Hatch Street Studios: A world within a city

By Steven Froias / Contributing Writer
Posted May 31, 2018 at 3:01 AM

Alissar Najd Langworthy was at the helm of the 88-ton, 75-foot research vessel, Phoenecia for what turned out to be a four-month voyage to — and stay in — Cuba this past year.

The intense experience so changed her that when she returned to her studio at Hatch Street Studios in New Bedford’s North End, her painting took an entirely new — and stunning — abstract direction.

The smell of cedar wafts through the second floor outside Woodworker John Giacobbi’s studio. He’s storing a quantity of red cedar for future use.

But right now, he’s busy creating intricate and beautiful adornments for the historic Christmas House on Route 6A in Sandwich. After construction here in Hatch Street Studios, the woodwork will be disassembled for the trip down the highway and reassembled on site.

New Bedford residents are most likely aware of sculptor Erik Durant’s work due to his Fishermen’s Monument on the waterfront and statue of Cape Verdean leader Tom Lopes at Washington Square.

But his studio at Hatch Street is a fantastical land all its own, where Erik’s sculpting runs riot through history and mythology.

In their spaces and others throughout Hatch Street Studios, you see not only the work of its many artists and artisans, but glimpse the infinite within and without New Bedford as discerned by talent, tenacity and industry.

It’s a world within a city informed by experience and brought to life through pure imagination.

You can enter this world frequently now, thanks to a new, ongoing series of Second Saturday Open Studios events inaugurated by the Hatch Street Studios Artist Association. The first Second Saturday happened on May 12, and the next is scheduled for June 9.

All of them are free and open to the public and will feature special events in addition to the opportunity to tour the artists’ studios, chat them up, and see and buy their work.

It’s all part of a new lease on life for the venerable building, home to upwards of 50 artists and artisans on three floors and across two buildings — 88 Hatch St. and annex 90 Hatch St. — two blocks off Acushnet Avenue, with a view of the river with the same name, in the historic Nashawena Mill District of New Bedford.

Open Studios on Second Saturdays

Robert “Jack” Babb of the Hatch Street Studios Artist Association says he got the ball rolling for the Second Saturday Open Studios based on his experience attending regular open studio events at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell. He was living in New Hampshire at the time and would drive down for the events.

A chance encounter at a Yoga event in Boston brought Jack to Hatch Street.

“I met Amanda Walker, a lifetime resident of the area,” he explains. “She introduced me to the South Coast: the arts, the cultural variety, the natural beauty, the history. I was doing some glass work and interactive art in New Hampshire part-time. I moved my studio to Hatch Street because of the vibrant arts community in the area, the culture, the ocean.” And, “Easy access to Boston, Providence and New York.

Realizing that Hatch Street lacked a regular opportunity for arts patrons to meet building residents, outside of its annual Open Studios event in November, he decided to organize Second Saturdays.

The first monthly Open Studios in May featured members of the SUPERFLAT mural team and a pop-up 3rd EyE Unlimited music, dance and art jam. The second floor of Hatch Street Studios has a large, open community space to accommodate special happenings like that.

Between the special programming and the participation of most of the artists, the launch was a solid success and bodes well for future Second Saturdays.

Jack is generous with the praise for all concerned in the effort, noting Keri Cox’s organization of 3rd EyE, Destination Soup’s event kitchen, and the support of building owner Jeff Glassman.

“And, of course, Brian Tillett, Meaggsy, and Alexx Jardin who generously gave of their time and talent to create murals,” he said of the SUPERFLAT team.

Upcoming Second Saturday Open Studios will feature more special programming and themes. The aforementioned Amanda Walker is putting together a “Sun and Sea” theme for August.

“In September, Jeff Angeley is pulling together a music-themed event. In October, I am planning a Maker/Makerspace themed event,” said Jack. (Jeff Angeley is the musician behind the recent World Fiddle Day event in the building, where he maintains a studio.)

The June 9 special event will be a drawing for works of art donated by Hatch Street Artists. July is currently open, and Jack is open to collaborating with people throughout the city who may have creative ideas.

It’s why he’s been visible at community meetings, like the last Love The Ave meeting. That’s the group dedicated to extolling all things good on and around Acushnet Avenue. One of the Hatch Street Artist Association’s goals is to reach deeper into the neighborhood it shares in a diverse north end.

Keep up with events at Facebook.com/88hatchstreet.

Hatch Street Studios 2.0

Hatch Street Studios has been a fixture of the New Bedford arts scene for many years.

But a seminal event occurred in 2014 which changed the course of its history and set it firmly upon its present reinvigorated course.

That year, Jeffrey Glassman, owner of neighbor Darn it!, Inc. at 686 Belleville Avenue, bought the building — actually two. Hatch Street Studios today consists of both 88 Hatch St., the original studio building, and 90 Hatch St., which now houses smaller studios than the almost cavernous spaces found at 88.

Glassman bought Hatch Street Studios committed to retaining its integrity as an arts center. Indeed, he’s been keen on doubling down on its reputation as a destination for artists seeking studio space in the city and from throughout the region.

What’s remarkable about this is that Jeff Glassman is a businessman — and a successful one, at that. Darn It! is an apparel and general merchandise repair and inspection business that found a successful niche for itself after NAFTA. Glassman joined the family business in 1994 and has overseen its steady growth since then.

When the opportunity arose to purchase neighbor Hatch Street Studios, it was the businessman in him that made the deal. Fortunately, he’s a creative businessman with a concern for the community, who doesn’t simply want to own and manage, with his wife, Lori, an artist studio building.

He wants it, everyone in it, and the arts destination New Bedford to thrive.

There was trepidation among some of the artists when he took over the building at first, because of that businessman’s approach. In that first year, everyone in the building had to do something that previously had happened on a loose, ad hoc basis: sign leases. And, there were rent increases.

But, concurrent with those actions were improvements to the building, both in terms of infrastructure and management. And, the addition of an entirely new floor of studios, the second — with that large community space that’s now being put to good use during the Second Saturday Open Studios events. All of it has brought new energy to Hatch Street Studios.

Glassman the business owner has been aggressive in bringing attention to the art and work being produced by the residents of Hatch Street.

He’s hosted events at the building that introduced other members of the business community to the creative community, for example. He’s also invested his time in promoting the studios and people in them whenever possible at multiple venues and meetings throughout the city and region.

For New Bedford, Hatch Street Studios signifies that the creative economy has found real purchase — as an idea and as a brick and mortar cornerstone in the city.

Now open to the public every Second Saturday of the month.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

Original article here.

In GroundWork! exhibit Barbosa captures life through a fantastical filter

Posted May 17, 2018 at 3:01 AM

“Every dream has a name. And names tell a story. This song is your dream.”

— Talking Heads

“Duende” is the perfect name for the current exhibition of artwork by Tracy Barbosa.

The term refers to a moment of unrepeatable excitement that originated in dance and music, but has come to also define a rush of the soul that manifests itself even in static art.

The Spanish poet Francisco Garcia Lorca once described duende as “a sort of corkscrew that can get into the sensibility of the audience.” It is the dance between the muse and the goblin and Barbosa is the chaperone.

Curated by Jessica Bregoli at Groundwork, “Duende” is an intriguing showcase for Barbosa, who has created complex works that are densely layered, both literally (in her deft application of material) and conceptually (seemingly bouncing from one alternate reality to another.)

She glides seamlessly between glasswork, photography printmaking, painting, gold leafing and sculpture. It is often difficult to ascertain where one ends and the next begins, and that speaks to her mastery of her chosen media.

Thematically, she straddles a place between the mystical and the earthbound, the visceral and the cerebral, the private and the public, the familiar and the queer, and the natural and the manmade.

In the large scale acrylic painting (with brass and copper leaf, patina and toner) “Spring Snow,” Barbosa presents a marvelous fantasy landscape that draws from reality but becomes something entirely new and refreshing.

In the background, Northern California’s Bay Bridge spans a bay somehow connecting Texas to the New York City borough of Queens. Nearer to the viewer is a plump antlered deer in the wood, Canadian geese and starlings flit about, and the sky is both ominous and lovely.

But the most remarkable element is the dozen or so oversized doily-like snowflakes that become both a decorative element and a sign that winter has succumbed. It is clearly “unreal” but it resonates as though it were a bolder and better plane of existence.

“Derrick” is an homage to her cousin of the same name who died of an overdose of opiates in December 2017. There is something reverential in it, almost holy.

Bulbous, cartoon-like gold leaf clouds recall the Momoyama (Peach Hill) Period of the late 16th century in Japan, expressing an opulence that dangerously borders on decadence.

Barbosa zealfully embraces symbolism. A large bird carries a photographic device as if trying to record and understand the unfathomable. In the distance, gulls flock but they are in black silhouette and look like crows. Their number constitutes a murder, perhaps an unconscious reference to the opiate dealers. And in the distance, on a dead-still sea, is a derrick.

“16 Octaves Below Middle C” (which according to Barbosa is “the hum of the Earth”) is a ceramic print on glass, illuminated from behind, which gives it the feel of a church’s stained glass windows. But the iconography is not big-C Catholic. It is little-c catholic … it is universal. Heaven is a multi-hued sky, angels are the ever-present birds, the altar is a barren tree, and the shrine is an off-in-the-distance Chrysler Building.

Another work of note is “Ink and Wine” which features entangled octopuses as a metaphor for family, silver grails with all religious understanding locked in place, and a spattering of red. It is ink, it is wine, it is the blood of Christ and family bond.

Barboza’s work exists in a dreamstate that is both lucid and temporal. She knows the muse and the goblin. She lives with both.

“Duende: An Exhibition by Tracy Barbosa” is on display at Groundwork, 1213 Purchase Street, New Bedford through June 9. An opening reception will be held on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Don Wilkinson is a painter and art critic who lives in New Bedford. Contact him at Don.Wilkinson@gmail.com. His columns run each week in Coastin’.

Original article here.

New Bedford’s State of the Arts

Many readers have no doubt read, heard or discovered for themselves that New Bedford is regarded as one of the nation’s most creative small cities and is a destination for the arts and artists.

This isn’t exactly something new; the city has long been rich with culture. But when Atlantic magazine included New Bedford in a “Top Ten” list of creative communities over a decade ago, it brought new opportunity and urgency to the perception.

So what exactly does a “destination for the arts and artists” mean in 2018? How does that designation impact the city? Who does it include and who does it benefit? In short, what exactly does being — and being recognized as — one of the nation’s most creative small cities mean for New Bedford?

Have no fear. State of the Arts is here to help sort it all out.

This new, ongoing column and feature story series will cover the arts in a new way here. As a regular beat, right alongside the City Desk, General News, Politics, Business, or Sports. That means a mix of reporting, feature stories, profiles and opinion. All branded under the banner State of the Arts.

Every week, yours truly will attempt to illustrate exactly how the arts are being practiced in New Bedford — and why the cultural well-being of the city is a critical element of municipal life here.

It will deliver to readers artistic personalities across the creative spectrum; examine the role of arts and culture in the economy; and report on arts administration as a function of civic engagement and government.

It’s an opportune time to launch State of the Arts. As I write this, the City of New Bedford, through the New Bedford Economic Development Council, is in the nascent stages of preparing an arts plan for New Bedford that will help guide its fortunes into the future.

As part of that effort, a comprehensive city-wide Creative Directory is being compiled. It will highlight the full scope of New Bedford’s professionals in all manner of cultural disciplines.

A new generation of New Bedford artists has opened galleries, living, and work spaces

Posted Jan 6, 2018 at 9:31 PM

Almost 20 years ago, the UMass Dartmouth School of Visual and Performing Arts came to downtown New Bedford and with it the Whaling City’s quiet rebirth as a magnet for working artists.

That seeding has now borne larger fruit over the past few years as the city has experienced a flowering of new galleries, open studios and art spaces.

From the Hatch Street Studios in the North End to the studios at the former Kilburn Mills in the South End, the galleries up and down William Street in the downtown and over to Groundwork’s exhibit space on Purchase Street, the painters, sculptors, mixed-media artists are here. They’re literally creating a new chapter of the New Beford experience.

“The city is undergoing an arts transformation citywide,” said Dagny Ashley, New Bedford’s director of tourism.

The latest wave will reach a milestone next week with the opening of the new 10,000-square foot Co-Creative Center on Union Street.

It’s been a fairly steady build-up for about a decade. Among the landmarks: 123 Sawtooth, an artists’ lofts located in the former Ropeworks Building where Market Basket would soon be built at the former Fairhaven Mills site. Colo-Colo Gallery, a popular space in the upscale Historic District moved to a spacious former factory space in the South End. Two artists even opened a gallery, The Vault, in a former bank building just over the Dartmouth line.

A WHALE AND A NIVED

It was the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) that went out and obtained the grants and purchased the historic downtown office buildings that became the Co-Creative Center.

“This is a major investment for downtown New Bedford,” says WHALE executive director Teri Bernert, “not only in bringing beautiful historic buildings back to life but also creating a dynamic footprint for the area’s creative minds to collaborate.”

In addition to 2,000 square feet of gear-filled, open maker space that will be open to community members, the center (which WHALE has been developing for nearly three years) will also offer education, gallery, and retail space, a locally-sourced juice bar, and apartments for artists. It will also house many area not-for-profit organizations, including the Women’s Fund of Southeast MA (www.womensfundsema.org).

“This has been a collaboration with a lot of different individuals in the creative economy and in the non-profit world,” Bernert explained. “It is an idea born out of the community.”

One of the city’s interesting new artists is Devin “Nived” McLaughlin, of Nived Art (http://nivedart.com).

“I’ve watched the New Bedford Art scene ebb and flow,” said McLaughlin, who received a fine art degree from Bristol Community College in 2012.

McLaughlin began his professional career showing his work at many of the city galleries he visited as a younger art lover and he now hosts and shares his wit and wisdom at popular Paint Nite events in the area. “I’ve seen galleries in the area hold their first grand opening exhibition and I’ve watched those places close their doors for the last time, but never without leaving a mark on the culture here,” he said.

Just as the waves on the coast do, McLaughlin suggested the waves of New Bedford culture “ebb and flow” though he sees the current wave building towards a “high tide.”

“Every time a new project starts,” he said, “it greets this city with a grander, more powerful influence, inspiring others to create, discuss and enjoy art more.”

And while New Bedford’s historic buildings and breathtaking water views may inspire many, McLaughlin said it is the people who make the city arts scene shine.

“We have a huge community of driven artists from all skill sets and backgrounds,” he said. “It’s these folks that are breathing life into this city.”

THE STAR STORE

The cultural center where much of the region’s initial creative energy percolated is the College of Visual and Performing Arts, which in 2011 moved into a $19 million reincarnation of what was once the dry goods mecca known as the Star Store.

“UMass…has been the catalyst with the downtown campus,” Ashley said.

“The UMass art department moving to the Star Store building had a big impact of the arts in downtown New Bedford,” agreed artist Judith Klein (www.judithkleinart.com), who opened her first gallery downtown nine years ago but has since moved to the South End complex.

“Art students from our program…end up staying in the area and establish a studio in the several mill buildings that have wonderful spaces for our work,” said long-time UMass fine arts professor Marc St. Pierre.

And local artists are not the only ones taking notice. In fact, 2011 was also the year that New Bedford was cited by urban studies scholar and “creative class” creator Richard Florida as the “seventh most artistic city in America,” based upon the population density of its artists.

“The critical mass of artists, performers, galleries, and cultural institutions that flourish in New Bedford have created the ambience of a vibrant coastal cultural center,” Ashley said.

Just six years later, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) named New Bedford the “most creative community” in the commonwealth. The city has also been cited by Bustle as sixth on the list “Best Cities for Young Artists” (it was the only Massachusetts city listed and one of only two in New England. ) Matadornetwork’s called the “the ninth most artistic town in America” and Complex cited it as one of its “10 Cities That Creatives Should Move to That Aren’t NYC or LA.”

“New Bedford is the place to be, whether you are an artist or a patron,” McLaughlin said.

AHA! AT THE BEGINNING

While many individuals and efforts deserve thanks, the arts engine that was there even before the Star Store was the monthly art party known as AHA! (www.ahanewbedford.org). AHA!, short for Art, History, Architecture, is a city-wide cultural event during which artists and entertainers come out into the streets and public spaces on the second Thursday of the month.

“AHA! is a platform for community participation and collaboration,” explained director Lee Heald, “Our monthly celebration of the arts and culture scene, the diverse city population, fabulous food, performing arts, and feasts and festivals have attracted new development and business growth, populated the city center with residents and students, increased tourism and generated new enthusiasm in this vibrant community,”

When AHA! was created in 1999, New Bedford did not have what Heald refers to as “a gallery scene.” In fact, she admitted, the city then had what could only be described as “a deserted downtown” with perhaps more criminal than creative activity.

“New Bedford had become a place few would visit,” Heald said. ”[It] was a Gateway City…[but] a gateway to what, was the question.”

AHA!’s mission was to make New Bedford “a vibrant city again, to attract new creative potential and expand cultural activities.” At the first AHA!, a little over 250 people came to interact with just 14 artistic partners. Today, Heald said AHA! engages over 65 partners and enjoys a regular audience in the thousands.

“We have learned that partners and partnerships create the program,” she said, echoing Bernert’s comments that fostering collaboration and mutual trust have been the “core mission” of the downtown revival.

A HISTORY OF ARTISTS

While the latest developments are noteworthy, New Bedford’s cultural tide has been coming in for some time.

“New Bedford has always maintained a vibrant creative life,” Ashley said, even before the big revival of the last 15 years.

In the 19th century, artists like William Bradford, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Clifford Ashley, and Albert Bierstadt grew up in the city or started their careers here. The Swain School of Design (which merged with UMass Dartmouth in 1988) attracted other artists from further afield.

The New Bedford Free Public Library housed one of the region’s first serious art collections. More recently, restorations and expansion of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (www.whalingmuseum.org) and the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center (https://zeiterion.org) brought a higher focus on culture to town.

“At one point, New Bedford was the richest city in the world, and home to over 20 theaters,” explained Rosemary Gil, the Zeiterion’s executive director of programming. “Today, The Zeiterion is the only remaining operating theater.”

In the 1980s, community activism helped keep “the Z” from becoming the last word in New Bedford theater.

These days, the theater hosts scores of performances each year (including shows by such legends as Alan Cumming, Jay Leno, the late Joan Rivers, and locally-raised star Samantha Johnson). It provides more than15,000 students with curriculum-based school-time events. In addition to hosting performing arts organizations like the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra (www.nbsymphony.org) and New Bedford Festival Theater (www.nbfestivaltheatre.com), the Zeiterion (which Gill calls a “cultural beacon” in New Bedford) also helps host festivals that attract thousands to the area.

THE ART MUSEUM AND GALLERY X

According to former Mayor Frederick Kalisz Jr., the “critical mass ” of the arts resurgence in New Bedford came with the city’s acquisition of the Art Museum Building and the creation of a gallery on the first floor. The museum effort began under former Mayor Rosemary Tierney. Kalisz credits then City Councilor Ken Ferreira, who came to vote despite being ill at the time.

Another important development was the opening in 1990 of Gallery X, a collaborative artist space that drew on many graduates of the Swain School. It was a time, when co-founder Chuck Hauck said “there were no other contemporary galleries in New Bedford.”

Described on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pg/GalleryXNewBedford) as “a place, a collective, an art gallery, a performance space, a funhouse, a basement club, a party palace, a church, a meeting house, [and] a cornerstone to NB’s Creative/Art scene,” Gallery X has since been a place where “artists of all disciplines and persuasions can display or perform the fruits of their creative labors.”

As New Bedford is still a “cheap city to live in, with loft and studio space available cheap,” Hauck said attracting more artists has not been difficult, even in the early days. Even so, he admitted even he has been surprised by the rapid expansion in recent years.

Spotting the trend in the city, New Bedford native Margo Saulnier came home after years of work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other cultural organizations to serve as the city’s arts and culture strategist.

When asked about the key moments in the revival, Saulnier first mentioned 1996, the year that the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was recognized as a United States National Historical Park and also the founding that same year of the New Bedford Historical Society (www.nbhistoricalsociety.org), which has focused its efforts on documenting and celebrating the history and contemporary contributions of African Americans, Cape Verdeans, Native Americans, West Indians and other people of color in New Bedford.

“The diversity of views allows New Bedford to have a rich tapestry of stories to tell and attract new audiences,” Heald said, noting many residents can trace their heritage back to the Underground Railroad that once brought fugitive slaves to the city.

Saulnier also credited the creation of the Creative Economy Task Force in 2008 with encouraging cultural and other development.

“There is a need for new business due to the student influx,” Saulnier said, “and the large population of creative young people influence the revitalization.”

The MCC, has brought over $1 million a year to the city, she said. Its local arm – the New Bedford Local Cultural Council (www.mass-culture.org/New-Bedford) has distributed about $70,000 in grants to local artists and also helped bring local schoolchildren to many cultural centers and events in the region. “The Seaport Cultural District has branded downtown cultural assets within a walkable geographic area,” Ashley points out. “Understanding the future potential of this sector is vital to our strategy for economic development as well as to the quality of life of everyone living in and visiting our city.”

“The power of cultural enterprise, creativity and collaboration are essential keys to New Bedford’s unique and distinctive identity,” Heald said. “Around this core, New Bedford has built a sense of place, engaged residents, forged a new economy and demonstrated how a Gateway City can show the pathway to the future.”

“New Bedford’s renaissance, cultural and otherwise, is the sum of many, many parts,” Gill said. “From a mayor who gets the connection between a healthy arts community and the economy to dozens of hard-working non-profit organizations, to artists of many disciplines who have chosen to make this their home, and the hope and promise of a young generation of entrepreneurs creating an interesting retail landscape – New Bedford [continues to be] on the rise.”

“We are already seeing bigger and bigger waves,” McLaughlin said. “Who knows what well see in the future?”

Original story here.

New Union Street building introduces hub for creative minds

Tracy Silva Barbosa never tires of the feeling after she introduces friends to her home.

They visit, look at her glass art, perhaps dine at a restaurant downtown and always leave with the same reaction.

“I never knew it was so beautiful and all of this wonderful stuff,” Barbosa said of the recurring reactions.

Barbosa lived in New York City for a decade before returning to the state where she grew up. Like many of her visitors, New Bedford impressed Barbosa and her husband. The culture and ever-growing art scene attracted them to make it their new home.

In January it will also be the home of her new business. Duende Glass will occupy a space in a new 10,000 square foot unit on Union Street dubbed a Co-Creative space by WHALE.

Barbosa, like multiple others whether it be artists or “creatives”, will use the space to create art and also sell it.

“I think the Co-Creative Center is just another spore from that flower,” Barbosa said. “It’s coming out of people who genuinely care and want to bring out the wonderful character this city has and bring it out in a tasteful way.”

There’s three levels to the building sitting beside The Garden and running along Acushnet Avenue.

The second floor of the building will consist of non-profit office space, apartments, and artist studios, which are already leased. The third floor consists of a two-bedroom market rate apartment.

The first floor, where Duende Glass and People’s Pressed, a juice and coffee shop, will be located, will house a public creative space.

The plan is to utilize the area closest to Union Street as a marketplace. Behind it will be a learning area where classes can be taught by anyone in the community. At the back of the building, bordering a park, the area will be used as a creative space filled with up-to-date technology like fabrication equipment and computer stations as well as work benches.

“We’re hoping we can build a community of Creatives,” WHALE Development Coordinator Amanda DeGrace said.

The first floor learning space will act as a chameleon of storts, blending into whatever the community envisions its best use.

DeGrace said there are 15 classes currently being discussed that would be available for public participation. They range from graphic design, creative writing, visual artists, sewing and even jam making. The class list continues to grow as community members continue to pitch ideas.

“We need to open the doors and see what this community wants this place to be,” DeGrace said.

Below the “Co-Make” area is a basement geared toward more industrial and textile creating as well as storage for artists.

Much like Gallery X on William Street or the studios in the former mill building on West Rodney French Boulevard brought Barbosa to the city, the Co-Creative Center hopes to attract even more imaginative minds.

“Through the Co-Creative more diverse artists come,” Barbosa said. “You want to have some cross pollination and that’s what innovation is.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

Original story here.

Behind the Counter: Furniture maker combines art and design in function

Posted Dec 30, 2017 at 9:22 PM

For all of woodworker Michael Pietragalla’s careful measuring and precise cutting, it’s what can’t be controlled that intrigues him most about the creative process.

“As you work into the wood, more and more patterns and details come out of it,” he says. “It’s not planned.”

This combination of practiced skill and unpredictable magic happens at Floating Stone Woodworks, Pietragalla’s custom furniture shop located in Loft 406 at 88 Hatch Street in New Bedford.

The name “Floating Stone” is an Italian translation of his last name. He specializes in handcrafted tables, bookcases, and benches, made from hardwoods such as cherry, maple, and walnut. Each piece is built and finished individually, with precision-cut, hand-fitted joints and hand-applied finishes.

Pietragalla moved in to Hatch Street Studios in 2000, the longest continuous tenant in a former mill building that now holds the working spaces of more than 50 creative professionals.

His 2,600-square-foot studio contains the large machinery required to construct his work, including a table saw, planer and drum sander. The long walls are lined with neat rows of hand tools in all sizes. With one wall full of windows facing west, he can wrap up his workday with one of the best sunset views that the city of New Bedford has to offer.

Meticulous craftsmanship is part of Pietragalla’s heritage. His grandfather, a shoemaker, immigrated to New Bedford in his 20s from the village of Pietragalla near Naples, Italy, and ran a shoe shop on North Front Street all of his life. His father was a trained hair stylist who operated his own salon while drumming for a dance band that played such popular local hangouts as Lincoln Park.

Pietragalla grew up in Fairhaven. In school, there were few signs of the exacting technician to come; mathematics was not his best subject. But he was thrilled as a teenager when his father bought him a set of drums, and he began to practice by playing along to jazz records. When the Beatles hit, he was inspired to form a rock ‘n’ roll band of his own. He later attended the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting.

After college, he took on carpentry jobs, where he soon showed a knack for precision. “The bosses saw that I had the attention to detail for finished work, and that’s what they had me do,” he says.

While working for hire, Pietragalla began to investigate furniture design and history. He made friends with an antiques dealer who introduced him to Mission style furniture, a late 19th-century design aesthetic of clean lines emphasizing the unique quality of a wood’s grain. This discovery showed him that furniture making could be a way to combine his carpentry skills with his artistic training. “You can make furniture out of pine, and it’s functional. Or you can make it out of birdseye maple, and now it’s exciting to look at,” he explains.

At first Pietragalla tried working out of a studio in his basement, but space soon became an issue, so he moved into his current location on Hatch Street. The Mission style he favored was popular and, with the then-new internet opening up new connections, his website drew clients from all over the country with requests for custom projects.

He could barely keep up with his orders until the economy sank in 2008. Ever resourceful, Pietragalla started making the small, affordable pieces that remain his signature today. At first he carved chopsticks from bamboo scraps, which sold so well that he expanded into a full range of kitchen utensils. His offerings now include cheese spreaders, spatulas, and salad forks/spoons made of birch and walnut.

Most recently came his jewelry boxes, or as Pietragalla calls them, “treasure boxes.” They are the perfect product for him because they allow him to play with design, color, and texture, while precisely crafting a functional object.

The boxes are sleek and slender, approximately 12 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep, made of exotic combinations like zebra wood, yellow heart and cherry.Their lids lift off with ornate handles, they are lined with leather or velvet, and some have hidden compartments.

Like the rest of Pietragalla’s work, the wood grain is the star.

“I like to mix up species of wood, because it becomes a treasure box, not just a jewelry box,” he says. “The box itself is a treasure, as much as what’s in it.”

In addition to those of his own styling, Pietragalla sells custom-designed treasure boxes. He also creates mixed-wood ring boxes to hold an engagement or wedding ring.

Pietragalla sells his work at Hatch Street Open Studios, a popular annual event held the weekend before Thanksgiving. His pieces are available throughout the year at the New Bedford Art Museum’s gift shop, as well as through the Artisans Way Fine Art and Contemporary Craft Gallery in Concord.

Pietragalla also offers furniture restoration and repair services at his studio. He works on pieces as diverse as chairs, tables, and mostly recently a broken sitar. He even replaced a cane chair seat for a customer by teaching himself the process from a YouTube video. “If it’s made of wood, I can probably fix it,” he says.

After decades of intense study and hands-on experience, Pietragalla emphasizes that he is still a student of craft and design, always learning. A poster on his office wall reads, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” That sums up the working philosophy of this son of generations of craftsmen.

To view a portfolio of Michael Pietragalla’s work, visit his website at FloatingStoneWoodworks.com. His studio is open during regular business hours or by appointment on weekends. He can be reached directly at FloatingStone@comcast.net or at 508.997.1079.

Catherine Carter is a New Bedford artist and former Standard-Times journalist. Her profiles of area businesses will appear in this space regularly.

Original story here.

Behind the Counter: Hippo is where unique meets hip meets art

Open Studios on Hatch Street draw big crowd

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Hatch Street Studios held its winter Open Studios over the weekend, and it was the most well-attended one they’ve ever had, artists said.

New Bedford has been ranked the 7th most artistic city in America by Atlantic Monthly and artists said they think their art might be reaching wider audiences.

“We’ve seen a lot of new people this year,” said Pat Kellogg, who shares a studio space with her husband, Michael Hecht.

Hecht, who does drawing, paintings and prints said a customer from Boston visited the event on Saturday who had previously bought one of his pieces at a gallery in Provincetown. Hecht said he knew someone had bought the piece, but didn’t know who purchased it until Saturday.

“With any luck, word spreads from year to year and we keep expanding our audience,” Hecht said. He said they’ve been in the building since 2003.

“We’ve sold a print, a painting. I’ve sold some jewelry and some t-shirts,” Kellogg said. The t-shirts were made by Kellogg’s son who has a t-shirt company in Brooklyn, she said. He’s in grad school and couldn’t be at the event, Kellogg said.

In a studio next door, Michael Pietragalla said he’s been in the building for 16 years and “this is by far the largest audience that I’ve seen come through this building since I’ve been here.” He said he noticed the parking lot on Saturday was so full that some cars were blocked in and others had to park on the street. He said the event has been going on for the past 10 years.

He specializes in custom wooden furniture and wooden utensils. “I’ve been selling these things like crazy,” he said, pointing to the utensils such as cheese knives, spatulas, scoops and spreaders. He said they’re made from recyclable, repurposed wood.

His furniture is made from “managed, renewable forests.” He had a cushioned chair with no legs next to a short table for sale. “My furniture is influenced by the Asian culture,” Pietragalla said.

Michelle Lapointe, who’s been in the building for 10 years, had various stained glass pieces, abstract paintings and photography. She said she thought the glass work was selling best.

“It was steady all day,” she said Sunday, noting that she sold quite a few pieces. “I’ve never seen so many people come through here.”

Lapointe explained how she does her work, pointing to glass of various shapes and colors that she first cuts and then grinds to smooth the edges. Then, Lapointe uses small machines and tools to boarder the glass and connect different pieces. “It’s a process, and people sometimes don’t get the work involved,” she said.

Jayne Pallatroni said she’d been to the event before and likes it.

“It’s fun to see what’s going on in New Bedford,” she said. “It’s nice to see all the art.”

Rose Lewis was with Pallatroni and said it was her first time there. “I was just curious,” she said. She had fun talking with the artists and seeing some of the work they produced, she said.

Janice Hodson purchased a necklace from artist Lindsay Mis on the third floor.

“I’ve been here multiple years, sometimes with friends, sometimes with relatives,” Hodson said.

Sunday, she was with her 10-year-old niece Ava Travassos who said, “I was lucky today.”

Hodson said last year Travassos got an ostrich egg from artist Scott Currier after they talked about things they collect in nature. This year, she got a bird feather on top of a nest placed in a box that Hodson was holding. Travassos has to tell Currier what birds the feather relates to when she returns next year, Hodson said. She also got a necklace from Mis.

“People are very generous with their time and talking about what they do,” Hodson said.

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT.

Original Story Here:

WHALE making fundraising push for ‘maker space’

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Next spring, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to New Bedford’s art and “maker” communities.

NEW BEDFORD — The wooden floors were bare, parts of the ceiling were crumbling and water pooled in small puddles in the basement, but next spring, WHALE executive director Teri Bernert said, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to the city’s art and “maker” communities.

“We’re trying to keep the artists in New Bedford,” Bernert said Wednesday, standing in what will become the Co-Creative Center, a 10,000-square-foot space that will include work and exhibition areas, with offices and apartments upstairs.

People will be able to use the shared equipment and space through memberships. Bernert and Amanda DeGrace, WHALE’s development coordinator, agreed that if the thriving Groundwork collaborative on Purchase Street is a shared office environment, the Co-Creative Center downtown will be a shared design studio — or lab, or “maker space,” or, essentially, garage-style workshop.

“But a really nice garage,” Bernert joked.

Think 3-D printers, tool benches, graphic design technology and more. Users of the space could include former art students from UMass Dartmouth’s nearby Star Store campus, local artisans, designers, startups and others.

The Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) is planning a Saturday launch for an ambitious fundraising effort for the center, as it begins a final push toward opening the doors next May. WHALE is hoping to raise $50,000 by late November, and if it does so, quasi-governmental agency MassDevelopment will match the funds. But if they don’t make the goal, DeGrace said, they don’t get the dough.

“Think of it as like a Kickstarter for community development,” DeGrace said.

The matching funds are part of MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, and affiliated with the agency’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), which began in 2015. TDI beneficiaries include New Bedford’s Union and Purchase Innovation District. MassDevelopment works at federal, state and local levels to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Bernert said the Co-Creative Center’s fundraising effort and related events over the next two months are intended “to make the community aware of this new space that’s part of the creative economy of New Bedford.”

The redevelopment project also includes the adjoining 139 Union St., on the corner of Union and Acushnet Avenue. While the shared workspace at 141 Union will be a nonprofit model and eventually “its own entity,” Bernert said, the corner space at 139 Union will be a mixed-use model, with businesses, offices and housing.

Two eateries have signed letters of intent for leases: The Noodle Bowl, owned by Madalena and James Jezierski; and People’s Pressed, a juice bar.

Bernert said the exterior of 139 Union will have “an all-new, historic façade that will wrap around” the building, along the Acushnet Avenue side.

She said the cost of the entire project, including acquisition of the building, is about $2.3 million. Funding has come from several sources, including a deferred-interest, $1 million MassDevelopment loan announced in August.

WHALE will accept donations through Patronicity, a civic crowdfunding platform online. People also can learn more about the project and how to contribute by calling WHALE at 508-997-1776.

The upcoming push for $50,000 more — or $100,000, with the match — will include efforts to gather input from the community. From 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 3, WHALE will host an information session about the Co-Creative Center, to gather input on what local artisans might want to see in the maker space.

That event will be at Groundwork, in the Quest Center on Purchase Street.

“We have a lot of designers that work here who have expressed interest in utilizing the maker space,” Groundwork co-founder Dena Haden said.

Talks about shared memberships and other collaborations are under way, Haden and Bernert said.

“I think it’s going to be a great asset for the community — for makers, artists and designers. I think it’ll be a great hub to have in the middle of downtown,” Haden said of the Co-Creative Center. “It might lead to more graduates from the art school staying in town, if they can utilize the shop and share facilities.”

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT