Erector Square Studios Stretch From Roots To Clouds

It was a little hard to locate the line between Joseph Saccio’s studio and his sculpture.

His materials and his finished work were both on display at the final weekend of Artspace’s City Wide Open Studios, at Erector Square. Slabs of oak, round stones, rolled-up maps, bright scarves, and little metal trinkets were scattered throughout the studio — and his stunning natural sculptures almost appeared to grow from this pleasant disorder.

Saccio has been in his studio for about 30 years, and it shows.

“There’s a lot of accumulation,” he said. Accumulation provided a lovely backdrop for his work, which is mostly done in natural materials (though, he said, “I’ll use anything”) and often deals with the interplay between growth and destruction.

His piece “Wake For A Dead Forest” hung high up on one wall, and he pointed out the images of skulls within the vertical lines that represented trees. But there were also images of dancers. He added the wing-shape last. “Now it looks sort of like a party for death,” he said.

Saccio’s work would look good in a gallery (and has been exhibited at Artspace), but there was something wonderfully organic about seeing the roots of the work — sometimes literal tree-roots — and peeking into the place where it took shape.

Walking through the halls of the sprawling Erector Square complex on Sunday felt like getting little glimpses into different worlds. Artists opened their doors from noon to 6 p.m., put out cheese or grapes or Halloween cookies, and displayed their work. It was a temperate afternoon for late October (before a rainy evening) so pleasant light filtered through the big windows of the old industrial buildings. Visitors drifted down the labyrinth of hallways, poking their heads into studios, often stopping to chat with the artists.

Holly Whiting said that she’d had more than 100 visitors to her studio on Saturday alone. Like Saccio’s, Whiting’s studio was homey; she has a microwave and refrigerator wedged in between her materials and works on display. Whiting said she works in “too many media to count.” She does large commissioned murals and tiny watercolors of birds, fine cabinetry finishing, and pastel sketches.

Lately, she’s been working a lot in reactive metals, making layered colorful finishes on sheets of rusted iron and copper. Behind her display, she has two works in progress hanging on a big wall that’s marked and splotched and striped with paint from previous jobs.

“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with these,” Whiting said, of the two metal sheets are hanging now. “We’ll see.”

Other studios were set up more like galleries. Annie Sailer’s large space on the first floor, for instance, was curated with precision. Her bright, mostly abstract paintings hung on the white walls, and multiple sculpture installations were arranged around the room. Pops of color were everywhere: bright pinks, yellows, cobalt blues.

One installation in the center of the room featured crocheted shawls, hanging on sticks and attached to an industrial palette. It rose out of a collection of blankets and shawls that Sailer’s had for a long time. After she started working on it, she said, more political images suggested themselves.

“In some ways, I think it has the feel of immigrants or refugees on a raft,” Sailer said. “A group of women, huddled together, maybe. But of course, that’s just one possible image that comes to mind. In other ways it’s just the materials and their relationship to each other.”

She said she’s been working on versions of this piece in her head for a while.  “I just never had a big enough space to do it until now,” she said. Sailer moved into this studio about a month ago, and has big plans for the studio.

She wants to incorporate another passion into the space: dance. She directs Annie Sailer Dance Company in New York and teaches classes regularly in New Haven. After City Wide Open Studios, she said she planned to clear away the sculptures and start holding classes there. She also wants to rent it out for events and curate shows of others’ work.

Up some stairs, along several hallways, and through another open door, artist Martha Willette Lewis (who did an installation in the Eli Whitney Barn for CWOS’s Private Studios Weekend) displayed her striking crumpled paper sculptures in her studio. She calls the sculptures “branes,” short for “membranes,” though they also invoke the human brain. The pieces are made from simple materials (crumpled paper and ink) but they invite a complex series of associations. In addition to brains, they look like clouds, roses, a network of tunnels.

Lewis said she’s often inspired by informational drawings like charts and maps. She uses pieces of architectural plans and diagrams in some of her work, and combines them, erasing and redrawing and filling in color. She pulled a fold-out off her shelf to show demonstrate.

The paper sculptures are a natural extension of this interest, in some ways. “Here I’m mapping across the folds of a crumpled piece of paper,” Lewis said. “There’s no up or down or left or right.”

They aren’t static, either. Lewis rearranged a large blue one to show a visitor how easily they moved.

Still, she takes care with where they’re placed around the gallery. “This one’s on my mother’s kitchen table,” she said. “I don’t work there, usually. I use it more from display.” She also likes the way they look when they’re place on mirrors — suspended.

Lewis likes the influx of people who are interested in art and the artists who make it during City Wide Open Studios. But when a visitor asked if she kept her door open usually, she shook her head.

“We usually keep our doors closed,” Lewis said. “Sometimes I’ll wander out and talk to people, but usually we’re all here to focus and work.”

Come Monday, the little windows into artists worlds would close again, and the studios revert to being private space for creative work. It was a treat, for a weekend, to be invited in.

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