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.

Whaling Museum’s big exhibition landing in South End arts space

In true “Greatest Showman” style, the imminent exhibition of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Museum ’Round the World is being billed as “A Spectacle in Motion.”

It is certainly going to be that — and a whole lot more.

The Standard-Times was given exclusive media access to plans for the exhibition of the restored 19th century 1,275-foot work of art, Grand Panorama of a Whaling Museum ’Round the World last week at the museum.

From that meeting, we can now report that the legacy cultural event of the summer will take place in the city at none other than Kilburn Mills Studios on West Rodney French Boulevard in New Bedford’s South End.

It is there where the Whaling Museum found the space and proper historical ambiance to reveal the restored Grand Panorama to the world in a special off-site exhibit that will open on July 14 and remain on view through October 8, 2018.

“Kilburn Mills was built in 1903,” says Tina Malott, museum director of marketing and public relations, “The same year the Whaling Museum was founded.”

It’s not the only bit of serendipity behind this inspired choice.

The selection of Kilburn Mills as an exhibition site for the panorama comes as the building itself is undergoing a renewal — along with the entire “peninsula” section of the city.

As such, the Whaling Museum’s decision to show the panorama there reinforces the idea that arts and culture is not only a means in itself, but a means to an end. It has the power to reinvigorate a city and revitalize neighborhoods by its very exercise in often overlooked spaces.

Just as this unique panorama was once forgotten but given new life, “A Spectacle in Motion” brings national attention to all of the City of New Bedford’s cultural and emotional infrastructure.

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ’Round the World

Without hyperbole, it’s accurate to write that The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ’Round the World is a national treasure.

It is a 1,275-foot-long painting on canvas that depicts a whaling voyage — originating in New Bedford, of course. Which is no surprise, since it was painted in 1848 by New Bedford artists Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington, when the city was secure in its position as the world’s top whaling port.

Museum materials state that it is a unique work of art because it is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas — a popular art and entertainment form that reached its peak in the mid-19th century.

Panoramas were very much the movies of the time period.

In its entirety, and accompanied by narration, music and other special effects, this Grand Panorama ran a feature-length two hours.

All panoramas were “played” across a stage in a theatrical setting from spool to spool — much like early films ran from reel to reel.

According to Whaling Museum Chief Curator Christina Connett, panoramas can be placed squarely in the context of a rising middle class enjoying leisure time in the nascent industrial age. It is very much a part of the burgeoning popular entertainment forms of the day, like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth; and other amusements like World Fairs.

Indeed, over a century after its initial “theatrical” run, the Grand Panorama was exhibited at the 1964 World’s Fair in Corona, Queens. It’s next stop after that? A former furniture store on Pope’s Island, New Bedford in 1969!

But a showing way back in 1849 at the Boston Armory intrigues Christina Connett the most.

The historical record shows that Herman Melville was at his sister’s home a few blocks away from the armory at the time the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ’Round the World was on display — the adventure of which his own popular early novels, like “Typee” and “Oomo,” brought to life.

“It’s nice to imagine that he saw the ‘Panorama’ when he was there,” she says.

Restoring the Grand Panorama

It’s nice to imagine that anyone can see the Grand Panorama at all — let alone back in the city where it was created over 150 years ago.

Thanks to some more serendipity and a lot of hard work, imagination becomes reality — and digital reimagination — this summer at Kilburn and the Whaling Museum.

The museum chanced upon ownership of the work of art when it was donated to them in 1918 by Benjamin Cummings — who found it in a local attic. Some 300 feet were missing, so the voyage ’round the world ends at Fiji — but at 1,275 feet it’s still likely the longest painting in the United States. (A nice piece of promo material at the museum teases visitors with the fact that the painting is actually longer than the Empire State Building is tall.)

The Whaling Museum has exhibited sections of it at various times over the years, and as noted, it made its way to New York City and Pope’s Island in the 1960s, just about a century after its original tour of East Coast and Midwest cities like Cincinnati, Buffalo, St. Louis, Baltimore, New York and Boston from 1849 through 1870.

The restored Grand Panorama visitors will see at Kilburn is the first time it has been publicly shown since the 1970s, when only sections of it were on display at the Whaling Museum before being put in storage.

Christina Connett says that the goal of the restoration project wasn’t perfection, but stabilization so that it lasts another 100 years.

“We want people to see it for what it was back in the 19th century,” she explains, “So there are some small abrasions and the like which allows the authenticity to show.”

 As part of the conservation effort, the panorama was photographed in blocks — and those images will be put to good use in a new, permanent exhibit outside the Lagoda half-scale whaling ship replica in the museum’s Bourne Building.

The 15-minute running time digital display will mimic the original movement of the Grand Panorama — while the original will be displayed in its entirety at Kilburn mounted on static, brushed aluminum panels of 400 feet each.

Both the actual and digital exhibits will also feature new, original artwork commissioned by the museum, special performances at various times and other related ephemera of the period over the course of the summer exhibit. After that, elements of it will hit the road for another tour, just as it did in the 19th century.

The Grand Panorama at Kilburn

Which brings us up to the present day — and the exciting decision to display the restored Grand Panorama at Kilburn.

Kilburn Mills Studios — officially called Kilburn Mill at Clarks Cove — itself occupies a special place in the city’s emotional infrastructure.

Originally a textile mill, most city residents probably recall it as the former home of Madewell, the apparel company. Today, Kilburn Mills Studios is home to an eclectic range of businesses as it undergoes its own renovation.

A gym, a dancing studio, a silk screening company, a vast antiques store and other going concerns call it home. Significant improvements have recently been made to the building, including new windows, a new roof, refurbished staircases and more.

Importantly for this story and in the context of the creative destination New Bedford has become, a number of noted artists maintain studios in the building. Artists like Mark “Maki” Carvalho, Kelly Zelen, Will Wolf and others.

It also houses the gem-like Judith Klein Art Gallery & Studio, which in addition to beautiful works of art also boasts a stunning view of the new Cove Walk atop the Hurricane Barrier — and Clarks Cove itself in the rear of the building.

Further, the owner of Colo Colo Gallery, Luis Villanueva, has an outdoor sculpture garden on the drawing board for the property.

And all of this sits in the South End of New Bedford at the entrance to what is referred to as the “peninsula” area, which encompasses the city’s municipal beaches, Fort Rodman, Fort Taber, a companion Hurricane Barrier walk to the east, Harbor Walk, and too much more to mention.

The decision by the Whaling Museum to exhibit the Grand Panorama here and in this context is an amazing opportunity to thrust the entire peninsula and its many attractions into the spotlight when literally the eyes of the region and nation will be on the Grand Panorama.

This is arts and culture at work across the city — for the good of the entire city.

You could call it A Spectacle in Motion.

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

Business Newsmaker: Three New Bedford companies in spotlight at PGA Merchandise Show

Posted Jan 21, 2018 at 3:01 AM

When the PGA 2018 Merchandise Show, the industry’s annual “Major of Golf Business,” kicks off in Florida, three New Bedford companies will be prominently featured.

Titleist, AHEAD and Moby Dick Brewing Co. all are Orlando-bound for the 65th annual gathering, Jan. 23-26, that welcomes more than 40,000 golf industry professionals from all 50 U.S. states and more than 70 countries to the sprawling Orange County Convention Center, which will host more than 1,000 exhibitors.

As for the New Bedford contingent:

— Titleist will be front and center at PGA Show Demo Day, the world’s largest, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, featuring its No. 1 golf ball as well as its popular line of clubs.

— AHEAD – one of the country’s top brands for men and women with headwear, apparel and accessories – will be introducing its hot new selections for Summer and Fall 2018 in the PGA Show’s Fashion Forum.

— Moby Dick Brewing Co., which opened in the New Bedford historic district in spring 2017, will be launching and serving its new private-label Dogleg Ale at various events throughout the PGA Show’s four days.

“We all think it’s a pretty cool story that’s developing at the PGA Merchandise Show with the three New Bedford companies playing key roles,” said David Slutz, president, Moby Dick Brewing Co. “This is our company’s first time at the PGA Show and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to debut our Dogleg Ale, which we’re confident will get positive reviews.”

Anne Broholm, CEO of AHEAD, concurred.

“This is not only wonderful exposure for our individual companies but also for New Bedford,” she said. “This is truly the sport’s global stage where the excitement level is off the charts. I think it’s awesome that Titleist, AHEAD and Moby Dick Brewing Co. all are part of the world’s largest business-to-business golf event.”

Original story here.

Tony Sapienza proved quality clothing can be made in America

Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 8:47 PM

Manufacturing in the United States allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

Decades ago Tony Sapienza shared some feelings of uncertainty with Matt Morrissey, who at the time was the executive director of New Bedford’s Economic Development Council.

The number of American clothing manufacturing jobs continued to decline as companies exported them to foreign countries.

“There was a sense of when was the last shoe going to fall in New Bedford,” Morrissey said. “That was very much in the thinking of that period.”

Sapienza feared Riverside Manufacturing Co. would be next. The facility, which now houses Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, under Sapienza’s guidance, wouldn’t be silenced.

“Tony was very instrumental in holding that together and realizing the value of the factory,” Joseph Abboud said. “You have 750 families there that maybe wouldn’t be there if Tony hadn’t sort of stuck through it and persevered. We owe him a lot. We really do. That’s a big statement.”

Joseph Abboud celebrated its 30th anniversary in New Bedford last year. Sapienza’s trust in the city, it’s workforce and his innovation preserved the factory.

As he looks toward retirement in 2018, the 70-year-old Sapienza, CEO of Joseph Abboud, is SouthCoast Today’s Businessperson of the Year.

“He is clearly the guy that deserves it,” Abboud said. “Because that factory could have easily been gone, which would have been a disaster.”

Sapienza, regardless of how dire the circumstances appeared, said he never entirely lost faith in New Bedford.

He trusted GFT (Gruppo Finanziaro Tessile), the Italian clothing company which owned Riverside. But even more he knew the workforce, made up of mostly Portuguese women, would prevail.

“Folks who came to this country as teenagers, as young adults, kids sometimes, but who grew up in a family environment where, first of all, there were needle trade skills, so they knew how to thread a needle and run a sewing machine and had a tremendous work ethic,” Sapienza said.

The addition of Abboud completed the ingredients for the resurrection of the manufacturing facility.

“He kind of synthesized the brand and the look and he was an American designer born in America, making clothing in America,” Sapienza said. “It was a great story you could tell about his commitment to being an American and being in the right place.”

But it was Sapienza who made the most out of those ingredients, both Morrissey and Abboud said.

During the 1990s it made business sense for companies to outsource jobs. Sapienza looked at having a facility in New Bedford as a positive, specifically in men’s fashion.

As the country exited the 2002 recession, Sapienza introduced an idea Americans take for granted in 2018.

“That was all about treating the consumer to the kind of (service) we’ve all become accustomed to,” Abboud said. “We go online. We order something and it shows up two days later. With men’s clothing we’re not quite as fast as two days later, but when you can get a product in two weeks or three weeks particularly made to your specifications, that’s a pretty good deal.”

Foreign competitors needed weeks to ship products to the United States. Joseph Abboud Manufacturing worked to provide customers with the quickest transaction possible.

“So we made significant investments in 2004 in efficiency and in getting the product to market that much faster,” Sapienza said. “That was probably the single most important additional thing that we as managers here in New Bedford were able to do.”

New machinery cut six days out of the production process.

Sapienza also brought the New Jersey distribution facility to New Bedford. It created upwards of 30 jobs and saved at least another week in shipping.

Often, shipments out of New Jersey required overnight shipping. Since Sapienza had streamlined production, overnighting packages wasn’t needed as often. Not only did Sapienza provide better customer service, he saved the company money.

Manufacturing in the United States also allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

“We make a lot of high quality products offshore but there isn’t anything quite like what we do (in New Bedford),” Abboud said. “He was extremely instrumental in understanding the value of the factory to the brand.”

As early as 2009, Sapienza ushered one of the oldest trades in the world into social media.

“We realized we could do it on social media. It’s pretty cheap to do,” Sapienza said. “You don’t have to buy $20,000 ads in men’s magazines. You can blog and do a whole bunch of other stuff.”

As Sapienza steps into retirement, he sees the industry stepping into different, uncharted territory.

Malls are struggling. Brick and mortar retail may not have a future.

“Who could have predicted Amazon and Wal-Mart battling the way they are,” Sapienza said. “That you get your groceries from Amazon. It’s a whole new landscape out there.”

At his core, though, Sapienza believes tailoring is a craft done best with the customer present. That aspect will always steady any uncertain waters.

“I think we’ll see the best retailers are going to survive when they provide exemplary customer service and when they’re selling a product that needs a little bit of hand holding,” Sapienza said.

Abboud refers to Sapienza as royalty in the tailored clothing industry. The two met in their 20s. Sapienza worked at his father’s factory in Haverhill

“You can’t necessarily put down on a checklist, he’s a very special guy,” Abboud said. “I think he’s very connected with the community, committed to the community and I think that makes him. And he’s seen the world.”

Retirement or not, the world will see the chair of the Economic Development Council and trustee at the Whaling Museum and Bristol County Community College again.

“This isn’t the last of me,” Sapienza said. “You’ll see me.”

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.

30 years later, Joseph Abboud looks back at his brand in New Bedford

Posted Dec 29, 2017 at 4:57 PM
Updated Dec 29, 2017 at 5:38 PM

Joseph Abboud celebrated his 30th anniversary of clothing manufacturing in the city in 2017.

Abboud told stories of many smiles and some tears during the three decades. The clothing designer shared some of those moments as well as his favorite designs recently with the Standard-Times.

How has the industry evolved in the past 30 years?

The industry has really evolved in that there are fewer and fewer great men’s specialty stores and there are fewer and fewer department stores. So as part of Tailored Brands, our opportunity to be vertical is really, really important. So I see the changing landscape where there are so many holes in terms of where great retail is and we’ve tried to fill that gap with our Men’s Wearhouse stores as well as we’ve got our classic store on Madison Avenue. But we are retailers at heart, so we can go direct to the consumer. I can see that as the big play now. When I started, there were so many more people to sell. Now it’s a much different game.

What are some of your favorite memories in New Bedford?

I’ve got a lot of them. I may have said this to you when we’ve spoken before. When I cross the Massachusetts border and I’m driving on 195, you know, it’s really, I’m coming home. I always feel like I’m coming home. And a lot of magic happens in that factory in New Bedford. In a weird way, it’s where I feel my most comfortable in terms of creating the tailored clothing because I’m working closely with (Senior Vice President of Design & Quality) Salvatore Mellace and my team there. I’ve been doing that for so long there’s a comfort level. And every time I go to the factory, I discover something new that we can do there. It is really kind of a magical place.

Tony Sapienza described a moment where you returned to the industry after a brief hiatus and it was specifically in New Bedford that brought some tears. What was that moment like?

It’s so interesting because, I’m a fairly emotional guy. I always try to keep it in check but I am. The day that I walked back into that factory and they were all there to welcome me back in open arms grabbed me by surprise. I was really touched by it. I really did choke up on that because they were there, the same people that I had left were there to welcome me back. It was really like coming home again. You know, I’ll never forget that. I love the people in New Bedford, and the people in our factory. They’re such hard workers. They’re so dedicated. And they go into our stores, and they throw their chests out, and say, ‘I made that lapel’ or ‘I made that sleeve.’ They take such pride in what they do that it means so much to me. I’m so proud of them.

When was that?

I would say, oh, probably in 2013.

How long had you been away?

I would say, it was about, about eight years or so. So it was a while. But the factory continued to uphold the standards and the DNA of the Joseph Abboud brand and what I had created. I feel forever grateful. Because the real strength of our brand and the real anchor of our company is that factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, of the Joseph Abboud business. We have over 750 people there.

Why do you think that is?

Well, we started the business as an American designer with an American factory. And my partners who were Italian back then, they were also involved with Giorgio Armani and Valentino and they always believed that the designer should be making in the country he was from. So with Giorgio Armani making in Italy was important, and as we started and formed our business they really believed and I was 100 percent in agreement that we should make in America. As an American designer, we are the largest tailored clothing company in North America. We are the largest importing manufacturer of the finest Italian goods from Italy. Our custom business has really grown dramatically. We’re so proud of the quality of the fabrics we use but the quality of what we make with our New Bedford folks. To be the largest in North America under a designer name is pretty special.

I have to go back for one second. The 8-year hiatus, why did you step away?

There were some issues that I had with the prior management where I thought the brand was going in the wrong direction. I felt that it was time for me to walk away from it because I couldn’t support it or endorse it. But as Tailored Brands came in and we partnered on the idea of making Joseph Abboud the premier American designer brand and the idea that the factory was at the core of it, was so appealing. It was a wonderful homecoming.

That leads right into my next question, 30 years ago what did you envision from the brand and how does that compare to the reality of today?

The DNA is still very much the same, which is a modern American collection for all Americans. An inclusionary brand that was not a preppy traditional ivy league brand but a more modern worldly brand but still wasn’t some pseudo-European thing. It was truly an American brand. And that’s what it is today and I’m so proud of it. And so proud of the people, everyone who is involved. A lot of it is, obviously the strength of that is through our customers, it’s at the factory and the dedicated workforce that we have in New Bedford.

Something that popped out about your favorite lines was not only the designs but some of the textures. How do you go about picking some of those textures?

I always say that the texture of your clothes is like the texture of your life. That has been for me, to add dimension and personality to every piece I design. I always have believed that we want to give the customer more. We don’t want to give them less. So fabric is very important. The color of fabric is important. The linings that we use. The layering. There’s a richness to it that’s very masculine and very American but very approachable.

When you think about the American man, who are your designing for? Is the business class? Is it the working class? Is the guy going on the airplane? When you envision a suit, who is it for?

I think I believe in, it’s an overused word, but lifestyle. You know, I don’t think of one particular guy. I think of how a guy lives his life. How does the American man live his life? He has needs for tuxedos. He has a need for a dark business suit. He has a need for a softly constructed jacket. So I design for his lifestyle. I always used to say, if I think I need it, I think a lot of other guys need it. So I kind of use my needs and requirements as a guideline to what I think guys might want to have from a color point of view, from a silhouette point of view, from dressy to casual, from tuxedos to T-shirts. I’ve always looked at, my job is to make American men look and feel better about themselves. And that’s what designers are supposed to do. It’s not an ode to me by any means. My job is to really kind of honor my customer and really give him stuff that works in his life. That’s why I think we’ve had such a long run is because we’ve been very dedicated to our customer and their needs. That’s why I don’t use a lot logos on my clothes because I think labels belong on the inside of clothing not on the outside.

One thing we learned about the favorite designs is the women’s line. How did that come about?

Oh, that was really a special moment. My partners were Italian back then. They had wonderful factories in Italy. Unfortunately when they went through their financial crisis, they closed those factories down. We had that women’s business for about 10 years. It was a really beautiful collection but the quality was impeccable. And to this day, I’ve never been able to find the level of quality and craftsmanship in our women’s wear. So I haven’t done it. It doesn’t mean we won’t.

And also when you’re designing women’s wear, it also keeps you sharper for men’s wear. It’s a different mindset when you’re designing for women. It does. It keeps you on a much more heightened plane when you’re being creative. I sort of miss that part of it.

How does the inspiration alter from designing something for a man and designing something for a woman?

The thing that drives my brand has always been the textures and the fabrics. So when we did our women’s wear, it was basically with rich sumptuous fabrics but of course (in) the appropriate women shapes. So it differs more in shape. And women are much more experimental and will try things quickly. They’re newer to products. So it really was an exciting time for me. Yeah, that part of it, I miss. And so many women come up to us and say, ‘When are you going to do your women’s line?’ Because they love our fabrics. Never say never.

When was the decade of women’s clothing?

That was probably from 1992 to about 2003, 2004 in that area. Like I said, it does keep you very sharp. It really does.

In keeping in the designs you sent us, one that really stuck out with us was in 2016, the model with the black suit, the black American flag over his shoulder and the finger-less gloves. Where did the inspiration from that come from?

That was all about being proud to make in America. That was a runway look. So when you have a chance to do theatrics — and that’s what shows are about. Shows do have to have some theater. They have to have some drama. But that was one of my favorite looks because that flag was made in New Bedford, Massachusetts. That flag was sewn from all of my tailored sewing fabrics, and we now currently sell those as limited edition in my Joseph Abboud store here in (New York City).

Why did you want to tell that story at that particular show?

That was one of the first shows that we had done in a long time. And I wanted everybody to know that New Bedford could be as creative as Milan. And that what we do out of the tailoring and the custom details, I mean that was a beautiful show in terms of the energy of what we created and just showing a range of what we do in our factory in New Bedford and the Joseph Abboud Factory.

In the future, what do you see from the brand moving forward?

We talk about this corporately and Doug (Ewert), our CEO who has been an enormous supporter of the brand, has said our goal is to make it a billion dollar brand. So that’s our goal and move forward every day and we continue to see growth. Listen, there’s no straight lines to success. There’s always challenges. It’s climbing Mount Everest really. It’s kind of the quest is always (difficult). I love the journey. To get there is great but the journey is also very exciting. What’s at the next horizon? That’s what it is for me. I’m still challenged by it. I feel at the top of my game because my experience really does help me in terms of the confidence in the creativity. And that’s a very important thing. Having the confidence to know that you’ve done this, you’ve been through cycles. So it allows you to have more confidence in what you believe in.

New Bedford’s Joseph Abboud perfectly suited for NBA sidelines

When the NBA regular season kicks off Tuesday night, Kyrie Irving will sit in the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and lace up his personalized Nike sneakers for his debut with the Celtics. In the home locker room, LeBron James will have an array of footwear options within his signature shoe line.

Later that night, across the country in San Francisco, the Warriors’ Steph Curry will tie the laces of his signature shoe with Under Armor. Houston’s James Harden will feature his shoe with Adidas. All will don jerseys with their named emblazoned across the shoulders.

The coaches in each contest, meanwhile, from Brad Stevens to Steve Kerr, have their own uniform for the game —a dapper suit, custom made and tailored for them in a style of their choosing. Their names are elegantly embroidered inside the lapels.

All those suits share a common thread: New Bedford.

For the last eight years, every suit worn by an NBA coach in a game, whether played in Boston or Los Angeles, San Antonio or Minneapolis, was tailored at Joseph Abboud on Belleville Avenue.

When coach Doc Rivers walked off the court in 2010 after his Celtics lost in the NBA Finals, he wore a suit tailored in New Bedford. When Brad Stevens took over as head coach in 2013, fabric from Belleville Avenue traveled with him to every NBA city. As he ushers in a new era with Irving and Gordon Hayward, he’ll do so with ties to the Whaling City.

This year also marks the first season the company will tailor NHL coaches. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy visited the facility recently to be measured. It’s the latest extension into the sports world for Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, which also designs and produces suits for NESN, the official broadcasters of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins.

“From the very beginning of my brand, I’ve always been affiliated with sports and the Olympics because I was able to speak to American men,” Joseph Abboud said. “It didn’t matter the color of your skin, the political preference, your religion, it was always about a great American enterprise like the NBA. Yeah, I’m very proud of it.”

“I always thinks we have a responsibility to make them the best suits we can,” said Abboud, who serves as chief creative director of Tailored Brands Inc., parent company of the firm which bears his name. “When they wear our suits, we want them to feel good. But we also want to be proud.”

Three maps hang in the corporate office of Joseph Abboud in New York City at Madison Avenue and 49th Street. Most of the foot traffic breeze by the outlines of New York City and Milan, Italy. However, the map of New Bedford that hangs alongside draws the most comments.

“We took two world capitals and we also said, for us, New Bedford is just as important,” Abboud said.

That office’s proximity to the NBA store led to its current relationship with the league.

Tony Sapienza, CEO of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing and lifelong Celtics fan, frequented the store quite often, and it was there he bumped into Michael Goldberg, the former executive director for the NBA Coaches Association.

“He had worn the Joseph Abboud brand and he introduced himself,” Sapienza said. “He said we ought to do something together.”

A lunch sparked the deal for the 2009-10 season.

The coaches receive 10 suits a season, 15 if they’re a first-time coach. Joseph Abboud officials travel to Chicago each fall for the NBA coaches summit, meeting with their clients — some familiar faces and always some first-timers — for the fitting sessions. There they meet one of Joseph Abboud’s secret weapons.

‘Best of the best’

Amidst a jungle of hanging suits and the perpetual pounding of industrial sewing machines, Salvatore Mellace reaches into his pocket, fishing out a thimble.

“I was 10-years-old when my father gave me a thimble,” he said with a thick Italian accent. “My father tied this around (my fingers) with a rope for a couple of years — day and night so that this is automatic. So when you sew, the nail will go through this and you don’t poke your skin.”

Now 72-years-old, Mellace possesses more than six decades of tailoring experience and still owns the original thimble his father gave him.

When the NBA coaches flock to Chicago each fall for their coaching summit, Mellace meets each one with tape measure.

The Senior Vice President of Design and Quality needs only about 15 minutes to dictate precise measurements for the perfect fitting suit.

“He is the best of the best. Let me tell you,” Custom Manager Jenny Barroquiero said.

Mellace studied the artform under his father Dominic in Northern Italy. As a young boy in the rebuilding efforts after World War II, Dominic would send his son to the concrete construction sites. Mellace would search for the thick paper bags that once held the concrete and bring them back to his father.

“I used to put the cement bag in this bag, bring it to the factory, clean it, and then we would make the pattern from the cement bag,” Mellace said.

Within the Joseph Abboud Manufacturing facility today, computers efficiently plot the pattern on paper utilizing every inch of the fabric. Machines then precisely cut the fabric. But even with that industrial precision, Mellace keeps his eye on the details.

“I follow through all the garments to make sure that everything is on spec,” he said.

Movable waist-high shelves scatter throughout Joseph Abboud Manufacturing. The small metal racks include a stick with a white piece of paper attached at the top that reads, “NBA Coaches for Salvatore.”

What lies on the racks varies. There could be a portion of a suit, a jacket or pants. Regardless of the point in time of the suit’s life, Mellace examines them.

“I check to make sure that the chest piece is nice and straight, that the pocket is good,” Mellace said. “I check the waist, make sure that … it matches according to my number. Otherwise it’s going to be big or small. It’s no good.”

There are at least six checkpoints a suit has to clear under Mellace’s watch. For efficiency and organizational purposes, an entire order reaches each checkpoint at the same time.

Any issue regardless of its minuscule nature is repaired by hand. It takes about three or four weeks for the process to be fully completed.

“It’s very important that when (Barroquiero) ships the personal suits for them, they’ve got to be perfect,” Mellace said.

“To make a custom suit is an art.”

‘She’s the boss’

After Mellace takes a coach’s measurements, Barroqueiro helps them narrow more than 300 swatches down to 10 suit selections. Additional modifications are possible within each suit, like lapels, buttons, pockets and more.

“When Brad (Stevens) was the new Celtics coach, he was so overwhelmed. He was like, ‘I really don’t need 15 suits. This is a lot,’” Barroquiero said. “You could tell it was too much for him to handle. He was so sweet, though. He was like, ‘I don’t know what else to get.’”

Veteran coaches understand the process. Some waste little time in selecting suits. Others flip through hundreds of swatches, snap pictures on their phones and asked for suggestions from their wives.

Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers fell into the category of coaches who thoroughly enjoyed the process.

“He loves the swatches,” Barroquiero said. “He’ll sit and he loves looking and feeling.”

Other coaches took notice.

Tom Thibodeau, who served as Rivers’ associate head coach in Boston, asked Barroquiero one year to match his order with everything Rivers placed.

″‘He has good taste. I’m just going to do everything he did,’” Barroquiero remembers Thibodeau saying. She said she hoped he and Rivers would text one another to ensure they didn’t wear the same suit to game.

Barroquiero’s role differs depending on the coach.

“They trust Jenny. No question about that,” Mellace said. “They don’t trust me, but they trust her. They trust me for one thing. But when it comes to lining, fabric and style, she’s the boss.”

Barroquiero stacks the swatches categorically in an attempt to make the decision-making process easier.

Coaches flock toward navy. But color only accounts for a portion of the process.

“They’ll pick out a linen. I tell them that’s going to wrinkle,” she said. “You probably don’t want that. If you’re going to Florida and you want to wear it on vacation, that’s fine but not to a game because it’s going to be really wrinkly. So you just guide them.”

‘You don’t believe it’

Tens of thousands of yards of fabric, stacked in spools, rise more than a dozen feet off the ground in the southern end of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing.

They account for most of the swatches presented for the coaches. At times Barroquiero will walk through the tree-trunk sized spools. A specific fabric links her to a coach or NESN client.

“I know Brad Stevens wants just subtle fabrics, so you help him pick those subtle fabrics,” she said. “Whereas you know that Jim Rice, you show him something boring he’s going to say, ‘eh uh, that’s not for me.’”

Some of the spools will only contain 5 to 10 yards of material, but they’re exclusive to Joseph Abboud shows. They’re often referred to as “sample patterns” and right up the alley of the former Hall of Fame left fielder for the Boston Red Sox.

“Jim Rice comes to the factory to pick out his swatches,” Barroquiero said, “because he knows there’s always sample pieces here. He wants something different. He loves to walk through and pick out what he wants.”

At any given time, the unassuming two-story brick building could host Boston sports royalty. Rivers, Rice and newly ordained Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy have all walked through the congestion of sewing machines and hanging fabric.

“You do (have to pinch yourself). You almost do,” Sapienza said “It’s like you don’t believe it. You’re talking to (Hall of Famer Dennis) Eckersley. He’s talking to you about throwing fastballs. Or you’re talking to Jim Rice on how he hits home runs.”

The feelings extend beyond the date when the suits ship out of the New Bedford facility.

There are more than 1,200 NBA games a season. Playoffs can jump the number by more than 100.

Regardless of the contests, Barroquireo’s reaction is the same.

“Every time there’s a game on,” she said. “You’re like ’Ahhh! He’s wearing our suit.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

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Chronicle WCVB5 abc: New Bedford Renewal

On Thursday, September 7th, 2017 the Chronicle aired a program called New Bedford Renewal. We hope you take a few moments to enjoy the clips. City leaders and their partners have been hard at work on all fronts: Public Safety, Education, Economic Development, Community Development, Alternative Energy, and Quality of Life. We hope you enjoy the show!

New Bedford Renewal: A New Vitality

New Bedford Renewal: Port Prosperity

New Bedford Renewal: Beyond the Port

New Bedford Renewal: An Epicenter for Clean Energy

Joseph Abboud goes 70 percent solar

By

Joseph Abboud has gone solar.

The suit maker’s only manufacturing facility, a 272,000 square-foot mill once powered with coal and then with oil, is now using rooftop solar to generate about 70 percent of its electricity.

Built in 1909, the building has a sawtooth roof with 43 rows of north-facing skylights that let natural light into the mill.

Because the roofing is tilted at 22 degrees and faces south, it was perfect for capturing sunlight, said Phil Cavallo, CEO of Beaumont Solar Co., which installed the solar panels.

Drive down Belleville Avenue in New Bedford, and you can see the panels from the street.

“It’s pretty neat. It’s very photogenic,” he said.

The 1.3-megawatt system can generate 1.62 million kilowatt hours of energy each year.

Joseph Abboud president Anthony Sapienza said the company is a big user of electricity and has been conversant in renewable energy for years. With state tax credits and availability of local solar expertise, the project made sense, he said.

He expects the facility to cut its power costs by 80 percent.

The company has also converted its heating system from oil to natural gas and switched from fluorescent to LED lighting where possible, he said.

Joseph Abboud makes 1,300 suits per day in the facility. It has 800 employees, all of them local and overwhelmingly from New Bedford, Sapienza said.

Its parent company is Tailored Brands, which also owns Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank, and other menswear names.

Sapienza said the solar installation cost about $2.5 million and represents the company’s commitment to American-made products and to the city of New Bedford.

The city has become a leader in solar power, and “we’re proud to be a part of that story,” he said.

Sapienza, Cavallo, and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell gathered on the manufacturing floor Tuesday to announce the project. Mitchell said New Bedford has installed more solar capacity per capita than any other city in the continental United States.

A century ago, when the Abboud building was part of the Nashawena Mills textile complex, coal was trucked in and burned to make steam and generate electricity, according to Cavallo. A tunnel beneath Belleville Avenue still connects the boiler house, on the east side of the street, with the main building to the west, he said.

New Bedford-based Beaumont Solar is the former Beaumont Sign Co., which Cavallo bought in 2006. An electrical engineer with ties to Cape Cod, he previously worked in Silicon Valley but wanted to return to the East Coast, he said.

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