A second New Haven “Goatville neighborhood” was opened Saturday in Edgewood Park during Westville’s 21st annual Artwalk festival.
But this “neighborhood,” a wooded and overgrown corner of the park, has real, live goats that will be performing special community service for several years to come.
The introduction Saturday of a small herd of dairy goats, dispatched by Friends of Edgewood Park, the Greater New Haven Green Fund and Green Goats to help eliminate invasive plant species like Japanese knotweed and poison ivy, was one of the attractions featured during a busy festival weekend that seemed to shrug off meteorological threats of heavy rain.
The weather brought out throngs of festivalgoers for Friday’s sunny opener, but also respectable numbers of visitors during Saturday’s festival, marked by intermittent rain and overcast skies.
Festival organizers and volunteers have come to expect and accept some rain as part of the tradition of the 21-year-old festival and coped nimbly, using alternative event sites, some schedule changes and lots of tents. A special, hand-screened, Artwalk 21 T-shirt printing event that allowed the public its choice of designs created by Westville artists was moved up from Saturday’s schedule to Friday evening.
The shirts, which proved popular both in design and in allowing buyers to see the process of their shirts being screen printed, sold out, according to coordinator Susan McCaslin, with event organizers turning to previous Artwalk T-shirt editions for screen printing on Saturday.
Artwalk has routinely drawn between 8,000 and 10,000 weekend visitors. It may owe this success partly to a mix of favorite repeat activities. Artwalk visitors strolling Westville’s main streets this year also found a smattering of new businesses to explore in addition to art gallery exhibits, installations, and new artwork by artists in their private studios.
The scent of fresh-brewed coffee filled the nostrils of passersby from Connecticut’s first cat cafe — Mew Haven Cat Cafe located at 904 Whalley Ave., which opened its doors for coffee-and, but is waiting final zoning approval before felines can mingle with their human friends as they await adoption.
Whimsies and Wishes, an antique-jewelry-gifts and art store that opened just in time to greet its first Artwalk visitors, did “better than expected business,” according to owner Lorri Cavaliere.
Situated almost above the Mew Haven Cafe is the ArLoW (Art Lofts West) live-work studio of visual artist and photographer Daniel Eugene, featuring his New Haven Photographs exhibit of images captured over the past three years. The artist, who is known for his meticulous meditative line drawings, continues to push creative boundaries with this collection of photos he said are inspired by Walker Evans and his concept of “lyric documentary.” The exhibit is co-sponsored by Lunch Money Print, a business founded last year by Christopher O’Flaherty and Mark Donne “with a vision to make contemporary art more accessible and encourage people to become first time art collectors through printmaking.” If you missed the show, Eugene’s exhibit may be viewed at the Lunch Money Print website.
Welcoming, bright red bistro tables sat outside Lotta Studio, one of Westville’s creativity incubators — a photography and post-production boutique on the corner of Whalley Avenue and Blake Street. It, too, boasts a quality coffee bar, but images posted in the windows of the photo studio and co-share work space, graphic images by co-owner Luke Hanscom, speak to the primary business of Lotta studio and a level of artistry and vision that extends support to creatives of many stripes. The space has grown to become one of Westville’s leading community assets.
Photojournalist and master technical tinkerer Johnathon Henninger, who co-shares space at Lotta Studio, created a sculptural installation in the gallery titled PJ 2000: “In a dark future where hedge funds own newspapers which they keep deliberately insolvent to reap the tax benefits of a troubled business, they’ll need only one employee (who will promptly be fired after training an intern how to operate the PJ 2000) to write, report, document, record interviews, make aerial/ ground photos, take small arms fire, and gas attacks! You name it and your unpaid, eager, young and impressionable intern will maybe survive it when wearing the PJ 2000,” wrote Henninger.
Striking panoramic family portraits in the studio/gallery space by Mistina Hanscom, assisted by the lighting design of husband Luke, have been described as “a look through the keyhole at a family’s life in their safe zone.” They are created by assembling multiple digital images in post production to create a seamless tapestry of the spirit of family she calls “staged family realism.”
For Hanscom, who spends hours with the families she photographs, the concept evolved from her own experiences and her “emotional connection” to the complexities of parenting and motherhood. “Though these depictions of family life represent only a fraction of the complicated roles we play as parents, they add a twist of humor and a deeper appreciation of balance and flexibility,” she wrote.
The couple also founded the suite of artists’ studios above Lotta Studio called West River Arts at 909 Whalley Ave. Open to the public on the second Saturday of each month, the studios were filled with a constant flow of Artwalk visitors. Among those was Syrian-born artist-architect Mohamad Hafez, who was showing a half-dozen new sculptures amid the studio density of two- and three-dimensional creations and minimal negative space.
Each sculpture, each home, projects from an ornate, Baroque-style picture frame, a contrast with previous sculptures depicting the harsh realities of Hafez’s war-ravaged Syrian homeland. In these new pieces, miniature interpretations of monumental consequence, freshly hung clothes on clotheslines suggest life before war, or perhaps a desire for a return to a normalcy that the future may hold. A single vintage car tucked onto a barely accommodating patch of property signals a resourceful approach to vehicular maintenance and limited space, but also suggests the resilience of the Syrian people.
For Hafez, who has received coverage in the New York Times, The New Yorker Magazine and numerous arts journals and publications to match a growing profile and presence in major art galleries, the artist said he is grateful but does not revel in the limelight.
“Lights are bad for the soul of the artist,” said Hafez in his Westville studio, adding that he is not looking for fame or fortune made on the backs of his suffering people. For Hafez, it’s all about the message.
Other gallery highlights included “The Magical Mystery of Shaminism,” artworks by Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo (1939-2009) from the collection of Scott Olsen — a stunning exhibit of visionary naturalism, color and detail at DaSilva Gallery curated by Johnes Ruta. Olsen gave a presentation Saturday to discuss the work of Amaringo and his own journey of understanding. Books and illustrated T-shirts are available at the gallery.
Kehler Liddell Gallery opened its doors to Artwalk visitors with its ongoing second annual juried exhibition, “How with This Rage Shall Beauty Hold a Plea?” featuring 53 artists’ works. It runs through May 27. Several live artists’ demonstrations by Hilary Opperman, Kwadwo Adae, and Amanda Walker were scheduled during afternoon hours in the gallery.
Keys on Kites offers fine tattoo and piercing services, but if you’ve never entered the shop, you might not realize that it is also an art gallery.
A current show features the animal illustration drawings and paintings of Melissa Barker, who was on hand during Artwalk with a work in progress. Her illustrations are paired with custom framing using recycled vintage woods by builder John Sigel.
Westville’s highly visible outdoor gallery, East Wall Westville, sponsored and curated by architect/artist Eric Epstein, engaged Artwalkers with a re-installation of its popular, interactive “Welcome to Whackville.” With boundless percussive possibilities, young and old brought new function to old pots and pans and myriad objects and materials. “When people are offered an amusement that asks them to consider tonal and rhythmic qualities of unusual and dissimilar elements, their notions of what music can be and where it can come from get bigger,” wrote Epstein. A new East Wall Westville website provides a history of the 14 installations that have claimed the prized exhibition space thus far.
Artists’ open studios included painter Frank Bruckmann, who had a new “Parkway” series. Gar Waterman discussed recent commissions and projects with visitors. Painter-photographer-designer Lesley Roy, who is a passionate birder, could be seen reworking an image of hummingbirds. Painter and adjunct professor Steve DiGiovanni’s painting in progress included some cubistic word play.
Comedy had its night on Friday as the Regicides, who do double duty as members of A Broken Umbrella Theater troupe, delighted a full house at Lyric Hall with their improv antics and audience participation. A new custom bar — a collaboration of restored elements by John Cavaliere of Lyric Hall Antiques and new elements by Westville craftsman Sergei Gerasimenko — was in full operation in Lyric Hall’s former work space and ante room.
When she was not captivating the crowd with her fiery performances, Lauren Beth Stein of LBS Spinnerz Artz brought color and smiles to Westville streets with her towering stilt walking dexterity.
Lauren Wilson’s “Animate My Face” booth his year included family artist Gracie Wilson who created kid-friendly airbrush tattoos.
Music does not play second fiddle at Westville’s Artwalk Festival. It is celebrated. Standout performances by former Westvillian Jose Oyola-Velez of Jose Oyola and the Astronauts ...
... and Thabisa and friends were presented on the Central Avenue Main Stage.
Returning with her infectious salsa dance instruction was Alisa Bowens-Mercado of Alisa’s House of Salsa in Westville, who guided dancers both on and off stage.
A returning activity that is passed by word-of-mouth (and Damian Paglia) is Ecstatic Dance, an open invitation street dance that has the appearance of a spontaneous flash mob, but took some planning and coordination. “It’s hard to find music that pleases everyone,” said Paglia. Mission accomplished.
In the park, arts and crafts activities were in full swing under a giant tent. Among those activities was the Kidmade table, the brainchild of young artist-entrepreneur Lili Price. For many young artists, it was their first experience in making and selling their artwork, perhaps ensuring the Artwalk Festival for another generation. Musician Robert Messore rocked some children’s music with his Toddler Tunes set.
New for this year was a rubber duck race held on the West River. Participants purchased ducks to enter in the race, which began at Whalley Avenue and floated under the red bridge in Edgewood Park to a finish line just beyond it. A flotilla of rubber ducks bobbed on the soft but steady currents, with number 88 claiming victory, according to photojournalist Henninger, who was on hand to capture the action.
By Sunday morning, most traces of a successful Artwalk Festival had been cleared away. What was visible were the snapped remnants of knotweed that proved no match for the gang of five Green Goats. Considerable damage to the invasive species in only 24 hours. The natural fertilization they created was a bonus.
Michael Uhl, who serves on the Friends of Edgewood Park board of directors, said the goats will eat 80 percent of the plants this year and be back to finish them off next spring. To date, around 50 people have volunteered to provide fress water for the goats, and Uhl credits around 30 volunteers from nearby Chapel Haven, a residential and independent living facility serving adults with developmental and social disabilities, with helping erect hundreds of yards of fencing for the goats.
It is that spirit of volunteerism that each year embodies the meaning and value of the Artwalk festival, building upon a strong legacy of community-business-and arts collaboration that had one out-of-town visitor exclaiming, “Westville gets it right!”