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Susan Roberts at work in her studio. (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
Susan Roberts’s studio (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
Painting by Lexi Axon, Madison (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
Chris Penry, Guilford (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
Susan Roberts’s jewelry (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
Mosaic of Joy, Barbara Shulman-Kirwin (Photo courtesy of Shoreline Arts Trail )
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More than 16 years ago, Barbara Shulman-Kirwin and a group of five other local artists teamed up to form the Shoreline ArtsTrail. The first year, six artists made a postcard that was sent to their family and friends encouraging visits to an open-studio weekend. The next year, seven more artists joined the trail and now with the 17th annual Shoreline ArtsTrail open studios weekend to be held on Nov. 10 and 11, the trail has grown to include 40 artists throughout Branford, Guilford, and Madison.
“It’s been wonderful to help create it and watch it flourish and grow over the years,” said Shulman-Kirwin. “We’re trying to support each other and help each other grow as artists while letting the community know we’re here and doing our creative process throughout the year.”
While all of the artists work on their crafts throughout the year, many work in private studios. The open studios weekend allows the public to get a glimpse inside artists’ studios, interact with the artists, and see a wide range of art, including jewelry, sculpture, paper, collage, fiber, paint, glass, pottery, metal, and textiles.
“This opens the door between the community and the artist and allows more interaction and appreciation between the two,” said Shulman-Kirwin. “Most artists put their heart and soul into the pieces they make. When people buy one of my pieces, it’s a piece of my soul I’m putting into it by creating it. It makes it such a more meaningful gift than something you can buy on Amazon, especially when you’ve met the artist and seen where it was made.”
In addition to being able to purchase pieces directly from the artists who create them, there are educational opportunities all along the trail.
In each studio, artists will be ready to discuss their process and technique with visitors, as well as guide them to other studios that may pique their interest. In addition to the maps and studio list with examples of work on the website, shorelineartstrail.com, there is a “For Families” page with a downloadable brochure with tips on enjoying the Shoreline ArtTrail with kids of all ages.
“It’s great to bring some of the younger people around so they can learn to love art, see what’s out there, and see the possibilities of things that they can do,” said Christine Penry of Chroma Gallery. “During that weekend, you get a nice variety and understanding of what the different artists in the area do.”
Christine Penry, Chroma Gallery, Guilford
Working with children helped Penry find her artistic passion. As a longtime assistant director of the before- and after-school programs for Guilford schools, as well as working as a para-professional, Penry often worked on art projects with children, including creating handmade paper.
“I didn’t love the outcome—we were starting with construction paper and got a construction paper result, but then I went to Martha’s Vineyard and visited a really great paper studio,” said Penry. “I saw their process and began using plant fibers and that was a game-changer.”
Penry began to amass a collection of plant fibers and create different pulps. For years, she was working out of her kitchen and traveling to craft fairs to sell her work. Over time, she realized that because people weren’t seeing the process, they didn’t understand how her pieces came to be. She discovered Chroma Gallery in Guilford—a gallery and studio that houses three artists—where she can now create her work and educate visitors about her process.
“Sharing the rent on a studio makes having that space doable and I might not make rent one week or one month, but then I catch up—I’m not making a lot of money, but it’s my space and if I break even, I’m happy,” she said. “It’s starting to grow and it’s exciting.”
This is the third year Penry will take part of the Shoreline ArtsTrail. She enjoys sharing the unique process of making handmade paper with visitors and will have a work in progress so people can see the technique involved.
“I use pigmented pulps and plant fibers and when you first look at a finished piece, it looks like it’s painted, but then as soon as I describe it, they’re intrigued,” said Penry. “In my studio, you’ll see my vats of pulp. I’ll have a piece going so you can see the layers of pulp. The work is done in the wet stage, similar to collage where you’re creating something in layers.”
Barbara Shulman-Kirwin, Chroma Gallery, Guilford
It wasn’t until age 40 that Shulman-Kirwin found her passion for art. Working as a physical therapist, she decided to take a pottery class at the Guilford Art Center to unwind from her job.
“One night after class I saw a notice on the bulletin board seeking a pottery apprentice,” said Shulman-Kirwin. “I went home and told my husband I wanted to quit my job and do it, which was crazy, but life is short. It was a seminal day for me and a gift that allowed me to enter and explore the life of an artist which I never would’ve done before.”
Shulman-Kirwin worked with pottery for the next four years until she contracted Lyme disease, which greatly affected the strength in her hands, taking away her ability to throw clay on the wheel. Instead of giving up on art, Shulman-Kirwin went in a different direction, taking a glass workshop.
“I started that to buoy my spirits, but I ended up loving glass more than pottery, so it was a beneficial turn for me and worked out really well,” she said. “I never would’ve found my love of glass if I didn’t have this disease that took me out of the pottery arena.”
It has now been more than two decades since Shulman-Kirwin began her career of an artist. She is the owner of Chroma Gallery and one of her favorite parts of her day is being able to educate customers about her art and share her process. As one of the founders of the Shoreline ArtsTrail, she enjoys being able to bring that customer interaction to other artists who normally have private studios.
Shulman-Kirwin has continued to evolve as an artist. While she still is creating glass pieces, she recently began painting as well. The Open Studios weekend will mark the first time her paintings are shown. Looking back on her path, she is thankful to her husband for his support and happy to have shown her children, who were young when she became an artist, that change is always possible.
“I’m enjoying the process in another medium, which is exciting, new, and exhilarating, and scary all at the same time,” she said. “In retrospect, watching me change and morph is a wonderful model that I’ve been able to give to my children, to show them you can continue evolving as an adult. It takes a lot of courage. It’s a completely different life than what I was trained in professionally, but it’s a beautiful new chapter in creativity, creating myself as well as the pieces.”
Lexi Axon, Madison
Lexi Axon has always known she was an artist. She took part in the Shoreline ArtsTrail 12 years ago, but has spent much of the past decade-plus living in New York. Now she is living in Madison and returning to the trail for the 2018 Open Studios weekend.
“It’s a public event that helps people become aware that there is art in this area,” said Axon. “This part of Connecticut doesn’t have a big reputation for art as the New York artists tend to live in the northwest part of the state so people don’t expect New York artists to be on the shoreline. It’s nice to see what other artists are around and find others who are passionate about the arts.”
New York has played a big role in Axon’s art career. She studied at City University of New York Hunter College, which is one of the country’s top painting programs in contemporary theory, and she was an East Village artist in the 1980s. Axon, previously known as Lady McCrady, has shown her work all over the world, including Paris, Tokyo, London, and beyond.
Axon has also shown her work in the Hamptons. When she moved to Madison, she and her husband, who is a photographic printmaker, drew inspiration from their time in the Hamptons.
“We built a studio similar to the way the artists in the Hamptons live—a smaller house with a bigger studio,” said Axon, who also pointed out the discipline it takes to be an artist. “You have to get yourself into the studio. I’ve worked really for this. When other people are watching TV, I’m making art.”
Axon shares her passion and talent as she teaches at Guilford Art Center and is a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is looking forward to opening her studio to the public to share her process and work with even more people through the Shoreline ArtsTrail.
“It’s a chance to ask artists questions about their work,” said Axon. “A lot of people are curious to know how artists live. It’s a chance to find out how they form their lives around art.”
Susan Roberts, Branford
A Guilford native, Susan Roberts has been selling the jewelry she creates out of her home studio in Branford to local shops for about 20 years. While she has seen the signs for the Shoreline ArtsTrail in the past, this is the first year that she will be taking part in it.
“I have a couple friends on the trails and a bunch of my clients encouraged me to do it,” said Roberts. “It’s going to be fun. Every time I see someone new or someone who has purchased work in the past, they get excited because I haven’t met them.”
Roberts’s first experience creating jewelry was in high school where she would make pieces and sell them at concerts. She became a buyer for retail stores, working with Taken for Granite in Branford where she was asked to create a collection to sell there.
“I love seeing what people like and I get pleasure out of making things,” said Roberts. “Seeing women feel beautiful in my work is very rewarding.”
She rediscovered her passion for jewelry making and began to create collections for other local stores. Roberts works to make each store’s collection unique and she is excited that during the Open Studios weekend, customers will be able to see the full array of her work.
“Customers may not have visited the other places where I have my work, so it will be fun to show them everything I have,” she said. “A lot of my pieces are made with unusual stones that are hand-cut and I can only get small quantities of them, which makes the pieces more limited editions.”
Roberts is looking forward to sharing her studio space with customers as it is home not only to where and how her pieces are created but to 20 years of collecting stones as well. She sees the Open Studios weekend as a unique opportunity for the public to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of an artist.
“Going into people’s studios is a raw, beautiful way of seeing what people do and walking into their world,” said Roberts. “It’s good to go to other studios and see what they have and experience what they’re doing in that moment and feel their inspiration. It blows my mind what some people can do.”
For specific locations and information, pick up a copy of the Shoreline ArtsTrail map, available in libraries and town halls in Branford, Guilford, and Madison, as well as at numerous business establishments listed on www.shorelineartstrail.com.
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