Snail Market Takes It Slow

Sam Carlson Photos“Snails taste with their eyes,” explained artist Martha Savage, who with fellow artist Molly Gambardella created Snail Market at West River Arts on Whalley Avenue in Westville.

Looking around the room, Savage’s metaphor seemed fitting. Every inch was filled with pieces of art and design — most of which were for sale.

The market is a part of the village of Westville’s Second Saturdays, a monthly festival featuring open studios and community events. The artists in West River Arts invite the public into their workplaces to see their processes and new works. Snail Market features art and handmade goods by local artists and craftspeople, all for $50 or less.

The market was as unpretentious as the artists themselves, who discussed techniques, shared personal anecdotes, and waxed philosophical on the importance of art in daily life as attendants (including a little black dog) floated in and out of the shop.

Savage and Gambardella built Snail Market out of a shared set of values, aiming to create an art experience that is, as their mission statement says, “affordable, approachable, accessible, and adorable.” The market hit all of these marks, inviting you into a friendly and guileless space. Where the art world can sometimes be aloof and couched in language that keeps the artist removed from an audience, Snail Market is plainspoken and open to all levels of experience.

When asked about her printing process, Gambardella responded that she had a press and would gladly teach me how to do it. Gambardella is known for her unorthodox use of approachable materials, gaining national attention for a series of sculptures made from colored pencils. She talked about the struggles of keeping the studio free of sawdust from her constant pencil work. (The bubbles you see when you drive by the studios are her doing as well.)

Meanwhile, Savage brings the same sense of perspective and playfulness regarding the creation of the market to her own artwork. Her handmade cards are equal parts kitsch and art history lesson. The cards are three-dimensional and multimedia, with cuts of illustration from a wide variety of sources. The market is held in her studio, and her larger paintings fill the walls with warmth and color. There’s even a play place for children in the corner (handmade of course) and it’s clear that all are welcome. Savage told me that she likes to photograph her smallest pieces inside the doll house in the kids’ corner.

A lot of the art on offer is functional — placemats, T-shirts, and coasters — allowing the viewer to engage with it further. Artist Maya Dunn’s ceramics are beautiful and useful, with graceful glazes and clear attention paid to the drinkers experience. Dunn described one cup as being particularly good at catching ice cubes, and talked about the glazing process as one often filled with happy accidents. She gives her cups a lot of say in how they’re made. The result is an object with confidence, comfort, and beauty.

Dunn’s outlook fits with the overarching theme of Snail Market, of art as both a conversation and a conversation starter. The market is as much a forum as it is a store, attracting artists and observers alike and putting them on even standing. It’s a bit like an artistic version of the Slow Food movement, an organization that promotes local ingredients and traditional cooking as an alternative to food that is fast and homogenous. If the goal of slow food is to keep eaters engaged in their local cuisine, the slow art at Snail Market connects local art to local people and helps us better know the community that surrounds us. I left the market feeling like I had a sense of what moved the artists to create as well as what brought them to open the market. A piece of art bought at Snail Market could carry with it the memory of a conversation, and the face of the person who made it.

The next Snail Market on Second Saturdays is on March 9 at West River Arts, 909 Whalley Ave. in Westville.

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