It was a near-perfect weekend for the Brookline Open Studios this year. Sunday in particular was warm and sunny, bringing neighbors outdoors in shorts and cotton skirts to shop, eat brunch, and look at the work of local artists.
Brookline may not have the numerous galleries of Boston's Newbury Street or the South End, but this past weekend the town's artists were out in force. I took the tour on Sunday, concentrating on stops in Brookline Village, were there were groups of artists at single locations.
At 11AM, businesses with blue balloons bopping in the wind signifying participation in event were opening their doors to visitors. I stepped into Framer's Workshop, 64 Harvard Street, and walked towards the back of the store to find a big room covered with artwork created by employees. The tagline on their promotional postcard was "Art by Picture Framers That Make Art Too."
Frank Criscione, who was working Sunday morning, filled me in. "The employees here are all artists of some sort," Criscione said. "Lately I've been making scarves out of old t-shirts. I also do collage with fabric and I'm starting to make furniture." He pointed out a piece that had caught my eye, a crate mounted on the wall containing an old baby doll—the paint peeling like skin off it's creepy face—along with other found objects. "That's Sarah Clapham's. This is her first time showing. She collects old ephemera and organizes it."
Other pieces offered an element of surprise that made you look twice to realize what you were actually seeing. What at first glance looked like the work of a Spanish master painting in the baroque style was actually a portrait of a woman wearing black face paint and tattoos. The piece was by Renee Hoffman, also an employee. Jon Diotalevi likes to paint large birds on existing paintings. One of his pieces was of a bucolic village on the water. You might not immediately register the large duck-like figure sitting in the foreground or the maniacal rooster looming large in the back.
My next stop was Abeille, 45 Harvard Street, where jewelry-makers, a cloth bag designer, a candle-maker, and a comic book "upcycler" displayed their wares for purchase. The youngest Open Studios participant I met was Thea-Charles Moon, a 9th grader from Brookline High, who taught herself to make body scrubs and soy candles. Amy Hutchinson, whose business is A Full Cup Design, was selling fabric creations she made in part because as Hutchinson put it, "It's very relaxing. It's an escape from Legos." She's the mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9, and her craft is a creative outlet, she said.
I helped myself to some lemon water among the refreshments that had been laid out for visitors. Open Studios has an almost block party-like atmosphere, with many artists and business owners putting out candy, cupcakes, and wine for patrons to enjoy. But I needed to get going, and my next stop was The Brookline Community Foundation, 40 Webster Place, where I met the co-coordinator of the Open Studios, Gwen Ossenfort, who was sitting under the shade of the front porch. Her long, intricate sculptures made of branches, twigs, and twine lay on either side of her like sleeping dogs. Inside, I met Mike Tarasyuk, whose self-portrait with colorful bird feathers was a bright spot that drew the eye. This was Tarasyuk's fifth time displaying his work at Open Studios, though he's been an artist for 20 years. I also talked to Helena June Hsieh, a young female painter whose work was so realistic it was almost like a series of blown-up photographs. "This is great exposure for artists," said, adding it was good to meet art lovers in the neighborhood.
At 2 Brookline Place I viewed black & white photography shot by students in Jo Shields' Creative Darkroom class, which is offered by Brookline Adult and Community Education. Her class, held at Brookline High School, is the only place in the Boston area—apart from the New England School of Photography—where you can access a professional darkroom. There are a faction of photographers that prefer the low-tech approach, Shields said, and will scour the Internet for old cameras. Shields was sitting with a former student, Sacha Nalepa, who is also a teacher, as well as a bookbinder, and who is fascinated with old found photographs. Shields' current class includes a Brookline man in his 80's whose pictures of statues lined part of the wall behind them.
I also met Cecile Raynor, whose current specialty is Kinesthetic Artwork. Raynor, who spoke with a lilting French accent, explained that she does blind pastel drawings, guided purely by her natural movement and emotion. Raynor is a former dancer and a teacher of the Alexander Technique, as well as a yoga therapist—all of which inform her art, she said. The paper on which she draws is thick and the edges are ripped, the layers colored in to show depth. I admired a series of her work modeled from an exhibition "Degas and the Nude," a show at the MFA in 2011.
Next stop was Inner Space, 17 Station Street, where four artists were showing. I spoke with Lola Baltzell, a tall, energetic woman with short, spiky brown hair. Baltzell is an Encaustic artist. The literature she handed me explained that Encaustic is a technique that uses heat to burn and melt beeswax onto paper to create a painting on wood, stone, or plaster. Her art contained scrap pieces of book pages written in Gaelic, French, Russian, and Latin. She also incorporates various found objects that other people are throwing away. For her fiftieth birthday party, Baltzell said, she asked her friends to bring "rusty pieces from their garage" through which she eagerly sorted. "Upcyling" was definitely a theme of the Open Studios this year—not surprising in a progressive town like Brookline.
I ended my day at Town Hall, 333 Washington Street, where I met the other coordinator of Open Studios, Peg O' Connell. She was standing in front of a table of framed black and white photography, talking to admirers. I was interested in the vintage box camera that was front and center on the table. Did she actually use it? Yes, O'Connell said, twice a year she goes to an auction at the Photographic Historical Society of New England, where she picked up this box camera and gets other hard-to-find parts. I never even knew such a society existed. Just another discovery among many that I made at this year's Brookline Open Studios.
by Jennifer Campaniolo