ourselves with places we know. How
geology and humanity shapes us.He sees trucks, in
his work, as an extension of human’s hands.
“Growing up in New England in a
rural suburban area, where there were lots of hiking opportunities,
railroad tracks and grist mill foundations this became ingrained into my
mind. This was my place identity. I used to think about what lives were
led by the people who created these stonewalls for instance. It’s a
snapshot in time.”
“Its not everyone who would
choose this uncertain of a lifestyle,” he says. “I find it’s
something within me that needs answering. Whenever I’ve worked for a
paycheck, I’ve been dissatisfied. I always felt like there was
something else I should be doing.”
Although he feels there are lots of
really good artists working in and around the mills in Worcester, he
identifies the need for more awareness as the most pertinent to the
survival of the arts in the area.
He definitely feels there is a need
for some sort of public education that could lead to a more keen
awareness about the area arts.
“There aren’t any fine art
galleries in town (Worcester). We need more of that,” he says.
We need a venue, he said, and
people who could coordinate that so that the public could experience the
wealth of talent that exists underground.
He refers to former Mayor
Cianci’s help to the arts in Providence, RI, as a good example, and
figures the members of the city council and directors of existing
facilities and area colleges could coordinate some city wide events.
Although the Worcester Center for
the Arts has a gallery, he feels that the general public does not really
attend the shows.
As an artist, he says, if he were
to go to find a good show, he’d head either to the Rhode Island School
of Design or the Chelsea area of New York City right now.
But there are good sites to be seen
in Worcester. All the colleges in Worcester, for instance, have good
galleries, and this includes Clark University, Quigsigamond Community
College, Holy Cross, and the Worcester Polytechnic School. Additionally,
the Worcester Art Museum has rotating exhibits, and hosts classes. The
Worcester Public Library also displays the work of local artists.
A visit to this city shows
that change, both artistic and geographic, is prevalent. The city of
Worcester, is a mass of construction, with new connectors, and
far-reaching proposals which include a new Visitors’ Center and the
Worcester Historical Museum both moving into the old Washburn & Moen
wire-making factory in Quigsigamond Village. Soon the Blackstone River,
today hidden between industrial sites, will again emerge and be visible
to all. The City at the beginning of the mighty Blackstone, is clearly
once again in flux, changing, and reshaping its destiny. The river
itself, however, will still continue to flow as it has for many, many
decades carrying with it memories of humankind’s past, and hopes for