Westville’s CWOS Watershed Moment

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTOS Last weekend, the first in a series of four weekends of City Wide Open Studios kicked off in Westville, marking a watershed moment in the life of this emerging arts district. Consideration of Westville’s entree as a full-fledged, City Wide Open Studios (CWOS) weekend destination had its pros and cons according to Helen Kauder, executive director of Artspace, which sponsors the nearly month-long arts festival in New Haven.

Planners worried that inclusion of Westville into the already lengthy roster of three CWOS weekends in October would mean adding a fourth. “Is that too damn long?” they weighed. On the plus side, adding the fourth weekend would mean that visitors to Westville would be able to take their time visiting studios and not have to race through, as they might have done previously during the Private Studios Weekend. Besides, things in Westville had changed. 

In recent years, Westville as an arts presence during CWOS had begun to lag. After last year’s successful Steamroller Printing event, which drew widespread participation and much interest, there was an impetus to continue building on the excitement, especially with the arrival of the Lotta Studio/The Range, and West River Arts (WRA), a suite of 13 studios that has been hosting its own Second Saturdays open studio events. Together with the well-established studios of the ArloW artists’ studios, local galleries and independent studios, the growing critical mass just needed “a boost.”

After many collaborative discussions with Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) and members of the local arts community, “We decided to take a gamble” said Kauder. The gamble, according to anecdotal reports, resulted in exponential visitor participation this year, with many new visitors and other city artists who could now participate because of the weekend expansion.

Though not nearly as expansive as the scores of studios located in several buildings at Erector Square (last of the 4 Weekends), West River Arts and ArloW (Art Lofts West) are no less dynamic. Prime movers in the creation of West River Arts are husband and wife team Luke and Mistina Hanscom, both photographers and creative designers. “It’s been extraordinary,” said Kauder, “They’ve created a hub of so much energy — how much of a beacon that corner has become (Whalley Ave. and Blake St.).”

Kauder also noted that studios at the new West River Arts have been good for individual artists. Citing art teacher and painter Martha Savage, Kauder said that the artist’s work has taken a new directions in both dimensional size and expression since her arrival at WRA.

West River Arts Studios

West River Arts hosts an eclectic mix of artists, designers and artisans. Syrian born Mohamed Hafez, is an artist and architect who works in mixed media, found objects and audio in some instances, creating symbols and sculptural assemblages of the jagged architecture of lands and people ravaged by war; their turmoil and displacement disturbingly captured in dense, facade-less structures that provide an X-ray of the new normal for many in his birth nation and elsewhere.

Emerging artists and those more established, could be found in the studios of painter Noe Jimenez who displayed a wall of his small, mixed media paintings, and painter Don Wunderlee also a puppeteer and musician,who was one of Westville’s earliest artists with an established storefront studio decades ago.  He recently returned to Westville after a studio stint at Erector Square.

Graphic designer and fine artist Susan McCaslin reveals her observations and impressions of nature through a variety of art forms and mediums; woodcuts, drawing, painting, sculpture and installation art. McCaslin’s coats series point to another long-held fascination; the history concerning The Old Leather Man, an itinerant who walked a circuitous route from Connecticut to the Hudson River in the mid to late 19th century. Leather Man made the rounds with uncanny punctuality in his hand-stitched leather clothing while living off the land and the kindness of strangers.

Ceramicist Violet Harlow, an ArLoW artist who had a pop-up presence at the studio of photographer George Moore, showed a variety of pinch pots and Raku ware with each pinch pot cradling a different artifact of nature. Also exhibiting in the studio was Creative Arts Workshop print maker Nan Adams, showing prints and gift cards.

Eric Epstein and son Alex share a space at Epstein Design, LLC. An architect and fine artist, the elder Epstein displayed his photographic paper weaving and an array of printed materials, while son Alex displayed natural wood slab coffee tables (think Nakashima with a twist), and a series of unique audio speakers under development. Epstein also curates Wall 12, a billboard sized space outside a building he owns on Fountain Street.

A group of smaller studios included the engineering and industrial design studio of Kieran Coleman displaying his up-cycled, vertical mood lamps, jewelry by Sara Bratchell and Kate Stephen, a sampling of the conceptual and installation art of Howard El Yasin, the small geometric, abstract paintings of Caryn Azoff, and photographs by social and personal justice artist, Joanne Wilcox.

Figurative sculptor Dr. Ivan Tirado, who has conducted clay modeling workshops at WRA and around the city, showed several sculptures but also gave a live demonstration of body painting in the gallery-studio of social sculptor Semi Semi-Dikoko.

The Range at Lotta Studios

Since opening The Range at Lotta Studio (911 Whalley Ave.) a photography studio and co-working space, creators Luke and Mistina Hanscom, have been drawing creatives to the nurturing space, but the couple have also reached out, engaging the community with creative public projects during CWOS and the annual Artwalk festival. Among the artworks on display was a series of small paintings by New Haven artist Chris Ferguson.

This year’s CWOS public project sponsored by Artspace and facilitated by Lotta Studio, included an interactive project called Cyanotye Selfies. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that utilizes a treated photosensitive surface. When exposed to a source of ultraviolet light (sunlight) the surface turns blue. Areas blocked from light remain white, creating stunning positive-negative images, in this case the body shapes of volunteers who laid still for twenty minutes while the sun and light did its work.

ArLoW Studios

Daniel Eugene of Studio Feruvius, creates fascinating micro pen drawings that have evolved in scope, complexity, and form. His current show at SCSU’s Lyman Center Gallery includes new works in color, textile printing and some digital augmentation. At the core of Eugene’s imagery is his line work and variety of symbols and motifs developed over years of his daily meditations drawing practice. Eugene’s images seem flawless and precise in their execution, but the artist notes: “There are no mistakes in a diamond, or a ruby, or any other gemstone, and so it is in my process and in the images that come through. There are certainly flaws though; flaws that come from glitches in focus or inevitable flaws when exploring new rhythms and patterns of line.” Sharing the exhibit space was artist Dan Carrano showing whimsical, but edgy graphic paintings.

ArLoW artist John Keefer can often be seen in paint-spattered clothing, a testament to the degree of his immersion in the painting process. Large, thought-provoking paintings line his studio walls, images which are sometimes drawn from media stories about war and disturbing scenes of inhumanity:  “As an artist, you have to make choices. The best choice for me, is to make pictures I connect with — things I care about” he said.  Haunting images of Abu Ghraib prison torture, a boat listing with refugees are painted in monochromatic color. Keefer chooses images based on formal and ethical criteria, muting the fine details of individual suffering. “This puts you at a distance so you can choose to enter — or not.” Giant skulls, a dog doing a double-take, are painted in monochromatic color bars and gray tones, painterly images that reach far beyond the decorative.

Steven DiGiovanni is a representational master of synthesis, fusing natural elements with the man made in one ongoing series. In another, he mashes compositional constructs of human rancor and clashing cymbals, with formal concerns of rhythm and movement. An arts instructor at Creative Arts workshop and Norwalk Community College, DiGiovanni recently shared exhibition billing with painter Megan Craig at Silk Road Gallery on Audubon Street.

George Corsillo, one half of the Design Monsters graphic design studio with artist Susan McCaslin, usually exhibits his original art posters, books and assorted graphics. On CWOS weekend his display area was filled with trays of the graphic sew-on patches he has designed to go along with the new edition of his long sleeved Design Monster t-shirts. Corsillo’s patch designing over several years, like so many of his design endeavors, seems to have presaged the popular trend. The popularity of patches, he believes, is owed to customization possibilities and array of choices that provide a means self expression.

Independent Studios and Pop-Ups

At a pop-up gallery at Whalley and Tour Avenues, Artist Dan Gries displayed a variety of fractal-inspired digital images; tiles, and small 3-D printed lamp shades. Suzan Shutan exhibited her colorful wall mounted interactive installation and an assortment of whimsical small sculptures and paintings. Shayna Segal displayed block prints and embossed paper images, while furniture designer Willie Hoffman of Playable Studios displayed a number of laminated wood chairs and multi-function furnishing; some painted, some with engraved designs, but all created with a sculptor’s sensibility.

Birding enthusiast, painter, photographer and journalist, Lesley Roy, retired her once thriving home couture business in Westville a number of years ago. Today, her main storefront is both a gallery and studio. Her large bird-themed paintings were on display during CWOS but Roy also delivered a moving photographic presentation and bird talk, Soaring in New Haven, which chronicles her connection to the bird kingdom from an early age, to her recent photographic expeditions around the world and the environs of West Rock and Edgewood Parks in New Haven.

Painter Frank Bruckmann maximizes space in his converted garage-studio on West Rock Avenue, where walls fare filled with painterly plein air landscape images painted during his annual trips to Monhegan Island, Maine, where he also teaches classes. Also displayed were a few example of his new series of studio still life works, one of which was recently purchased for the permanent collection of the New Haven Paint and Clay Club.

Bruckmann neighbor, Alice Steinhardt, has also created a jewel of a studio from a former garage (above); a repository of bird nests, rocks, coral, sea shells, dried plants, and root systems, all of which inform her detailed pencil drawings on translucent mylar sheets. Steinhardt’s Botanically inspired imagery combines elements of natural forms, giving birth to entirely original images. “The intent of these small, intimate visual poems,” says the artist, “is to use image rather than words as a means by which to contemplate the passing of time that marks our mortal experience, and the transcendent grace that we hope will be revealed to us.”

Galleries

At DaSilva Gallery, Uruguayan born artist and Milford resident, Juan Sarias, displayed a large number of mixed media assemblages, boxes and forms of wood, stone, and found objects whose structures create symbolic portals of contemplation “…capable of epitomizing the daily reinvention of our human consciousness” according to Miguel Gomes of the University of Connecticut. The exhibit runs to November 5.

Kehler Liddell Gallery’s doors were opened for CWOS featuring the abstract pen and ink drawings of Connecticut artist Robert Bienstock. Bienstock’s compositions of thick and thin lines move and bend in tandem, sometimes colliding with other patterns within the design, or dissolving and merging more gracefully with others. The exhibit which was shared with sculptor Gar Waterman has ended, making way for a new exhibit by Rod Cook and Julie Fraenkel which runs through November 12.  Waterman of the nearby West Rock Studio, is known for imbuing stone with biomorphic sensuousness, as in his feral seed and sea creature forms, but as the exhibit demonstrated, is equally adept at fashioning and fusing metals to create botanical and animated insect forms, and creatures of the imagination that seem only a nano second away from breathing.

At West Rock Gallery (425 West Rock Avenue) photographer Terry Dagradi showed a series of black and white gelatin silver prints of close-focus botanical forms and nature compositions. Included, was a limited display of pencil drawings indicating a skilled hand and little doubt that she is also a fine artist. In the two workshops that adjoin the studio, Sergei Gerasimenko a skilled woodcraft artist and carpenter, displayed a photographic panel of projects, as did sculptor Gar Waterman.

Music

Music also played a part in the activities of Westville City Wide Open Studios including a chamber music presentation on Friday night at Lyric Hall by Domenic Salerni and Stephen Whale, with a program featuring works by Franck, Mozart, Rautavaara and Salerni. On display in the chamber, the colorful figurative sculptures of Eóin Burke (Top of page) seemed an appropriate visual counterpoint.

The office of Westville Village Renaissance Alliance was transformed into a pop-up concert hall as the music Nu Haven Kapelye, directed by David Chevan, filled the air with feel-good Klezmer music that spilled out to the street. Under a tent outside, visitors squeezed together at a pop up beer garden, as rain began to fall. See the video here.

At the close of the second day of CWOS at West River Arts, visitor Natalie Kikkenborg who recently joined the ALOW artists as a musician, teacher and vocalist, met up for the first time with visual and musical artist Don Wunderlee and others who had gathered for a kind of social debriefing in the salon-like atmosphere of Semi-Dikoko’s studio. A song was requested of Kikkenborg, and Wunderllee, whose guitar is always handy, soon began their impromptu musical collaboration. It was a fitting conclusion to an arts infused weekend of City Wide Open Studios — Westville, for those present.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on October 16, 2016  11:38am

Really great coverage , David!

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 17, 2016  2:52am

And now a note to the back-patting planners…...

It is much to early in the game to decide whether including Westville as separate weekend is good or bad for the overall event.

My concern is that by the fourth week (private artist studios), all the wind will be out of the sails and all of the orchestrated promotion will be over…........

posted by: David Sepulveda on October 17, 2016  11:39am

Thanks for your feedback and kind words Bill.  Private Studios Weekend, according to the printed program, is actually the third weekend (next weekend, October 22-23) with Erector Square Weekend the following week, Oct. 29-30. It’s a bit of a different experience than the more concentrated events, and this year will include an exciting game designed by Site Projects for Artspace, Find it -Friend it!, with cash and other prizes that should be a bonus incentive for folks to get out and visit private artists’ studios (Register for the game at: ArtsitesNewHaven.com/game).While I admit to a bias in wanting to see the Westville Weekend become a permanent CWOS event, I understand the concern of too much of a good thing. What I feel mitigates this concern, is that not everyone can get to all four weekends. It’s nice for people to have choices about which event (s) work best for them, and hopefully, each week builds on the previous week’s energy so interest is not only maintained, but increased. Remember that things tend to slow down during the upcoming season, so this is a great time to see and experience the phenomenal work of artists, who for some, the exposure is critical in keeping their studios viable.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 17, 2016  1:16pm

David,

There also seems to be some double-dipping going on…...

two of the artists featured in this article also had exhibits at the Armory Show…..

I don’t quite get that….....

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 17, 2016  5:32pm

David,

It seems like Site Projects entree into the ‘private studio game’ will be a point of discussion for next weeks festivities…..

When you have a game designed to promote private/personal artist spaces, are you promoting the artists, or are you promoting the game….??

Also, since I don’t have a cell phone, it doesn’t seem like I will be able to play…

posted by: billy fischer on October 18, 2016  1:08pm

thanks so much david for this thorough documentation of a dynamic arts neighborhood
my own sense, along with that of others i have asked, is that artspace made a great decision to expand cwos to four weekends
despite the somewhat dismal weather, turnout was brisk and people were hungrily enjoying all that westville had to offer
i feel so grateful for the growth of this new art nexus

posted by: ADAK on October 19, 2016  4:57pm

Glad to see Westville as part of CWOS. While The Armory and Erector Square offer large, warehouse-type tours of studios, I think Westville offers more of a “village vibe” with people being able to wander in and out of studios while also stopping by brunch spots, a farmers market, retail shops, or stay later for a beer garden.

It’s a very different neighborhood feel than the other weekends, so I think it adds something new. Plus, with the addition of so many studios, and public art added to the area in the last year I say keep it up!

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 19, 2016  5:43pm

ADAK,

The Village appeal is certainly a strong selling point, but really, how different is this from the Westville Arts Rennaissance Weekend?  In fact, if Westville decided to have a ‘First Friday’ type event, that would be the real answer to artist sustainabitly in the neighborhood.

Let’s Face it, Nine on Nine is for the birds…...don’t let politics interfere with natural growth….

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 19, 2016  6:40pm

Also, if the planners were so worried about lengthening the event, the Westville Weekend should have been the LAST event, not the first—that way the CWOS three-week event is in tact, and the additional weekend is stand-alone and indeed ‘extra’.

In fact, it would have made a great conclusion to the event as a whole, given the Halloween timing of the final weekend.

Everybody loves a good outdoor party!!!

posted by: ADAK on October 19, 2016  8:59pm

Hey Bill, just so you know Westville Village *does* do a “First Friday” type of event started this year—but it’s every Second Saturday of the month. I’m certain the plan was to line up with what has been happening each month.

“There was an impetus to continue building on the excitement, especially with the arrival of the Lotta Studio/The Range, and West River Arts (WRA), a suite of 13 studios that has been hosting its own Second Saturdays open studio events.”

And if by “Westville Arts Renaissance Weekend” you’re referring to the annual Artwalk, that is every Spring and also features local artist booths from people not based in the village. I felt like it was a different vibe, and the events are also roughly 5 months apart.

Anyway, you have all valid points but personally I think a month-long open studios is great. I guess the artists will be able to tell if attendance changed by adding a 4th weekend or not.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 20, 2016  12:10pm

ADAK,

It sounds like CWOS needs Westville more than vice versa…...

posted by: BoboSkribs on October 21, 2016  2:16pm

Great weekend, thanks to all the artist for opening their doors!

posted by: Bill Connelly on October 23, 2016  7:32am

David-Just wanted to thank you for the wonderful article. Westville needs the exposure to bring it back! Bill Connelly