Field Trip: Open Artist Studio

I saw in our local paper that a mill that now is home to many artist studios would be having Open Studio afternoons throughout the summer, so I thought I’d take the kids to see some artists at work.

Do you see the fish down by the baseboard, pointing the way? It’s made from reclaimed fence posts. That small studio, down at the end of a maze-like hallway, was crowded but exciting. Fence posts were strewn about the floor, there were large cutouts of seahorses, and the studio’s owner was “playing around” (her words) with mussel shells, a glue gun, and cardboard taped into a cone shape–she was making a Christmas tree. (“We have all those supplies,” I pointed out to the kids.) N noticed a painted piece peeking out from behind some other stuff leaning against a wall and wanted to know what kind of paint was used; he didn’t recognize it. It was spray paint. I told him in a couple of years I’d set him up with some.

Through that door we found a delightful painter who began to paint once he retired. He told me he’d always wanted to paint, but he’d never found the time, and also that he’s self-taught. His paintings were colorful and eye-catching and interesting for the kids to look at, and he was just as engaging as his work. He asked the kids if they were artists, too, and answered any questions they had.

The very first studio we entered belonged to glass-blowers. Between the broken glass on the floor, the hot ovens, and the numerous beautiful glass objects, I thought it best to hold G, so I didn’t get any pictures. But he gave us a tour and explained the process, including opening the 2500-degree oven just a crack to let the kids see how hot it has to be to melt glass. They were filling fall and holiday orders, or starting to–we passed lots of pumpkins and Christmas trees waiting to be shipped out. They also made long tubes of multi-colored glass, and around the corner, a bead-maker sliced them up and turned them into glass beads.

I won’t lie, parts of this adventure were very challenging. G didn’t want to hold my hand or stay with me; she wanted to touch all the pretty things she saw and run down the long mill hallways. The day we visited was only the second Open Studio of the summer, and it seemed clear that some people were surprised to actually see people, never mind children. There wasn’t really a contact number to call first to see if this was appropriate for children, and I suspect the answer, anyway, would be “it depends.” It really depends on the artist and the studio.

The instructor who teaches mostly middle school and high school kids was more than happy to see my kids, talking to them about the completely random things he had strewn about his studio (for drawing practice, I’m guessing). The studio where my oldest (who should know to keep his hands to himself) accidentally set off a staple gun, nearly giving me a heart attack–not so much for the children, clearly. And some were simply in between. I found the jeweler who learned his craft in his native Finland and does everything by hand to be fascinating, and while V looked sort of bored, I think he was pleased to discover, when he asked, that yes indeed, you can get jewelry made out of titanium.

Also, many studios weren’t open, because the artists weren’t there. But it was worth it to walk the hallways to the end anyway, because we got to see not only artwork hanging on the walls, but murals like this.

I think, all in all, I’d perhaps take another adult with me next time. But it was worthwhile to get a look at what a “real” artist’s studio looks like (in many cases, not so different from our room downstairs, but with better light and, sometimes, a coffee machine right nearby instead of upstairs) and observe that many of them use materials we use, too.

I want to demystify “artist” for my kids–I do think they consider themselves artists, and I don’t want that feeling to disappear as they grow older. There’s not this huge, staggering difference between the people making art in those studios and us making art over here, because we are all making art, and that’s the main thing.