Many of Lowell's mill and factory buildings have been repurposed as residential lofts, mini-factories and artists' spaces. Outstanding among them is Western Avenue Studios which houses over 160 artists working in multiple media, from fine art painting, sculpture and photography to wearable textile art and quilt work. An amazing array of creative work calls to you in this dynamic space; everything from the whimsical to the highbrow is on show.
First Saturday Open Studios
First Saturday Open Studios at Western Avenue offer a fascinating view into the artists' spaces, work products and sensibilities. On a recent Saturday, I explored just a fraction of the studios, and found the artists invariably open, friendly and eager to share their love of art and craft.
Around the Mill
The old mill floorboards creak as I make my way among three stories of artists' spaces, stopping to take in tantalizing sample works outside the studios as artists and craftswomen draw me in.
I'm seeking out the fiber artists, and the high level of talent and warm welcome I receive have me already planning my return. Also, there are frequent theme events in the area, such as Women's Week , with activities to interest and intrigue all ages and abilities.
Young & Freewheelin' Knit Girls
On my rounds, I meet the very talented spinner, Rachel Lieman, and her yarn/knitting designer studiomate, Amber Daniels.
They are busily working while entertaining and patiently answering visitors' questions. Amber is creating a cool knitted tuxedo jacket, while Rachel has on display one of the most masterful BSJ's you will ever see - her own hand-dyed wool in a vibrant colorway that would compliment any baby - cute buttons, too!
Mature yet Playful Ladies
On to the scene at the Lowell Fiber Studio, a self-proclaimed "powerful group of women visionary artists". Yep, that about sums them up. A widely diverse group glued together by common space and mutual support (including a weekly meeting), these women are serious artists working in fiber and adjunct media. A sample is Susan Webber's fabric iPod case:
I zone in on the work of Sharon Sawyer, whose Catholic-school-survivor sensibility closely matches my own. Hard as you may try to let the nuns go, they're your lifelong guardian angels and the reason you can speak and write English. Her wall pieces of nuns in cars and saints in unlikely settings are gems with deep resonance for all of us formerly-uniformed Catholic girls.
Signe (Penny) Kaleel combines an artist's eye with a craftswoman's technical skill in creating her lively pieces from fiber and found objects....interesting mix from an imaginative mind!
A Fresh Fiber Voice
Tarja Cockell presents a unique vision in wearable fiber and mixed media art pieces.
Tarja, a native of Finland, brings a fresh eye to simple dyed and painted silk scarves. Her colorways are delicate and subtle, flattering but in a backgroundy way that doesn't scream "look at me!". Her quilt and wall-art pieces have the same light yet memorable touch of a gifted artist expressing her worldview with natural fibers and virtuosic embroidery. Worth a trip.